After 35 years with the same travel company, Pam Gilson was ready for a career move. So, two years ago, she became vacation department manager for Travel One, Inc., managing the travel agency’s leisure travel operations. As an advisor herself, she also brings in $1.7 million in annual sales for the Minneapolis-based agency, which posts $102 million in annual sales.
It all began after high school, when she attended travel school, did an internship with Dayton Travel, and then was hired there, becoming a travel advisor and later progressing onto the management team. During her three decades-plus with that agency (its name changed repeatedly over the years, such as to Macy’s Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel), she traveled the world, escorted some groups and eventually landed as a leisure office branch manager.
At Travel One, Inc., a Virtuoso member agency, she manages a leisure team of experienced advisors. She describes service levels as “high,” as her advisors strive to deliver excellent client service externally and high-quality service to each other internally. For the past two years, she’s worked to build Travel One, Inc.’s book of leisure business, enhance her advisors’ professional development and continue to build relationships with vendors.
“We have an environment that promotes and encourages each other,” Gilson says, also describing the operation as “fun spirited.” The goal is integrity and excellence in giving each client “that wow experience.”
“We have a passion for what we do,” she says. As for her own management style, she brings a high level of energy and a can-do attitude to her leadership role.
As an advisor, she sells “a little bit of everything,” has become a Virtuoso Wanderlist Guide, and says it’s important to stay focused on the clients, listen to what their dream vacation is and help them get there. Mostly, Gilson’s clients are luxury travelers who want their families to have an experience — something unique and different. She’s grateful for her repeat clients and referrals, who propel her success.
But to meet the changing industry challenges, Gilson is clear: “To be successful we need to keep up with the changes.” She’s working with preferred Virtuoso suppliers to raise the bar for clients, working to gain more knowledge about exactly who those clients are, and tapping into technology, such as the Travefly itinerary phone app to display beautifully detailed client documents.
Regarding personal travels, her last trip was with her mom and two sisters on a five-day Rocky Mountaineer train trip from Calgary to Vancouver, visiting Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and Kamloops. Not only was it pretty, but the family created lifelong memories. This month, Gilson plans a South Africa trip. When not selling travel or doing that herself, she enjoys time with her family at their northern Minnesota lake home and reading William Kent Krueger’s books.
In vacation planning, many clients are Internet savvy and have researched where they want to go. But Gilson believes they often don’t have “the time” to do more. So, they seek a professional’s help — someone with great destination knowledge, who provides good value and with whom they can build a relationship.
“I truly care about each of my clients and I get to know them and their families,” she says. “I love to get people excited about travel, get them to step out of their comfort zone and experience the world.”