Podcast

Episode: 374 |
Tami Lucey:
Travel Agent:
Episode
374

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Tami Lucey

Travel Agent

Show Notes

 

Tami Lucey is an independent travel consultant, or as she describes herself, “a worldwide business travel hassle remover.” 

We talk about her four decades of work as a corporate travel agent, how the industry has changed, and her focus on working with the entertainment industry and individual consultants.

Key points include:

  • 02:06: The benefits of a personalized service 
  • 04:57: The limitations of Google search in booking travel
  • 07:47: How Tami structures her fees
  • 11:05: What’s included in Tami’s fees
  • 15:12: What it means to join a host agency as an independent
  • 21:17: Working with the entertainment industry

Tami can be reached through the website, Corporate Travel – The Travel Society Host Agency

 

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Tammy Lucy, who is a travel agent. So Tammy, welcome to the show.

Tami Lucey 00:18
Well, thank you. Well, I’m excited to be here.

Will Bachman 00:21
And we’ll say right at the top here that you are actually not taking on new clients. So I understand that you are just already fully booked. And I thought it was, you know, pretty interesting, a friend, a friend of our mutual friend, one of your clients, you referred you to me and mention your name so that you’re not taking on new clients. And I thought it’d be really interesting to hear about life as a travel agent here in 2021. Tell us a little bit about your practice. You mentioned that you work with consultants and also with kind of entertainment, right?

Tami Lucey 00:55
Yeah, over the years, I’ve narrowed down. My specialty travel agents have all gone to specialties. I’ve always stuck with the corporate world. So my business is focused on entertainment, for large events, bringing in the bands. And then working with individual consultants, I have a couple of companies where their independent consultants go out. And that’s been my focus for about the last 10 years.

Will Bachman 01:32
Okay, so we all know that a lot of you know, travel agents have kind of been disintermediated. And, and you know, had to choose other lines of work. As more and more people just book book, their own travel. But tell me about you, but you are your business is booming, and you’re not even taking on new clients. Tell us a little bit about the service you provide. So let’s say you know, if I were your client, as a management consultant, independent consultant, how would we work together?

Tami Lucey 02:06
Yeah, so I have a whole process. First off, I get to know you very well. All your preferences, your likes, your dislikes. So I can really customize what I offer you, I don’t want to waste your time, and I don’t want to waste my time offering you things you don’t want. So right off the bat, I get to know you very well. Then, as you need things like that you’re putting together a proposal. And you need some ideas of what travel is going to cost. One thing I do not do when I’m doing proposals, and I do a lot of them. You can look on the internet, certainly and get an idea of what things cost. But what you don’t see when you’re putting together a proposal, you don’t see there might only be one seat at $100. And then everything else jumps up to $300. So I typically when I’m doing proposals and working that pre stuff, I look at what the mid level fares are because I don’t know if people realize every airplane offers at least 20 to 30 different fares, air fares. So it can be very complicated. So once you know what you need, and you’re ready to book your travel, I always send out options based on your preferences, sometimes based on my preferences, because I do have airlines that I favor based on their customer service. And based on your status. So once we get the flights figured out, then I go through and boom, boom, I book your car, you give me the address where you’re going I find you a nice hotel, whether it be Mary or Hilton’s, or whatever your preference is. This whole process can typically take Well, once you email me, I can get back to you in about 10 minutes.

Will Bachman 04:23
Wow, that’s super quick. I mean, that’s a lot faster than I can do it myself searching on, you know, Google flights and so forth. So is that because you have more advanced systems that just regular consumers on the internet don’t have or

Tami Lucey 04:39
That is correct, and that’s a great thing to bring up. So I do work on a professional it’s a it’s called a GDS system global distribution system. It is an airline owned system.

Will Bachman 04:54
It was at Sabre one of those

Tami Lucey 04:57
Sabre is owned by American Work on Apollo, which is owned by United. And then there’s a couple of others out there. Now, because I have direct access to the airlines database, I see things in a whole different way than you would see on Expedia. Also, those internet sites, they’re all airline owned and controlled, people don’t realize that Sabre owns it think Travelocity, another one owns Expedia. So they only show you what they want you to see.

Will Bachman 05:46
And so so then kind of just, you will keep on file, the kind of someone’s loyalty numbers, their credit card, their their login, their logins, I suppose to all the different airlines sites and hotel sites. And then you can make those bookings for people. So it sounds like there’s an intake process where you just get to know someone, and then if they’re planning a project, where they’re going to travel back and forth between, you know, Kansas and Tennessee every week, for six months, you can help price that out. But then also on an ongoing basis, if it’s just a one off trip, someone can what email you call you text, you and you will take care of just putting together an itinerary, that you know will will work for them because you’ve got to know their preferences

Tami Lucey 06:34
is correct. And a lot of people don’t realize when you’re working with these internet sites, they’re considered third party sites. So let’s say you booked a hotel on Expedia. And at the last minute, your your meeting got canceled. You call up the hotel explain the situation. They don’t care because you booked through a third party site. travel agents are considered partners. And I can call up a hotel and say, you know, I know it’s eight o’clock at night and you had a 4pm cancellation policy. But here’s the situation. And because we are partners with the hotels, they do quite a bit for us. It’s maybe one out of 500 times a hotel will tell me I’m sorry, we won’t cancel the room.

Will Bachman 07:33
No, well, that’s pretty good. So yeah. So you’ll you’ll do those kind of bookings? And do you mind my asking? What’s the typical fee structure for how you work? Is it? How do you how do you structure your fees.

Tami Lucey 07:47
So every agency is different on how they structure their fees. My fee is structured based on issuing airline tickets. So what people don’t realize is the airlines used to pay travel agents commission. And they stopped paying us commission. And now we’re not allowed to mark up the product. It’s against the law for me to mark up an airline ticket. So when the airline stopped, they now kind of charged us in a way every month. So my fee is based on airline tickets at time of issue. Depending on the volume of your company, my average fee is about $45 per ticket. But I do not charge things for hotel only bookings are car only bookings, those companies cruise lines, hotels, cars, tour companies, they all still pay travel agent Commission’s so we we really rely on that hotel and car bookings to kind of offset our low service fees. Now some of the bigger agencies, they nickel and dime you to death with their service fees. If you want to book a flight it’s $45 if you add a hotel, it’s another $10 if you add a car it’s another $5 because I’m a small independent agent, I can keep my costs down to only have to charge for the airline tickets.

Will Bachman 09:38
Okay. So and then when you book hotels and you know very reasonably get get a you get paid on that by the hotel. Are you typically getting a price that would be as good as a consumer could get by going to the hotel’s website and looking for you know, if you just go to you know, Mary And find a Sheraton or Westin and they often have like lowest rate for your, you know, loyalty range or whatever. I mean, are you able to get rates that are equivalent to that for the, for the consumer?

Tami Lucey 10:13
Yes, I am. And typically, because I’m my agency is based, I have a host agency, you can’t just become a travel agent, you have to have a travel agency processing all your things. So what I see in my GPS is exactly what you will see on Marriott’s website. Now I did get some additional discounts because of the consortiums that we belong to. So, and then. So for some of my companies that have repeat business, to one area all the time, I actually call and I negotiate rates with the hotels to get you even better discounts.

Will Bachman 11:05
Yeah, that’s fantastic. So um, all right. So this is interesting, you know, I had not until I talked to Pete the other day, and he mentioned that he worked with you, I never really thought about getting a travel agent myself. Maybe I looked into it once, I don’t know, 10 years ago or something, and it was pretty expensive. Maybe it was one of the bigger agencies, but what you’re talking about, you know, $45 to take care of like the flight and the hotel and the car rental and stuff. I mean, that’ll take me probably 45 minutes to an hour when I’m sitting there, going to some new location trying to sort out, okay, like, let’s look at all these different hotels and try to pick one. And let’s look at all the different flight options and think about it and go to the car rental and book it on hertz and all that I mean, that’s 45 minutes, at least, of thinking about it. And that’s I mean, and that time savings is certainly worth, you know, your fee of $45.

Tami Lucey 12:04
Well, and that fee also includes support while you’re traveling. So I’m pretty much available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, because my corporate guys are traveling and they’ve got those last minute changes. Or they’re running late to the airport or something’s come up. They you know, travel, never wait to can’t wait till the next day sometimes. So that $45 fee pretty much gets you on demand service is what what I like to call it. And I do get calls in the middle of the night, I will get up and answer my phone and deal with the situation. That’s the biggest support. travel agents like me give you one of the bigger travel agencies, they use services, after hours services to assist their clients. But they’re expensive, and you’re not getting your agent. You know, I know that you’re flying out tomorrow, I know you’re on delta I know, it’s critical that we get something done tonight, not wait until tomorrow. So that’s, that’s also part of the fee.

Will Bachman 13:30
Okay, know, what has happened kind of broadly, with travel agents. So I might, and this is sort of my understanding, sort of correct or adjust my understanding. So my, my sort of guess would be that, it used to be that there was a lot and then, you know, as people started being able to book their own and so forth, it just went went really down quite, you know, quite dramatically. But perhaps now it’s sort of stabilized where people, you know, are either, you know, sort of companies like McKinsey or Bain or a consulting firm will still have travel departments. And, and there’s maybe just this sort of stable number of travel agents that might specialize in sort of luxury travel, or, you know, other specialty travel like, you know, helping an orchestra move or help like you helping a band move around, is it relatively kind of stabilized now and that there’s a lower than before but, you know, there’s some people they’re still still doing this and it’s a route or is it on the increase? Or, or is it still declining? What What would you tell us?

Tami Lucey 14:40
You know, that’s kind of hard question. Um, so the little mom and pop agencies, a lot of them did closed about 10 years ago. Um, some of the others merged and became bigger and bigger and bigger. And then there are quite a few agents out there like me That went and joined a host agency as an independent agent.

Will Bachman 15:08
What does that mean to join a host agency as an independent,

Tami Lucey 15:12
so you can’t just say one day, I’m going to be a travel agent and start issuing airline tickets and booking hotels and making commission. There’s a process to all of that. And only an authorized travel agency can issue airline tickets, or collect hotel commission. So it’s quite complicated actually, to open up a travel agency a lot of logistics to it. So people like me, and my agency is based out of Colorado. And they, they have about 150 independent consultants that use their travel agency as our base. So now over the years, I’ve seen nothing but growth, is that right? Yes. People thought I was crazy. When I stuck with corporate even during the recession. I stuck it out. I that’s my passion. And it just it finally got to the point even a few years ago, I had to let go a couple of accounts. I got too big, too quick. And I do not advertise all of my business comes from referrals.

Will Bachman 16:33
What typically, have you seen corporations doing do have? Have some of them kind of given their employees just more freedom to book their own travel over time? Or do a lot of them still have corporate travel departments that take care of it? And they outsourced it? What sort of things have you seen in the corporate travel arena?

Tami Lucey 16:57
Yeah, so this is the part of the new wave going on, it’s been going on for at least 10 years, not longer than that 20 years, these agencies can go into a larger corporation or a smaller Corporation, set them up with their own system. And then they can book themselves through the travel agency. But I am seeing the larger corporations, they still use a travel agency, they need that control. travel agencies can set up all kinds of parameters based on the company’s requirements. Some companies, let’s say, a connection flight saves $400 versus a non stop, some companies will mandate. You know, if it saves so much money, you have to go on the connection or your budget is only this much. So they do still rely on the travel agencies to monitor that and control it. On the smaller corporate age companies, not so much. You know, they kind of let their people do their own thing. Some use a travel agency, some don’t. Some don’t like giving up that control. Some people just love the Internet, and they trust the internet. So that’s one thing I always like to make people understand don’t trust the internet. It’s, it’s showing you what it wants you to see. One big example is Southwest Airlines. There’s many, many search engines that will not show you Southwest Airlines.

Will Bachman 18:48
Tell us a little bit about it. You’re you’re fully booked. You’re not taking on new clients, but tell us listener says Well, I hadn’t thought of it. But actually, maybe it makes sense to get myself a travel agent. What’s your recommendation on how to go and find a travel agent?

Tami Lucey 19:05
The best way is to ask friends and family and other business associates. The next best way. And I’m a true believer in looking for independent agents like me because I really get to know my clients. When you’re working with a company like American Express, you never get the same agent twice. They don’t know who you are, they don’t. They don’t understand your needs. That’s a very long process. The travel society out of Denver, Colorado, who I use as my host agency, they have about 150 independent agents that all specialize in different areas. And that’s the second place I would go to look for a new agent Jeff is with a host agency. I am I tend to stay away from the big agencies.

Will Bachman 20:11
Okay. Do you also handle more kind of leisure travel for your clients? If they want to take a safari in Africa? Or if they want to go on a, you know, a tour of temples in Japan or something? How do you handle that kind of work?

Tami Lucey 20:29
I do not, I do not handle any of that kind of travel only. Because it’s really not my thing. I’ve always focused towards corporate and entertainment because I love the the fast pace of it, I love the it changes every minute, you know, one minute, I’m going here, the next minute, oops, I need to be here instead. I like that not all agents do. But there are plenty of agents at the travel society that have gone that route.

Will Bachman 21:05
Okay, so if you’re looking for a travel agent, it’s really specialized, you want to find someone who has your kind of focus. Tell us a little bit about your entertainment work. So just say more about that.

Tami Lucey 21:17
Yeah, so um, I started with TV production companies. And as I was referred around from place to place, people talk about me on planes, and I somehow ended up in the entertainment world, which I love. I love working with the musicians, I take very good care of my musicians. It’s it’s not, it’s a very fast paced, which I like.

Will Bachman 21:56
And when you say musicians, you’re organizing travel for not just like one singer, but like, what would be would it be the band plus about all the production people like how many people are we talking would be in the group that would be moving around?

Tami Lucey 22:11
Yeah, so I’m working on one right now that’s coming into Florida to do actually they’re shooting a virtual event. And this is the new thing right now, for entertainment. They’re coming to a studio. So we will have dancers will have the musicians. Sometimes they’ll bring a juggler sometimes. We did a big event at one of the hotels here in Florida not too long ago. They brought in swimmers synchronized swimming. rollerbladers It’s crazy the entertainment that comes in. We did one event where they brought in a camel and the camels trainer. So it’s a lot of fun. And there’s a lot of very different entertainment out there nowadays.

Will Bachman 23:11
How do you book travel for a camel?

Tami Lucey 23:15
Well, luckily that camels luck local. So but the funny thing is, so the entertainment company I work with. They have their own seamstress and wardrobe people and they make custom outfits for their dancers and their musicians. They made the camel, its own custom outfit. One of my favorite stories is the outfit for the camel. That’s awesome.

Will Bachman 23:42
So and when you’re doing these large groups, it’s not necessarily all people going just from point A to point B, it may be you’re organizing travel for sounds like multiple could be more than 10 people from multiple different locations to, you know, to to a given event where they’re going to perform.

Tami Lucey 24:01
Yes, yes, my people come in from all over the country. Sometimes they’ll bring in entertainers from Europe. It’s it’s never the same. It’s always something different. And not all my bands like not all their band members live in the same city. I’ve got a couple of bands where the band members are split up around the country. So a lot of logistics, trying to get people to arrive together so that we can cut down on cost. Things like transportation, car rentals, vans, expensive when you have to rent five of them for so it’s a lot of logistics of trying to save money.

Will Bachman 24:49
I’m curious what sort of tools do you have sort of, you know, software do you use to it’s one thing if you’re just tracking you know, just flying Will Bachman from New New York City to Kansas City or something. But if you’re, you know, have like all these multiple people flying in different things. Are you using like Excel or a Google Sheet? Or is there more some some more sophisticated solutions that you use to kind of keep track of all the details of all the itineraries with the timeline? And, and all that?

Tami Lucey 25:22
Yeah, we actually use a Google Doc, a shared Google Doc, so that the logistics people can see exactly what I’m doing. I can see what they’re doing. It’s great communication tool. I really love Google Docs.

Will Bachman 25:40
Talk to me about COVID. And what you’ve seen with travel during COVID, and any current trends?

Tami Lucey 25:49
Yeah, so COVID has been tricky. Um, corporate and entertainment, obviously, completely shut down for the last year. I saw I’m starting to see things building up, I think people are getting a little more confident in with the vaccines coming out and the numbers are going down. So things are really picking up quickly. But what I’m seeing the trend is that people are staying local i right now, I wouldn’t advise anybody to leave the country. I actually have a guy that is stuck in Cuba right now. He went down to visit family. The airlines the other day, just decided they’re just canceling all of their service for the month of March. So this guy’s now stuck down there for another month. I’m working with the airlines has been pretty seamless. They’ve got good protocols down. I traveled quite a bit up through September. On and to see now the airlines were handling things and people are starting to finally feel a little more comfortable traveling. planes were empty. While I was traveling all of last year. Now they’re filling up.

Will Bachman 27:33
Are you seeing your entertainment, your bands and musicians and so forth, starting to book, you know, events, maybe later in the year like things booking up for the summer or the fall?

Tami Lucey 27:45
Yes, so a lot of my events, a lot of my May and June events are still cancellation and rebooking into September and October. I really think by September and October, things are really gonna be kind of back to normal ish. I’m still gonna take a little bit a little while but you know, consultants and corporate people they need to travel, you can only do so much by phone or by zoom. And you need that one on one with your clientele. So I’m gearing up for a very, very busy, just, I just need to get through summer. And I really think things are just gonna boom, I’m already seen the boom just based on the new bookings that are coming in for my events right now. But I’ll tell you, now’s a great time to travel if you’re willing because air fares are dirt cheap. And hotels are incredibly low right now. So even if you travel locally, it’s a great time.

Will Bachman 29:04
And with your consultants, who are clients of yours? Are you seeing folks who perhaps we’re not traveling at all last year? Are they starting to get on planes?

Tami Lucey 29:17
Yes, now you have one consulting company and if they don’t travel, you know, they’re not really making a living, but no, their business in the last three weeks. Has it’s it’s picked up very quickly. I haven’t done any travel for this one company for a year. And all of a sudden I’ve got five of their consultants out on the road. Oh,

Will Bachman 29:44
fantastic. You mentioned a couple times the host agency that you work with, could you say their name again and share any kind of website or if someone wanted to follow up to to ask and you know, help find an independent travel agent that’s affiliated with them.

Tami Lucey 30:02
their website is their name, the travel society. And they are based out of Denver, Colorado. And they’ve been a host agency. I want to say 2530 years now I’ve been with them for almost 20 years. I’m very well known in the industry, very reputable. There are a lot of agents out there that call themselves independent agents. But they they are not true travel agents, they are these pyramid schemes going on. And they just hire anybody off the street, and call them a travel agent. So you got to be careful when you’re looking but Bravo society, vets all of their people, you have to come in with a travel agency background. So they’re very selective and they have a wide wide range of agents, and what they all specialize in. So the travel society has been a wonderful agency to work with.

Will Bachman 31:14
Fantastic. Well, Tammy, thank you for helping educate me giving me a new perspective on travel agents. I’m gonna have to look into this for myself. And it sounds like for independent consultants, if you’re on the road a lot. And you know, book spending a lot of your time booking travel or re booking travel, you might want to think yes, it sounds sounds like a pretty affordable solution. And free up some of your time, Tammy, thank you for joining us today. And listeners, if you go to umbrex.com and click on the Unleashed tab, you can sign up for a weekly email and get notified of all the episodes were daily show now. So you might even if you’re not listening to every episode, the weekly email will tell you what, what’s out there so you can pick and choose. And if you are so inclined to give the show a five star review in iTunes. It does help people discover the show and it just makes me feel great. Tammy, thanks for joining.

Tami Lucey 32:16
Thank you. Will, it’s been wonderful.

Related Episodes

jay-altizer-bain-alum-dallas-tx

Episode
440

Food Industry 101

Jay Altizer

Episode
439

Craig Beal on the Travel Business

Craig Beal

Episode
438

Rob Ristagno on Customer Segmentation

Rob Ristagno

Episode
437

Equity Research

Neeraj Monga