Q. What inspired you to start a career in travel and teaching?
A. I first became seriously interested in traveling during my degree in Modern European Languages. I had a compulsory year abroad and spent time in France, Brazil, Guatemala and Spain. I already had wanderlust after family holidays sailing to the Ionian and Caribbean as a teenager but this cemented it further. During my final year at University I attended a talk by a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) company and that opened my eyes to the possibility of spending significant amounts of time in a country in order to experience its culture and really get to know its people and yet earn a real wage at the same time. The way the companies operated usually made it very easy to just step into life in a foreign country – with accommodation found, bank accounts set up, etc.
Q. What does it take to be a travel consultant?
A. To be an independent travel consultant takes a lot of grit and determination. Travel is undoubtedly a competitive business and the number of destinations to gain knowledge on is infinite. Luckily, through my 8 years of teaching and traveling I’d gained first hand knowledge of many countries but you can never have visited every hotel in every resort on the planet. It is also of the utmost importance to enjoy helping customers, to be patient and understanding and to really listen to a client’s brief rather than pushing the easiest option for you on them. This and the personal touches I give to clients such as departure texts at the airport or welcome home gifts has helped me grow my business through referrals and repeat bookings.
Q. What were the initial challenges that you faced?
A. Initially the most trying aspect was gaining clients in such a saturated market. Without a large marketing budget behind me, competing with flashy ads etc wan’t an option so I decided that meeting people face to face was the best way to explain my message. Also trying to make them remember me was important. Obviously this takes time and you can only meet so many people, so it felt like a very slow and upward slog at the beginning.
Q. What are some of the most exciting things you have learned while travelling?
A. When traveling you learn so much – about all different kinds of cultures and people. Having experienced multiple cultures enables me to be so much more flexible, adaptable and understanding to all kinds of people. I also now have a decidedly educated palate from living with so many types of cuisine. Aside from this you learn all kinds of weird and wonderful skills – such as how to remove a cork from a bottle of wine with a chopstick, how to count up to 99 on two hands using Chinese finger counting, how to catch a land crab without getting nipped, to name but a few.
Q. Would you rather just travel or travel to teach? And why?
A. Whether simply traveling versus traveling to teach is better is a tough question. When you teach you have real exposure to locals and therefore really learn about their way of life rather than just being in a sheltered touristy version of a country. You are also earning money to support yourself and future travels. However when you’re just traveling you have the freedom to move around without commitments to work or lesson planning, marking, etc. Now being a travel consultant I have the best of both worlds – I work in helping others plan their dream trips and at the same time increasing my knowledge about locations all around the world. I also am lucky to be invited on educational trips in all kinds of destinations to gain first hand knowledge about locations and in turn be better able to advise my clients.
Q. Advice for people who want to get into the travel consulting business.
A. If you are looking to become an independent travel agent then you really need to do your homework. You should consider who your target market will be and how you will tap into that market. You also need to carefully research the different consortia available and the suppliers, commissions and other benefits/hindrances each one could bring. You also need to know if you’re the kind of person who can be self-employed – you need diligence and motivation by the bucket-load. Finally you need to analyse your product knowledge and should maybe consider working for a travel agency first to learn more about the industry before going it alone. Good luck, bones chances, sue rte, viel glück (a degree in languages is useful for all kinds of things, checking bed configurations with hotels being just one I never thought I’d use it for)!