Ultra Luxury Summit: Advisors on Paving a Path to the Future (Part 2)

At Luxury Travel Advisor’s Ultra Summit in late July, we gathered top advisors and luxury suppliers for two-and-a-half days of networking, collaborating and meeting one-to-one to establish new and profitable relationships. VP Content Ruthanne Terrero moderated the second panel, entitled “Plotting 2023 and Beyond; An Advisor Think Tank for Strategies for a New World.”

Participating advisors included Jamo Ladd, VP of sales, Avenue Two Travel; Becky Lukovic, travel advisor and owner, Bella Travel Planning, LLC; June Kleier, luxury travel advisor, Protravel International and Barbara Khan, luxury travel advisor, Journeys by the Book; Protravel International.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: What have you learned in the past two-and-a-half years that you are taking with you into the future?

Jamo Ladd, VP Sales, Avenue Two Travel: That our clients need us. Demand is really high for our services and one of the reasons we’ll continue to grow is that people who are traveling now are experiencing speed bumps they’d never experienced in their lives before. The beauty of that is it makes our story a little easier to tell in the value we can provide and how we can help make that an easier experience for our travelers.

Hearing what my team is saying about their travelers is it’s really important to be mindful of their experience. Travel used to be happy all the time for most and now the travel process isn’t always so much fun because there are more unexpected things that can come up. Clients need someone to help ease their concerns.

Similarly, from the agency perspective, we have to be concerned about our advisors, our independent contractors losing their joy in that process. So what we learned is, to really listen, react and try to minimize the risk that someone’s going to have an obstacle that’s going to get in the way of everyone enjoying what we do once again.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: So bring back the joy in travel by anticipating the hurdles that are going to take away the joy, right?

Jamo Ladd, VP Sales, Avenue Two Travel: Exactly.

Becky Lukovic, Bella Travel Planning, LLC
Becky Lukovic says independent contractors, as entrepreneurs, should invest in their own brands. (ULTRA Summit)

Becky Lukovic, Bella Travel Planning, LLC: I’ve learned a couple of things from the last two years: I’ve learned I’m resilient. I can do hard things, it’s like, I’m a tribal warrior princess. But then on the flip side of that, I have learned that this girl needs some work-life balance, big time. We’re working harder than ever. Our clients get in distress and we need to help them. As for our partners, everybody is really at the end of their bandwidth. So there are a few things that I’ve learned over the last few years that I’m pushing and propelling myself forward with:

The first thing for me is when I get a new client or I’m revisiting a client who hasn’t traveled for a while, I tend to jump into the travel process as a paying process. And I’m like a horse off to the races, and I’m asking all the questions and doing all the things. Instead of doing that, I need to take a step back and treat it like I am onboarding this client by actually having a process with documents and automating that process.

I’m a face-to-face kind of gal, but what that automation does is it saves me time, and time is money for me. And time is precious for me.

The best thing is you look more professional because you’re sending a link to a secure site where they can give you their credit card information. They can give you their loyalty points, their passport numbers, their expiration dates, all that jazz. And so you have that.

Another thing is if you’re an IC with small team, you have to replicate yourself when you get to a certain level of sales, and that is so scary because if you look at what you make, you tend to think, “I could never afford to hire somebody. I’m not making enough money.”

But trust me, you can afford it and you will make more money and you will have more of a life balance. Once you’re replicating yourself you get to a point where you realize you really need a full-time admin.

So it’s three things: onboard, automate, and then replicate. Invest in your brand. If you’re an IC, you’re an entrepreneur. So invest in that.

June Kleier, luxury travel advisor, Protravel International
June Kleier hired an assistant who frees her up to work more closely with clients. (ULTRA Summit)

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Those are good ones. And I think we all have done this; you start working so hard and it becomes, how do you ever stop so that you can have the time to train someone to help you? You just need to do it. 

June Kleier, Protravel International: COVID taught me I knew nothing. When COVID started, and I had clients calling me and things were canceling, I shifted everything to the fall, thinking how long can this thing possibly last? Then I moved everything to the spring. And I just kept doing that. All my files were just crossed-out trips with new dates and more crossed-out trips. And I was working full time and making zero money. So that’s one thing that COVID taught me. I really knew nothing.

The second lesson that I’ve always taught my kids is “live below your means.” Thank God I live below my means, because it kept me afloat these two years where my income just went down. So that was another thing that I learned. But what I brought away from it is that I have value, and my clients realized that. My clients didn’t have to keep calling and calling and sending emails and writing [to suppliers]...every one of my clients either got money back or they got a credit. Not one lost a penny. And I tell that to my new clients and to my existing clients. They now all know that.

Another good thing was the marketing that Protravel does for their advisors. We were sending marketing pieces out through COVID, saying, “Hey, checking on you. How are you?” And my clients really felt it was coming from me directly. They don’t realize it’s our wonderful marketing program writing these letters. I would get personal emails back, because when they respond, it goes to me, and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, you’re thinking of me. And we’re scared!” And then you go into the therapy mode.

I have an assistant. I love and adore her. One of my best pieces of advice I can give anybody is, hire someone smarter than you. Star is a retired American Express advisor who just wanted some extra cash and she’s a Sabre expert. I hired somebody who knows her stuff and makes me look great. And she’s running things while I’m here meeting all of you great people. So those are some of the things I learned.

Barbara Khan, Journeys by the Book; Protravel: I would say that I realized that I am worth more. I made a change during COVID. I was with a small mom-and-pop travel agency for 29 years. I realized in the pandemic that no one at that agency cared about me. I gave my blood, sweat and tears to that agency. I had some great clients and I was worried at the time, would these clients come with me if I make a change?

I had worried about that for years even before the pandemic, but when the pandemic hit and I canceled every single booking that I had, I thought, you know what? Now is the time. I decided I had already laid the groundwork. I had already talked to several other agencies that were in the running for me. And I said, “That’s it, I’m pushing the button. I’m moving.” I think that the people at the previous agency where I was were absolutely shocked. 

I did a lot of other little things. I realized that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I’ve been in the business 30 years and I thought, “Am I going to have to reinvent myself?” I started out in hospitality. I feel like I’ve done it all. But I also thought, “The whole field is now decimated, what am I going to do?”

Barbara Khan
Barbara Khan, right, left her agency during the pandemic and joined Protravel. (ULTRA Summit)

I actually enrolled in community college at 52 years old. I was like, all right, I need to go back to school. I need to figure out what I need to do. Do I need to do something different? I was in the back of my mind hoping, no, I don’t know I want to do anything different, I love my job. But what I also realized is that passion that I had when I got into the travel industry was gone at this other agency, because I was doing so much and it seemed like nobody cared.

But when I moved to Protravel, I realized that I had been missing resources. I was wearing 10 hats over at the other travel agency. Here, I can just email and say, “Hey, what do I do about this?” Or, “Who knows about this?” And have my answer right away. I was spinning my wheels doing all of this stuff myself. So I realized that I am now worth more because I can give more to my clients. I’m not spending all my time looking for that airline contractor or finding out who is the rep for that hotel.

So during COVID I started sending postcards out to clients, saying, “I miss you, text me, how are you doing?”....just going back and connecting with clients again. Then, once they reached out to me, I said, “Hey, why don’t I tell you what’s been happening with me? I’m now over here at Protravel and I made the move for you. I did it for me, but it’s also for you. You’re going to have more great deals. You’re going to have more amenities. You’re going to have more discounts.” 

It’s been interesting now, after being there for a year and a half, they all say to me on the phone, “You know, you sound so much happier now.” You just don’t realize.

It is so weird that out of a really horrible time, I had an amazing situation happen. I finally made the change that I should have made years ago. 

To learn more, check out Part 1, covering “How Travel Advisors Exceed Expectations."

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