An Interview by Andy Ogg, Editor for Travel Professional NEWS®
Interviewing: Kathy Humen, Owner, Personalized Vacations LLC
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit with us today! We are really excited to hear a bit about you, your story and your new business!
First and foremost, can you share a little bit about you and your history in the Travel industry?
I actually started in the late 1970’s as a flight attendant (although then we referred to ourselves then as a sky goddess). After a break of several years, I went to work for Sabre, where I held a variety of positions and worked with some amazing mentors. Some of those positions included responsibility for ancillary products that were promoted and booked through Sabre, like theatre tickets, managing a training team who taught the benefits and value of automating cruise bookings, and working with a team to create and implement a marketing consortia for Sabre, originally named Jurni Network. During my time at Jurni, I worked with suppliers to develop marketing programs for agents based on segmentation, created training workshops for travel agents during Seminars at Sea, and headed up the Jurni conference to provide travel agents the best possible experience. After Sabre, I held positions with American Marketing working with NEST and Affluent Traveler, as a Director with AAA Auto Club South, as a BDM with Rocky Mountaineer and as an Account Manager with Trisept Solutions during the development and release of Xcelerator.
Tell us about Personalized Travel LLC, how long have you been open for business and how has it been going for you so far?
Personalized Travel was started in March of this year, when I retired from full time employment. I was, and still am very excited to take on this next chapter of my life. I realized I had worked with travel agents on multiple levels, from technology solutions, to training, creating marketing and helping them build their business, but I had never been an agent. I felt it was the next logical step in my life and something my husband, who had been a social studies teacher for 15 year, and I could do together. He actually is the one who has planned most of our personal vacations over the years, down to where to get the best Gelato in Rome. After nearly 30 years in the travel industry, I realized I love the people and the opportunities available and all of my experiences to date would be a great value to my clients.
We have had a somewhat slow start to the business, and to be honest have had a greater focus on retirement and taking a break than on our business, so that is to be expected. But we are slowly building our client base and are looking forward to expanded it more.
Are you working with a Host Agency? Why did you decide that was right for you and your business?
Yes, I am working with Travel Planners International. Working for two years on Xcelerator while at Trisept Solutions, I was able to witness first hand their agents, the powerful camaraderie and networking that takes place on a daily basis. I liked that they are a member of Ensemble and the ability to earn the commission levels they make available.
What is your niche or specialty in your new travel agency?
My original thought was to focus on river and ocean cruises, but some of our clients have also taken us in a different direction. We have created some very customized itineraries, from a week in New York City for an elderly couple with a carriage ride to dinner at the Tavern on the Green, to a Napa wine tour. As a new agency, we focus more on the experience for the client than one specific niche or specialty right now.
What programs or tools have been most helpful for you in the start of Personalized Travel LLC?
At the beginning I utilized many of the supplier online training opportunities to ensure my product knowledge was enhanced and up to date. Webinars and supplier presentations have been valuable, as well as online discussions and communities like the Travel Professional Community (www.TravelProfessionalCommunity.com) and the TPI FaceBook groups. Supplier online booking tools like VAX VacationAccess, Cruising Power (Espresso), OneSource, etc, have been helpful in providing the ability to shop and compare any time of the day or night. We try to do as much research for our clients as possible, using all sources available. We look at the research as a way to continue to learn and grow as an agent.
Have you always wanted to be a Travel Professional?
This is a tough question and I would have to say, no, not always. But I have enjoyed working with agents on so many levels and when I reached the end of my corporate life and began to explore the “what’s next” question, the more I became excited about becoming a Travel Professional. The sheer amount of knowledge necessary and responsibility sometimes is daunting to me, but every time I feel overwhelmed, there is always help available.
With all of your experience working with suppliers, providers and industry executives, do you find your current business more enjoyable to operate and run than previous positions?
Wow, this is a loaded question if any of my previous employees read this. Yes, I love the freedom of owning my own business and working with clients to create their vacations. I have found I love researching and creating the perfect itinerary, as well as having time to give back to my church and my community. But I would not be here without each one of my previous positions. I am so very blessed and have had some incredible opportunities working with and for amazing people. With every position I’ve held, I learned and used the learnings as I moved forward in my career.
What advise can you offer for someone who is thinking of starting their own Travel business?
First, do it. This is a wonderful industry with some amazing people. Take the time to learn, participate in webinars, presentations, and go to a conference. We are all constantly learning, and it is a privilege to learn together. Network, both within the travel industry and in your community meet with people outside the travel industry to promote your business. I currently participate in 2 networking groups that meet weekly and both have been valuable to our business. And lastly patience. It takes time to build a business and the hard work will eventually pay off.
Do you have any recommendations, based from your history, to a Travel Professional looking to grow their business to the next level of success?
I have to credit my friend Scott Koepf of Avoya, for this, but create an elevator speech and use it with everyone you meet. Clients are not going to beat down your door, you are going to have to get out there, promote yourself and your expertise. Decide on your passion and work within your community to develop a group of those who share your passion.