Melissa Pugh was getting a crash course in being a travel advisor before she even knew the position existed.
Despite not leaving the country until she was 20, this native of Iowa spent the six years after graduating college traveling everywhere from Dublin to London to Sydney to Auckland.
“I think I was destined to be a travel advisor before I even knew about the profession,” Pugh tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “Having visited over 60 countries before starting in the industry, I often tell people that I was getting my master’s [degree] in world studies and geography out in the field. Although I don’t have official degrees to frame and put up on my office walls, the six years of nomadic life provided me with invaluable destination knowledge that benefits my clients today.”
Once she exhausted Europe and Australasia, she took her first job in the industry with Lindblad Expeditions to explore Central and South America. She eventually found her way back to the U.S. and established more permanent roots in Chicago, where she landed a job with the all-female agency, Jet Set World Travel, at the age of 29.
After four years with the agency, she brings in $1.3 million a year and is one of its top producers.
“My clients are adventurous families, active couples and inquisitive professionals,” says Pugh. “These are people who seek diversity, authenticity and intimate discovery. They covet a sensorial travel experience where they can engage rather than observe.”
For this reason, Pugh says she sells luxury travel “delivered through an experiential lens. I strive to make the inaccessible accessible — and always introduce a creative twist.” Case in point? She recently hired “Mary Poppins” as a babysitter for a family visiting London.
Pugh says she’s hyper-focused on developing destination expertise. “Each year, I have identified two countries I plan to become an expert in and then have developed a marketing plan, sales goals and immersive travel itinerary to grow the business.” Last year, for example, Pugh focused on Croatia and New Zealand. This year, Greece and shorter domestic trips. “Our clients are doing more and more of these from New York, to Oregon and California wine countries, and in between to Western Montana for the dude ranches and National Parks.”
This trendsetter says she is fortunate to work with an amazing group of women. “We are a team of 11 — entirely female — ranging in age from 22 to 45. From day one, I felt like I had stepped into an environment that was both encouraging while challenging and positive yet constructive. Jet Set provides the opportunities to learn daily — and the freedom to connect from my desk, on a plane, or in another country.”
Pugh says her secret to success is that she didn’t learn about travel through formalized training programs. “I learned by personally exploring every corner of the earth before I was paid to do so. I educated myself organically. This translates into a broad and deep knowledge that makes itinerary design somewhat effortless. My enthusiasm for travel is infectious, so I assume I sell from my soul rather than from a script,” she tells us.