Back to Archives
Gifted Travel Network (GTN) was honored to be named Carnival Cruise Line's Travel Partner of the Month for May 2016. Check out the interview below conducted by Carnival Cruise Line with GTN's very own Vanessa McGovern.
Gifted Travel Network has such an interesting story – three “mompreneurs” who came together to form a host agency. Tell us a bit about how you three joined forces? Are many of the agents who work with you “mompreneurs” as well?
It is a pleasure to co-own a business with my best friends. Jen and Meredith are not only my business partners but they support me so much as a mom, as a wife, and they give me unconditional friendship. I believe that our strong personal bond and deep-seeded desire to positively influence the lives of our members and make a difference in our amazing industry is part of what attracts so many awesome agents to our network. We proudly wear the “mompreneur” badge and many of our members fall into that category as well. We are women who want to redefine what success looks like and to create a life by design so we can enjoy precious moments with our families and work in the best industry in the world Meredith and I first met when I was working for another host agency. I was assigned the task of sourcing third party content contributors for an eLearning platform and when I spoke to Meredith about contributing a learning module, I knew right away that she was someone I wanted to work with. A year after our first conversation I convinced her to bring me on to help her grow her travel business coaching and mentoring company (Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE)). During that time Meredith also brought on a long-time friend and neighbor, Jennifer Cochrane, to help us run the day-to-day operations of the company. After my first time meeting Jen, I knew she was one of the smartest women I had ever met and that she would play a critical role in the business. Jen had extensive business experience, but unlike Meredith and I she did not have a background in the travel industry. So it is absolutely amazing to watch Jen in action running GTN at the level that she does. She knows more about the operational nuances of running a travel business than most agents who have been around for decades! Meredith and Jen are family to me and we have created that family-like atmosphere in our network of expert-based travel agents. It is a beautiful thing when women support each other and come together in the spirit of collaboration and not competition.
What makes host model agencies so relevant in today’s marketplace?
The landscape of travel sales has changed. Most consumers do not (typically) walk into a storefront, pick a brochure off the rack, sit at a desk, and book a trip with an agent. And even in the small towns of the country where that may be the case, the consumer likely looked online before walking into an agency. The point is that travel agents are largely invisible to the consumer in today’s marketplace. We are not on “Mainstreet, USA” any longer. And, in addition, we no longer control the travel distribution channel. Consumers love all the access to the information that the internet provides and many struggle to understand the value of a travel agent. Why is this important? Because unlike 10-20 years ago when consumers walked into a store or they had to use a travel agent for any type of trip they wanted to book (including a basic airline ticket), now consumers don’t need an agent which means travel agents need to spend more time and more of their efforts marketing their services and demonstrating their value-add as experts. Travel agents need to spend more time on client attraction and less time worrying about day-to-day tasks. A good host agency will support the travel business owner in areas of accounting, CRM management, supplier relations, marketing and more. The less the travel agent has to worry about the “business” side of running a business, the more time they can spend marketing to attract clients and nurturing existing relationships.
How do you support your agents to help make them as successful as they can be?
The first and most fundamental way that we support our agents is by creating a community where we perpetuate the mindset of total positivity and abundance. From an infrastructure standpoint, GTN offers anything and everything a travel agent would need to run their business. From a great consortium, solid CRM, marketing programs, engaged Facebook forum, great supplier relationships, top-tier commissions, GDS, a yearly conference, outstanding customer service, timely accounting and more. But aside from the mechanics, the way GTN stands out from other host agencies is because we are built on community. Our agents genuinely love and support each other. They freely and willingly help each other. That type of support is invaluable and rare. Our community of caring, collaborative, business-focused travel agents is what creates the space for success!
What is the most important advice you can give to agents who are just starting out?
Specialize! As Meredith Hill says, “experts make more money!” The riches are in niches and don’t be afraid to get very specific on what you want to sell and to whom you want to be of service. Everyone is not your client. Don’t be afraid to turn down business. You don’t have to take every lead that comes your way. You can work with the clients that are aligned with the type of travel you are passionate about. Shift into the mindset of abundance and don’t buy into the scarcity mindset that is rampant in our industry. There is so much business out there and demand is high for travel experts. There has really never been a better time to sell travel!
Tell our readers a bit more about the “Travel MBA” and what benefits it gives your agencies…
The Travel MBA is the most relevant travel agent training program available in our industry. We’ve coached hundreds of travel agents in our sister company, GIFTE, and so we truly have our finger on the pulse of what is working and how to be successful as a travel business owner in the digital age. We’ve taken our aggregate knowledge of what it takes to run a thriving travel business and built this program from the ground up. The program includes 13 core models that make up the foundational elements of travel business ownership. We cover business operations, sales process, marketing and mindset. In addition to the static content, we offer monthly live classes with the Travel MBA mentor, Lisa Fletcher of Signature Escapes. This content is dynamic and crafted based on the needs of the students. We cover topics such as Facebook Ads, consumer show success strategies, destination training and more. The content of the Travel MBA program makes up 50% of the overall value of the program and the other 50% is truly the value of the mentorship. This is the piece that agents think they won’t use as much, but then end up feeling like they can’t live without at the end of the program. All Travel MBA students have access to a mentor who offers unlimited email access, weekly open office hours and a one-on-one 30-minute coaching call every month. Travel MBAers also get access to a monthly group coaching call with Meredith and a special ” Nail Your Niche” session during which Meredith helps them refine their specialty. The Travel MBA Program is a 12-month program and the fee includes access to all the models, mentorship, full hosting benefits, GIFTE membership,and a complimentary ticket to the GIFTE Book More Travel Workshop in February 2017. Travel MBAers start at the 70/30 commission split, but many of our Travel MBAers get so productive early on in their program that they move into an 80/20 commission split (or higher) very quickly!
What is it about Carnival Cruise Line that your cruise-selling agents like so much?
Our agents love Carnival Cruise Line because of the variety of sailings and brand consistency. Carnival Cruise Line does a great job in consumer marketing so this helps build brand confidence and makes it easy to sell. It’s also a great option for large groups. Our agents love the homeport access and the ease of working with the sales team. Many of our agents are selling Carnival simply because of the loyalty and the support of our AH-mazing BDM, Megan Morra. Megan has believed in GTN’s mission from day one. Our agents are loyal to the brands that “get us” and are loyal to us in return. Thank you Carnival Cruise Lines for recognizing our innovation and we look forward to growing a long and prosperous partnership!