Hello, everyone! Hope you are enjoying a nice fall! I’m starting a new blog feature today. In this series, I spotlight a woman in business or running an entrepreneurial enterprise, or doing something just plain cool! Today, please welcome my favorite travel agent, Janet McLaren!
- Tell us a little about your job.
Hi Darlene! Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my travel business – there is so much a person can gain by experiencing the world that I just think everyone should get out there, and I’m thrilled to help them do it! So that’s what I do – take care of the practicalities of the getting there, the bookings, the experiences they want, the must-dos and don’t bothers, and all the little things that make a trip a success.
I’ve been doing it professionally for over 16 years, mostly as a franchisee with Cruise Planners, which I chose because it has the prestige of affiliation with American Express. I’ve traveled myself extensively throughout the Unites States, including Alaska and Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, and Canada. But the most thrilling trip of all, so far, has been a safari in Tanzania and Kenya!
- What does a typical day look like?
I start off with a bunch of coffee going through emails and news, then organizing what’s on my calendar and errands and such. Usually by the afternoon I’m in “research mode” on client projects, then it’s call-backs and follow-up, and answering emails again. It’s surprisingly exhausting, so I take several breaks, including one about 3:30 to feed a very hungry and persistent furry cat!
- What do you love about it?
Since I work from an office in my house the commute is very short, and I can drink coffee all day if I want, haha! I have great resources to work with, so I can almost always find just what a client wants and it’s very satisfying to put a plan together from beginning to end. Then when they come back from their trip and tell me what an amazing time they had it’s like frosting on the cake.
- Tell us about your journey. Did you always want to do this?
Before I bought my Cruise Planners franchise, I was a refugee from the restaurant business! My husband and I owned four fast-food places in small towns in Oklahoma, but he didn’t love it like I did, so after seven years we sold out. Then we moved to Dallas for the educational opportunities for our two sons (one graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas, and the other became a surgical technician after joining the Navy). Steve returned to sales in the food industry, which he had a more natural talent for and enjoyed.
I sold furniture for a while, which I also liked, but when the economic downtown slowed the furniture industry after 9-11, it wasn’t so lucrative to be working all those nights and weekends. Then a friend told me he knew someone managing a travel agency who needed a trainee, so I interviewed for that and got hired! I had planned most of our trips by myself so I knew I could do it for others; but I had also used travel agents for our more elaborate vacations and was aware of the value and expertise they could add.
But before I took the job, I tried out some do-it-yourself travel websites to see if there was still a viable market for travel agents. As I soon found myself befuddled and overwhelmed on the internet, I said to myself, “Oh yes, people will definitely be looking for help with this stuff!” We then went on a cruise, so I could be sure I had the “heart” for it (I book all kinds of travel but cruising is the major focus), and I absolutely loved it.
- What do you bring to your field that you think is special?
Turns out I have many talents! The main goal is to match the right vacation/supplier/destination to the client’s wishes, and I am first of all very good at figuring that out and researching the best options. Next, I would say having a high tolerance for frustration and problem-solving; not because there are that many “problems,” but because each client is unique in their needs. Mostly it’s things like: cruise cabins tend to allow up to four people, but the family has three kids – how to best arrange accommodation for five. Or a tour they like is 12 days but they can only take 10 days off – how to customize the trip just for them. And then I’d say there is general knowledge of the best times to go places, how far out to book in order to get the best fares, and that sort of thing.
- What do you wish people knew about your business?
Great question – I would say, I wish they knew that I am not a “middleman.” There’s no upcharge for my services and payments go directly to the supplier, not to me. I’m paid by the supplier after the travel is completed. People have been sold on the idea that somehow “buying direct” would save them money, which I suppose could be true for home goods and such, but that’s just a marketing gimmick not applicable to travel. Travelers are better off with their own agent who can be their advocate and who can offer an assortment of options besides just the supplier’s – for example if you book a cruise direct, then their call-center clerks can only tell you about the products of their company.
- And just for fun: What is your favorite movie?
Haha, you’ll be (not) surprised to hear I love all movies that feature some kind of travel! Movies like A Room with a View, Roman Holiday, and The English Patient get me going every time.
Thanks for joining me today, Janet. I’d love to hear more about your adventures sometime! Hoping Covid-19 is a thing of the past soon and people can start to travel again. I’ve got so many places on my list!
Find Janet at www.cruiseplanforyou.com
Have a travel question for Janet? Ask it here!