Interview By: Joanie Ogg, Co-Owner Travel Professional News
I was born and raised in Ohio; as one of seven children and we did not have the means to travel. My wife Lesley and I have been married for 21 years now and have two teenage children; Luke (19) and Lauren (16). From early on in our marriage we made travel a priority and scrimped and saved for big trips. We know the value of creating memories as a family and understand how well-planned vacations are important now, more than ever in the busy world we live in.
Nothing gives me greater joy than pouring into others, listening to their story, and showing them compassion. I have had a lot of mental and physical health struggles in life and my greatest personal successes prior to leading Exclusive Travel Partners were working hard to achieve over 100 + pounds in weight loss and to come to a healthy place mentally with the help of doctors and love and support of my family. I knew there was a need out there to be fulfilled in this arena so I created the “Unwritten Life” Podcast, where the tagline is “you matter, you can make a difference and your story is still unwritten”. I also became a fitness instructor which puts me in front of over 100 people each week, giving me the opportunity to pour into them while also getting in shape.
When Lesley’s success in the travel industry was booming, I was eager for her to take the leap with me to form our own team for us to lead together. During my time as co-owner I have been honored to be invited to a GTM conference and then be invited back as a GTM ambassador the following year. Most recently, I was honored to be invited as a speaker and I presented during owner sessions to groups of travel agency owners at the Family Travel Advisory Forum in Jamaica about company culture and core values.
How long have you been in the travel industry and how did you get started?
My wife Lesley has been in the industry now for over 10 years. When she worked for her previous travel agency, she was their top seller for her last 4 years there, selling over 1 million dollars each of those years. With her rapidly growing social media following and client base we felt it was a perfect time to branch out and start our own agency. We were thrilled to begin Exclusive Travel Partners 3.5 years ago under our own unique culture and core values. We can’t wait to see what 2020 and beyond has in store for us.
What destinations or types of travel do you specialize in and what drove you to choose those areas of expertise?
Exclusive Travel Partners started as a high Disney Affinity Travel Agency because we are a huge Disney loving family and always have been. We are proud to have earned the rank of being an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner with Gold Earmark status through Disney. From early on, we knew that we wanted to be sure we were diversified so we can offer all destinations to our guests and match them to their perfect vacations. By Tim attending GTM it helped us tremendously to grow by connecting us to new suppliers around the world. As we have continued to grow, we have brought on talented and trained specialists in all areas from all-inclusive resorts, cruise lines, European destinations and beyond so that we can truly open the world to our clients.
You have a large team of professional agents working with your agency. How have you found the right individuals to share in your passion for success?
Our company was founded by wife and me as we sat side by side in our recliners one evening. We knew for us to be successful and to stand out in this industry and in life we would have be different. We focused on Culture first and foremost. We knew that Company Culture wasn’t just one thing, it was everything. With that in mind we knew what we stood for as a company and individually. That gave us a blueprint for who we wanted to bring in to our ETP (Exclusive Travel Partners) Family, because yes, we are a family. What is unique about our Travel Professionals, is that of the 32 we have only one has been in the industry before. This gave us the opportunity to mold them and pour into them so that they would thrive in a unique way in this industry. We firmly believe once you buy into the WE>ME mindset you will win in business and in life.
You recently presented at the Family Forum in Jamaica with another colleague. I heard wonderful rave reviews about your session and really wished I had been there. Tell us a bit more about it and how you arrived at the subject and content.
I was an attendee at The Family Forum in Jamaica in January of 2019. During that event, I attended an Owner’s session where we were discussing all the big items owners face including Company Culture and Core Values which I was excited about, since it is my passion. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned and only BIG personalities talked about themselves the entire time and the rest of us left uninspired and frustrated. A few of us spoke in the hallway afterwards about how it fell short of our expectations and that there was a real need for an opportunity of Owners presenting to other Owners. We spoke to the leadership of The Travel Agency Forum and pitched them this idea. They gave us the greenlight and in January of 2020 we had the privilege of leading two different very successful Owner’s Sessions. My colleague spoke about technology, organization, back office help and social media. I focused on fostering a company culture, creating core values, keeping your team motivated and growing yourself as a leader. The success of this event really affirmed my passion in this area and has me excited for more speaking opportunities on the horizon.
I so enjoyed chatting with you about your passion for your business and the core values that you adhere to and carry throughout your company’s culture. Can you share with our readers what has driven you to create this shared vision with your team of travel agents?
Our Core Values our to Connect with people, Invest in people and Love on people. We know that if you do that in life or in business you will make a lifelong impact in the lives of others. We sell travel, but we are in the people business. We firmly believe that we don’t make in income unless we make an impact. Our Core Values are the GPS for our everyday business. They guide us in our decisions and interactions with our agents and clients. Shared Vision is a vision that the entire team shares. It’s one vision that unites and inspires the team members individually and collectively. This one vision serves as a North Star that moves everyone on the team in the same direction. People are most energized when they are using their strengths for a bigger purpose, one that goes beyond themselves as individuals. It’s a purpose that truly drives and energizes people and teams.
We all know how important customer satisfaction is to our businesses. You and your wife, Lesley, have created a unique approach to this and it permeates through your entire company. Can you delve into this for us and share your methodology?
This goes back to our core values of connecting, investing and loving on people. We believe and live out these core values with our agents, so in turn they do the same with their clients. We pride ourselves in happy guests returning from vacations and telling others about our service that exceeded their expectations. Word of mouth is key to our success and growth and is a direct result of them feeling connected with, invested in and loved on during their interactions with us from start to finish.
At Travel Professional NEWS we work to share inspiring stories such as your story to provide your colleagues with motivation to grow their businesses. We believe strongly in the need for continuing education for travel professionals. Can you tell us why you believe continuing education and travel experiences are important to the success of growing one’s business?
The travel industry is changing every single day and we owe it to our clients to get out there and continue to learn all that we can so that our knowledge does not become stale or irrelevant to meet their travel needs. We are extremely hands on in the training process when bringing on new agents and it doesn’t stop there. We do 1:1, small group and vendor led training calls and encourage our agents to continue their education through webinars, in person seminars and on-site trainings. We prioritize giving our travel professionals firsthand on-site training opportunities so they can get to know the products we sell and align our guests to the best vacation that will meet their needs and exceed their expectations.
Does Social Media play a role in your overall marketing strategy and if so, what areas of social media have you found to be most successful?
Absolutely! In the world of home-based travel agencies social media is the key to success in this industry. Social media is our store front and it is crucial for us to have good, relevant, positive, and interactive content daily for our potential customers. We have had great success with Facebook, Instagram and enjoy Snapchat takeovers when our agents are traveling. We have found that through Facebook we have the most likes, comments, shares and messages requesting quotes over other social media avenues. We are very intentional to make sure that our social media isn’t just a constant commercial, showing the destinations that we sell; but also entertaining, engaging and interactive to have our audience come back for more.
What three things would you suggest to a newer agent just starting their career in travel that might help them expedite their success as travel professionals?
First, it is imperative that you align yourself with an agency that matches your own core values. When they interview you, be sure you have a list of questions ready to ask them so you can ensure you are stepping into an agency that you will be happy with for years to come. Also, be sure you aren’t being required to pay too much up front in fess and that their commission structure is fair.
Second, as a new Travel Professional you must be patient and persistent. Growing your business takes time and it will not happen immediately. You will have slow times, as well as times of abundance. Just remember to consistently be planting those seeds. Be persistent with training, outside the box ideas of getting your name there and positioning yourself as the expert in the destinations that you are selling.
Lastly, when you first get started it’s so important to find your voice in this industry. You can start with these two questions to help focus your direction: Who do I want to serve? What problem do I most want to solve? These two questions have been answered for years by every major company before they bring their product or service to the market and they should be answered by you too.
Do you have new goals set for 2020 and if so, can you share those with us to inspire us with your energy, focus and enthusiasm for success?
Our leadership team met at the end of December and cast a vision for 2020. Some of those goals are proprietary and financial goals. However, the ones that I find will be applicable to your readers are inspirational goals.
Our goal for 2020 is to make a difference.
At the end of day, we all want to know, did I make a difference? In a world so large and vast, how can I make an impact. The answer is, be the difference for one person every day, even if that one person is you. This is implemented first in our agency and as a team. You can know that all things are possible to a team that believes. You can trust that your obstacles are no match for a team that has faith, love, and hope. You can keep your shared vision and purpose alive and work with optimism, positivity, and belief to create it. Can you be the difference?
Let these final words inspire your goals for 2020.
Be courageous in the face of fear. Be tenacious in the pursuit of your dreams. Be steadfast on the path you have chosen and listen to the things that light your soul on fire.
Remember that feeling of childhood wonder. The feeling that you could do ANYTHING, and you COULD NOT fail. That same person is still inside of you today. Listen to that voice; the one that reminds you who you are. It never lies.
Tim, I cannot begin to thank you enough for this inspirational interview. Having been in the travel industry for just short of 50 years now I often need to be re-inspired. Working with our son Andy for these last few years has not only been fun but also very re-energizing. Hearing you and your wife’s story of success in life and in work is truly remarkable and enlightening for our readers. Thank you so much Tim and I look forward to watching your continuing journey of success in life.