R Family Vacations, an affiliate of Tzell Travel Group
Kelli Carpenter didn’t set out to be a luxury travel advisor. But, she’s reached that level and then some, bringing in more than $1 million a year in revenue. In fact, role model, pioneer and advocate are other titles she could easily go by.
Fourteen years ago, Carpenter co-founded the groundbreaking R Family Vacations, specializing in ship charters for the LGBT community. A year ago, she joined Tzell Travel Group as travel advisor.
It’s a natural expansion for the unique brand she’s created.
Since an inaugural charter in 2004 (which featured in an HBO documentary), more than 20,000 guests have traveled with R Family Vacations. The company has expanded into FIT vacation planning, adult-only LGBT travel and group cruises aboard Celebrity Cruises and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.
“My next trip is a group that I am producing onboard Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas. It is an avid ‘Broadway Fans’ group where we offer theater camps during the day and Broadway star performances at night. At the end of the week, the guests are able to perform onstage with the stars. I love creating products that allow guests to have their dreams come true,” says Carpenter.
It’s not the path Carpenter originally envisioned for herself.
After graduating from Southern Methodist University with a degree in marketing / advertising major, she began her career in the advertising field. She later moved in-house with Nickelodeon.
“I continued with that for about six years, before deciding to quit working full time and be home with my kids,” says Carpenter, who now lives in Ramsey, NJ with her wife, children and a dog named Buddy.
It was during those years at home that Carpenter had a revelation.
“As a parent of an LGBT family and an avid traveler, I realized there was something missing for my family. A vacation where we would feel comfortable being ourselves and our kids would see families that are similar to theirs,” says Carpenter.
After extensive research, she partnered with LGBT travel expert, Gregg Kaminsky, to launch R Family Vacations.
“Our cruises created never-before-seen programming and entertainment. We aligned ourselves with some wonderful advocacy groups. We offered educational programming so families could understand their legal rights, multi-racial family issues, obstacles children may face at school, plus much more,” says Carpenter.
She didn’t realize it at the time, but she started a movement.
“What we discovered was that not only did we create vacations for LGBT families and their extended families, but we created a community. We have watched these children grow up together. The parents have become bold, strong advocates for families like ours. The most incredible part is knowing that these kids will be the generation to truly change our world and open minds. Knowing that we were a part of creating the safe space for these incredible people to blossom and grow makes every day worth it,” says Carpenter.
Client niche aside, it’s customer service that distinguishes Carpenter.
“Not only do I manage each reservation, I travel with our guests on our group trips and experience our product with them. I handle any issues on site and share the joy of their vacation. I find that to be the most rewarding part of my job,” Carpenter adds.