Travel Professional Name: Lori Spoelstra
Agency Name: Adventures by Lori
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Host Agency Name: OASIS
Years as a Travel Professional: 10
Specialization or Niche: Family Travel, Multi-generational
What led you to be a Travel Professional?
In an earlier sales career, I had the opportunity to earn incentive trips. It soon became apparent that my sales goals were driven by the desire to earn those amazing trips all over the world. One special trip that we were able to earn was a trip to Walt Disney World with our 3-year-old son. The sales period for this incentive trip was 2 ½ years long. After achieving my goal and making it to Disney, I got to watch that little boy’s eyes grow in magical awe as we walked into the Magic Kingdom and he saw Cinderella’s Castle for the first time. I will never forget the overwhelming feeling I had that I was able to give this child this experience.
A few years after retiring from that career, I went to work for my husband as his office manager. One day after returning from another family trip to Disney, he casually mentioned that I do such a good job planning our vacations, I should be a travel agent. I went straight to my office and applied for a position as a home-based Independent Contractor with the host agency we had just recently booked a vacation through.
If I could help make the same magic for other families that we experienced on that first Disney vacation, I knew I could be happy in a career like that.
At which point did you know that this was the career for you?
From DAY ONE! I could not WAIT to get started! During the initial six- week training period, I felt like a race horse that needed to get out of the gate! I LOVE what I do, and I love making happy clients with whatever vacation they are dreaming of.
Did defining your Specialty or Niche increase your business? If so, how did you find your Niche?
As a family of 5, I was always looking for trips and places to bring the family that we can experience together, so that is just how I started with family travel. I also did a lot of traveling growing up as family and I saw how much travel affected our family’s closeness. I truly believe that traveling together as a family can bond a family together like nothing else.
A Niche in this business doesn’t necessarily mean that this travel type is all you will do. Shortly after starting, I realized that what I was building was a business of relationships, not transactions. When clients came to me for Disney with their family, I was soon their “go to” travel professional for their anniversary trip to Punta Cana, or their brother’s honeymoon to Italy, wherever they next looked to explore. As Walt would say … “it all started with a mouse.”
Have you always worked with a Host Agency? If not, can you share how working with your Host Agency has helped you?
Yes, I have always worked with a host agency.
What three things about working with your Host Agency has been the most useful and helpful?
I love OASIS! I couldn’t be happier than where I am.
(1) The owners and managers at Oasis want us to succeed. They encourage us to brand our businesses. I appreciate that. When I market my business, I am truly marketing MY business and not the host agency. We have our own identity within their company. It’s a terrific business model and makes me want to succeed to help them succeed.
(2) They invest in us and give us every tool to succeed – from training, to time-saving reporting programs and live booking engines for hotels and cruises directly from my website. They listen to us with what is working, what is not, and what needs to be changed. They bring us into the inner workings of the agency and let us be a part of their success. Our success is theirs, and theirs is ours. I feel like we are a team.
(3) I feel appreciated. Those three words are huge to me.
What aspects of your Host Agency led you to your decision to join their programs?
Initially, it was the amount of commission I actually got to keep. Oasis has a very unique commission pay-out style which appealed to me. At first it was per booking fee driven, then I moved up to a flat monthly fee and 100% commissions. Can’t believe how much more $$ I am making! It has made such a huge difference for my family and what I can invest back into my business for marketing and growth. After the initial shock of my first commission check, it became more apparent that this company is made up of very smart, hard-working individuals – people that I want to associate my name with.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to join the Travel Industry?
To succeed, expect to work hard. It doesn’t happen overnight. As a home-based agent, my hours are flexible, but they are not optional. It’s not all blue water and white sand beaches (as most of my Facebook friends think!) – unexpected things happen to clients who travel and you need to be able to resolve unpleasant issues. What you put into your business you will get out of it – time and moneywise. Invest in good business cards, they reflect you. Dress as the professional you see yourself as when you are with people. If you are home-based, don’t tell people that you “work from home.” Tell them that your office is IN your home. Keep learning … keep traveling … never stop.
When I first started, I had three bookings my first year in the business and one of them was my own. That didn’t meant that I wasn’t working that whole year. What it means is that I had time to go out and do trade shows, county fairs, join Chambers of Commerce, and other networking groups, take training courses and market myself and invest in my product knowledge. I knew eventually the clients would come, and when they did, I was going to wow them into sticking with me.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to work with a Host Agency?
A good host agency gives you support and encourages you to do your best and grow YOUR business and succeed. To work with a host agency is to be in business FOR yourself but not BY yourself. You will gain not only a successful business but lifelong friends and colleagues.
Many articles and studies have shown that the Travel Professional is becoming more and more important, how do you feel about that? Do you see the increase in awareness from your clients as of now?
I get comments all the time on how surprised they are that I am so busy. I think that people are realizing the importance of using a travel professional when it comes to their travel investment. Years of personal travel experience and learning allows me to give my clients an upper hand when it comes to what to do, where to go; and in some cases what NOT to do. People don’t know what they don’t know. I think that people have been burned by the online .coms and are realizing that having someone who knows them and their family personally – what kind of hotels they like, where they like their seats on a plane, special dietary needs, etc – is becoming more and more appealing in this .com age of faceless ticket takers.
Please share a couple of things have been the most important to your success so far?
1) My business-marketing goal from the beginning was to “wow” my first client with client service, hoping then to turn that client into two clients. Two clients turn into four, four into eight, etc. Make every client feel like they are your only client and they are your priority. When you are talking with them, they ARE your priority. Work the hours that you need to work to complete the work that you promise – even if that means pulling the occasional all-nighter. If you promise something, make sure that it happens.
2) I always ASK for referrals. My business is 100% referral based and it’s because I ask for those referrals that my clients are sending their friends and family my way. I sent “referral request” envelopes with extra business cards in them and on the envelope it says that I enjoyed working with them and if they enjoyed working with me, please share me with their friends and family .
3) Passion. You need to have a passion for what you do in this business or you can soon be burned out.
What are your plans to grow your business in the next year?
I just hired my first associate agent and I’m looking forward to working with him to keep up with the steady growth that we are experiencing. My goal for growth is to bring on a couple more associate agents, each with experience and specializing in a specific area. Oasis encourages us and has made an appealing path toward those goals for my business.
I also have recently contracted with a company who is building a blog/social media format for me which will direct more people to my website with a call to action, making my website more of an integral partner. My social media marketing will tie together with my website, I’m excited to see how it all works in conjunction with one another.
Do you feel that getting yourself out there and traveling is important for your business? If so, how do you make yourself get out there and take those trips?
As busy as I am, there is always a second thought as to whether I should or shouldn’t take the time to travel. Personal experience is key to the success of my sales. There is nothing that gives you more credibility with a client than having actually been there, seen it, and experienced it. Any time I take away from my office to travel is well worth it. It may look like just fun, but you are growing your knowledge and that knowledge is valuable!