“I was paid to sail first-class transatlantic on the QE2, I yachted in the Mediterranean, saw the midnight sun in the North Cape, soaked in the hot springs in Iceland, gambled in Monte Carlo, sipped tea in London, sipped champagne in Paris, got massaged in a castle in Germany, drove a Mercedes Benz on the Autobahn, dined on the Grand Canal, hiked Yosemite, and dove countless times in the Caribbean. I just love this business!” says seasoned travel consultant and business owner, Sabine Scherner.
Now, imagine being a travel agent for a living with amazing travel benefits like what Sabine experiences in which she has earned many of them through awards and incentives through the years. In the travel and leisure industry, there are also fam (familiarization) trips for agents to experience firsthand what resorts, travel destinations and cruises are like in order to better present vacation ideas to their clients. These travel agent deals are deeply discounted and sometimes even free, excluding airfare.
In an exclusive interview with Sabine Scherner, this business woman and travel agent shared how she got started, and the ins and outs of an industry with a national average salary for a travel agent being $56K per year. She also gave some “insider” tips on what it takes to be successful in this highly competitive travel and leisure industry that is expecting to continue to decline 12 percent by 2022, which is largely due to online competition like self-service discount travel websites and discount brokers.
How did you get started and how long have you been doing this?
I’ve been a travel agent for 27 years. I started out at a brick-and-mortar travel agency storefront in Long Island, and this is where I got my initial training in the travel and leisure industry. Five years ago, I joined Montrose Travel as a Home-Based, Independent Contractor. My travel agency company name is Vacations By Sabine, and I work out of my home office in rural Sherman, Connecticut.
For me, the benefits of joining this huge network are phenomenal because Montrose Travel is a host company that backs up its independent agents with insurances, licenses and accreditations, the backend platform, resources, etc. For a low annual fee, it’s well worth joining this turn-key business because they also get the very best deals in the industry.
What do you love about your job?
Aside from the incredible fringe benefits like great vacation deals and discounts, I require a life / work balance. Especially since I am a single mom with two children living at home, I can’t beat the flexibility of the job. I make this business fit into my schedule and my lifestyle, and not the other way around.
What kinds of vacations are you booking now with your clients?
Lately, I’ve been planning a lot of destination weddings and honeymoons. The hot spots are Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean. What’s also very trendy right now are European cruises and tours, river cruises and the classic Disney family trips.
How do you earn a living?
Like any business owner, the pay is inconsistent and is 100 percent commission-based. I do make above the national average through the years. There’s a myth out there that all travel agents charge for their services. I do not charge a fee for my services, although some other travel agents may. I only make a commission through the tour operators, hotels and cruise lines. In other words, the commission I earn is through what I book. My customers never pay for any additional fees.
What advice would you give to people thinking about getting into the travel and leisure industry?
The secret to my success is that I always love and live to travel. This passion keeps me going. You also have to stay current in the industry and travel to the destinations you are recommending to your clients. Plus, I always listen to my clients and cater to their special interests. I am also available 24 / 7 to assist them whenever they need me. This level of customer service is a must if you are going to be a travel agent today.
Since the travel and leisure industry is entirely commission-based, it’s ideal for people who have another source of steady income coming in like rental properties or a spouse’s income. For this reason, you need to be your own financial planner and have to plan for the downtimes and save money during the good times. This business is not for the lighthearted.
I also highly recommend working for a reputable travel agency first to see if you even like the business and to learn the ropes. This industry is not all glitz. Much of your time will be on the phone and on the computer in an office environment. You’ll need a lot of patience, too, for whenever your client’s trip goes wrong like an airport closure, travel delay, hurricane, etc…
Does it make any sense to open up a new travel agency today, especially in an industry that is declining?
For brick-and-mortar storefronts, no. This is a thing of the past, especially with the smaller travel agencies that have under five agents working for them. In order to be successful, the overhead price needs to be out of the equation to earn a living. Plus, everything is online now and there is no need for an actual storefront office. Everything is ticketless, and accessible via the internet and mobile phone technology. As for buying into a travel and leisure franchise, forget it. You don’t need the added expense if you already have existing clients. Repeat clients and word of mouth in this industry goes a long way.
If dreamy vacation getaways, exotic destinations, and the jetsetter travel and leisure lifestyle sound like the “good life” to you, then Sabine’s thinks it’s a great business to be in right now if you already have a client base. However, the biggest industry challenge is 10+ years from now because travel consultants will have to convince the younger generation what the true value is in working with a professional travel agent. She believes that many in this generation prefer to book vacations by themselves using online discount sites and they don’t want the personal, first-class touch. Nevertheless Sabine feels this is the best career for her and would not change it for the world. If you are a travel enthusiast and have the true passion for it, then you, too, may find your niche even in a highly competitive industry.
To contact Sabine Scherner with questions about the travel and leisure industry, visit: Vacations By Sabine.
Written by Alicia Sakal for Examiner.