Published Author Jennifer Maki Shares her Adventure
Interview By: Joanie Ogg, CTC, MCC, Co-Founder- Travel Professional NEWS®
Interviewing: Jennifer Maki, Owner/ Travel Agent – Divine Destinations
How long have you been in the travel industry and can you tell us what motivated you to be a Travel Professional?
I have been in the industry for 12 years this month! Wow! Times flies when you are having fun! I was bitten by the travel bug when I was a child. On my first flight with my Grandma, I was 5 years old and I asked her if we were 0ing to heaven (since we were high up in the clouds) she smiled and said no, we would go there when I graduated high school. She winked and told me it’s not called heaven, but Hawaii. We traveled on an escorted two week trip throughout the islands and I was absolutely fascinated with the concept that the tour guide was being paid to travel! From that moment on I was convinced that was my dream job. In fact, a high school career assessment test confirmed that I’d be a great travel agent, however, my guidance counselor urged me to look elsewhere for viable career choices since the internet was coming and everyone was beginning to get computers at home she said people wouldn’t need anyone to book their trips.
That was in the 90s. Disappointed that my dream job was in a dying industry I pursued different avenues but always had travel in the back of my mind. Fast forward 15 years when I was searching for a way to stay at home with three children I was nursing and home schooling (OMG I’ve since dropped the Superhero Cape!) and I still wanted to travel – I googled “how to become a travel agent” and realized that the opportunity was still there! I immediately enrolled in travel school and as they say, the rest is history!
I completed the courses and began to submit my resumes only to find out that storefront agencies were not hiring or worse, our local agency had closed down completely. I was devastated! What did I just do? Did I really just spend all this time and money on schooling to find out my guidance counselor was right, it IS a dying industry? I wouldn’t quit so easily, after all, I had some student debts to repay! And if no one was willing to hire a fresh-from-school-with-so-much-ambition-gal then I’d create my own gig! So I went to the library and scoured the shelves looking for information on how to start my own business from home. That’s when I found your book and that catapulted me to the next level. Here I learned about the how to and what to expect when you are just getting started. You also listed a goldmine of resources, in fact, that’s where I found my host agency, Outside Agents!
I believe you started working from your home but now operate a storefront agency. Can you tell us a little about that evolution?
Yes, my first C-Suite or corner office was in my bedroom! I quickly moved out when my days blended into nights and clients wanted to meet me at my office. I still didn’t feel comfortable having strangers at my house though, so after the coffee shops and library meet-ups got old I decided it was time to up level. I was one of the first tenants in a co working space in our area and that was a nice way to network with other small businesses, have a secretary and dedicated office to meet with clients.
But one day I heard that our biggest, oldest travel agency in the area (the one I considered my biggest competition) was wanting to retire! Two short months later I was the proud owner of a storefront agency and a full time staff! It went so fast but I always say don’t wait until you’re ready, just do it and you will figure it out! We’ve since been the only storefront on Main Street, we’ve grown our staff and we employ interns from the local college. It’s so much fun to have young open minds in the office – not only to collaborate with but to inspire them to embrace their own dream job! Most of their friends have no idea what they really do but they sure think it’s the best job ever when they see pictures of us in Dubai, Mexico, Bali, Paris, Shanghai, the Caribbean and more!
What destinations or types of travel do you specialize in and what drove you to choose those areas of expertise?
Being from northern Minnesota, Mother Nature has always been my marketing partner. My clients want to escape the brutal winters, if only for a week, so a natural fit was tropical destinations. Before I had traveled much I thought Mexico was the best place on earth. Not saying it’s not perfect for many travelers, but my clients are always looking for the next best thing. They watch my travels and ask me to book their trips based upon places I’ve been or can personally recommend down to the local happenings and even personal drivers. From the beaches in the Caribbean to the temples in Bali, I could write (another) book! I’ve grown to realize that travel means something different for each person. Some travel to escape the elements of their climate while others travel to deepen their spirituality and many others just want to check out mentally for a few uninterrupted days of no email or day to day life demands. Wherever my clients are at, I meet them at that place and customize a magical itinerary for them.
Last year I had the absolute pleasure and honor to curate an around the world itinerary for a widow looking to cope with the long days of winter simply by being anywhere in the world but home. It was fascinating to watch this gentleman put his trust in me to plan, prepare and show him how the itinerary would unfold, week by week, visa by visa! When he returned home and told me how everything was seamless, from his stay on Marlon Brando’s private island, to the day he bought a tailored suit in Italy and a fancy piece of jewelry in Dubai and reminisced about sharing the $45 libations in Egypt on the Nile with his new traveling friends (for that week) it was then and there I knew this is so much more than making bookings, we make dreams come true! We shed a few happy tears realizing the time away was healing for him and to watch how he had grown over that epic journey was priceless. #iLoveMyJob
How important do you think continuing education is to the success of your business?
It depends. If you want to be the Debbie Downer at the next industry conference because your sales are slumping and your phone isn’t ringing it’s not important at all. For me, it’s definitely an ingredient in my secret sauce! One thing I learned long ago and that is that the one thing you can count on in this industry is everything is always changing! There are so many destination specialist programs and the Travel Institute has some amazing courses, personally, I love to look outside the industry for my continuing education. If you are not evolving you are dying.
You won a Travel Weekly Magellan Award in 2016 and the Duluth News-Tribune also named you 2017 & 2019 Best Travel Agent in Duluth. Very impressive accolades and congratulations to you. Can you share three reasons why you feel that you have gained such momentum and success?
I wish the reasons for my success were full of butterflies and rainbows but the reality is that it wasn’t.
Good: I had been in the business for about 10 years and had an incredible base of knowledge, experience and confidence. At that time I had already brought on a few ICs who I poured my heart and soul into training them up to become professionals, not hobbyists.
Bad: However, some decided the grass was greener on the other side and started their own businesses a few miles from me while still working with me. It was the ultimate betrayal at the time. The loss of clients they took with them combined with the lack of manpower I suddenly didn’t have was motivating in itself. I worked around the clock vowing to be successful despite what had happened.
Ugly: When I had become obsessed with success, ironically, I ended up losing what should have been most important in my life, my then husband. We divorced and it was then I realized that this entire series of events was motivated by F-E-A-R: false evidence appearing real.
I was successful all along but I allowed fear to cloud my vision of my reality. Let’s say I can see clearly now with my new lenses of life.
Does Social Media play a role in your overall marketing strategy and if so, what areas of social media have you found to be the most successful?
Gads. I hate social media. Every part about it. I understand social media is a necessary evil and very powerful marketing tool if done right. Honestly, I don’t use it as much as I could or even should, but my motto is “do what you do best and hire the rest”. I have hired a digital marketer to assist with my e-newsletters, landing pages and social media ads and my interns work the social platforms. When we travel it’s easy to post and that is what our clients seem to love the most!
You are also a published author and I loved your book! You share such practical tips and great information in a fun-to-read format. Can you tell us a bit more about your book and what prompted you to write it?
I love to write! And I had so many blogs that one day I realized I could squish them all together and create a book. So I did!
It was so much fun interviewing people for the book; I even met my new husband through this process! I can remember being on the plane (I’m Chatty Cathy) asking my seatmates where they are staying, how they booked, etc. They would then ask me what I was so busy typing and I’d reply, “my book!” It really peaked their interest that travel advisors are great resources; a live human who had been there done that! I’ve met many of my clients on airplanes and my daughter was even invited to the Azores with a family we met on a plane once!
Publishing a book was a great way to set myself apart from OTAs, other agents in my area, stand out at trade shows and have more credibility. This was a great way to give out a sample chapter in an IFO and from there I could gain their trust through my nurture emails. People work with people they know like and trust.
Perhaps you can share the link to purchase the book here in case any of our readers might like to read it as well?
Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0792PVF53/