Interviewing: Kristen Buckshire, Owner – Travel Ease LLC
An Interview By: Andy Ogg, CTIE, Co-Owner – Travel Professional NEWS
First off, thank you very much for the time today and joining our fantastic Travel Professional NEWS readers!
Before we get started, can you share a bit about your hisiory in Travel? When did your business get started and what areas of Travel do you specialize in?
I have been a Travel Advisor for the past 10 years. As a previous Disney Cast Member I got my start in the industry selling Disney travel exclusively. I decided I wanted to branch out from selling just Disney in order to assist my clients when they wanted to travel to other destinations and to meet their needs as their children grew. I started my own agency Travel Ease LLC. 5 years ago and while I still personalize in luxury family travel, I also have a team of 10 agents, each with their own area of specialization. All of my agents however share a strong passion for Disney Destinations and are highly experienced in this area.
Working with a Host Travel Agency like Travel Planners International can be a huge help for Travel Professionals, can you share some insights into what that partnership has offered you?
TPI is fantastic in that they provide an extra level of support. The connections made through TPI are very important to the success of our business. During these trying times it’s reassuring to be connected to a larger group of agents and support staff who have extensive knowledge of the industry and have well developed relationships with our suppliers. TPI has provided a community where we can share our experiences and rather than waiting on lengthy holds we can often find answers to questions from our fellow TPI Advisors. TPI also provides a list of preferred suppliers.
Being a Travel Advisor in a COVID-19 world means we are going to have to adjust the suppliers we work with, I know I have been keeping track of who I want to continue partnership with and also those suppliers who I will no longer partner with moving forward. TPI has been adjusting this supplier list in real time based on their financial standings and how they are handling client reservations during this trying time. With so much on our plates already in 2020 it’s nice to know we have the amazing TPI team out there advocating for us advisors and providing these extra bits of support that help lighten our workload.
It’s been quite a year for our beloved industry, what challenges were you faced with at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic?
At the beginning of the pandemic most of my time was spent cancelling reservations. I don’t think anyone really understood how long or how widespread the impact to our industry would be. There were many client reservations that we moved forward to again be cancelled a second time. With our specialty being family travel, we really pride ourselves on providing a comprehensive planning service to our clients. Working with Disney clients is an especially labor intensive process from booking dining reservations, stroller rentals, touring plans, FastPass, ect. We were spending additional time going in and cancelling all of the finer details that we worked so hard to secure for our clients and then re-working them for future dates. Recently many of our clients have decided to push their travel to 2021 rather than cancelling.
It’s hard to see the world of Travel at a standstill but with the world slowly starting to move once again, what new practices are you implementing in your business as you look forward?
I am personally not the type of person who can sit idle and just wait for things to improve I have to spring into action. I tried to utilize this time when booking were low to address some of the business items I often don’t find time for. It’s my belief that if we aren’t growing as a business we are dying. So even though we could now necessarily grow in terms of sales for a while I found other ways to propel us forward so that we are ready when things open us again. I spent a very large portion of time working on our CRM system and creating well defined processes for each supplier so that once things reopen we will have a better client experience process. I have also spent time working on social media presence, developing supplier relationships and ensuring that our team remains positive.
We also need to rethink the way we protect ourselves and our clients so we have implanted a Covid-19 waiver that we now require clients to sign and we have adjusted the type of travel protection we offer our clients. We have been providing newsletters to our clients in order to stay in front of them, suggesting different travel options that allow for social distancing and focusing on domestic travel.
How have your followings / fans / clients responded to your recent video reviews? Have you seen an uptick in business as a result of this effort?
About a month ago I attended Universal Orlando’s opening weekend and I did have a couple of client’s book trips after seeing my coverage of that event. I have had a pretty positive respond to attending the Walt Disney World opening as well. I have gotten 3 leads this week from people seeing my videos in the parks. For Universal I did send a newsletter to all of our past clients outlining my experience and informing them of the enhanced safety procedures in place. I plan to do the same with Walt Disney World upon returning home.
I think attending these openings is very important to our brand as family travel specialists. This not only helps me train my team on the new procedures and adjust how we do things, but it also allows us to show our clients what they can expect when traveling. I think our clients really appreciate the firsthand knowledge and information we bring back from doing this.
Since the Disneyland Walt Disney World Resort was a big draw for many, how did you promote your attendance before arriving? What avenue provided you the best exposure?
I used our social media channels to promote us attending the opening day. Once I knew that I had secured a spot for opening day through Disney’s new Park Pass System I announced it to my clients on Facebook and Instagram.
There are a lot of different opinions on whether the theme parks should have re-opened this soon. I posted a few things about wearing a facemask so that people know I am diligent about following the rules of the park openings. In my post while travelling I like to highlight the cleaning procedures, mask requirements, social distancing markings because I think people are most interested in seeing what is being done from a safety perspective. The newsletters and Facebook posts are where I have seen the most lift in terms of leads from clients who are interested in travelling.
I honestly did this without expecting any leads, my driving factor in attending is that we are seen as travel professionals and we need to continue to build that brand even when clients aren’t booking. I have been pleasantly surprised to gain a few bookings from the experience!
What kind of precautions did you take and thus, what precautions are you advising your clients to take in their travels as we look forward?
The only requirement that was required to travel to Walt Disney World was the face mask requirement. I tried to have fun with this and purchased a variety of fun Disney masks for myself and my children who attended the opening with me. I’ve also tested a wide variety of facemasks so I can advise my clients of what offers the most comfort. I actually reached out to a few businesses making masks and asked if I could share their information with my clients and created a partnership. I am doing a mask giveaway of some Disney themed masks while I am here for clients as well on our social channels. I know that wearing a face mask is one of the things folks are most concerned with in regards to visiting the theme parks so I’m trying to address that and set realistic expectations for what that is like. When I return home I am planning to do a video where I review the types of masks that worked best for us and make suggestions.
For my clients who are planning to travel in the next few months I have create a series of emails that will help prepare them for their trip. This includes all procedures in place at the time of travel such as temp checks and face mask requirements. I am also sending suggestions on how to adjust their days in order to make the experience as enjoyable as possible, such as adding in more sit-down dining for mask breaks and taking more swim breaks than I would typically recommend.
Through these times, we all learn a lot about ourselves and our businesses, can you share a few things that you’ve learned through this current pandemic either personally, professionally or both?
I’ve learned a lot! There are good days and there are bad days, but I think if we can survive this we can get through anything in this industry. I think our value as travel professionals has really come to light during this pandemic. I’m excited for the future because I think people who have never used a travel agent will now see the value in our services and the need to use an advisor. With so many changing procedures and policies it’s no longer just something you can book yourself online. I’ve actually gained some confidence in our industry because I’ve seen so much professionalism as we face these unexpected challenges. I have had some interest from people who have always booked travel their own reach out for quotes because they no longer want to do it themselves, and I think that will be the trend going forward. For our existing clients we are advocating for them and supporting them during this difficult time which is building even more trust. I’m excited to see what the future holds for the travel industry!
Relationships have also been key for me during this time. I met a great group of agents at GTM last year and we have developed such a strong bond. We show up for each other each and every day by sharing our experiences and providing support to one another. I would encourage any agent who doesn’t have a support group to make that a priority, it’s crucial in times like these.
I have been spending a lot of time reading books for small business owners which have really helped me evaluate the phase my business is in and understand the next steps to move forward. I have joined a few social media groups that focus on positivity and I attended a virtual Tony Robbins motivational series. It’s easy to get discouraged when all we are doing is cancelling out our hard work, however I think positivity is the key to moving forward. It’s definitely been a time to sit down and think through and address every little process we have in place to ensure we move forward with the right processes in place. I believe if we adjust our business models to the changing environment we will all come out of this stronger!
Personally, I am struggling with the lack of travel options, as travel is such a passion for me. I am planning on an epic 2021 full of travel!
Before we conclude, I personally want to thank you for your time and information shared today. We appreciate your involvement in our publication!