This transcript is from Episode 22 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/22
This transcript consists of the interview only
Tom: Folks, I'm on the line today with Jessica Tomcsik. And Jessica is a travel agent.
Jessica: Yes. That is correct.
Tom: That's a little bit different from the other guests that we've had on the show, so I'm really excited to talk with you today. Can you give us an idea of your background and how you got involved in booking travel?
Jessica: Sure, Tom. I've been a traveler my whole life, so it's always been a huge passion of mine. And I actually was a teacher by trade for nine years, and I wanted to be able to stay home with my little guys. I have a four and five year old, so I wanted to…I was thinking about doing a career change into something I loved. Travel was the first thing that came into my mind, and I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My family has owned their own business for 25 years, so owning my own business was always something that was really intriguing to me. Travel was the most interesting thing, so my husband and I actually bought a travel franchise. And it's called Cruise One, so I actually work from home. I was working part time with the kids, and now I'm full time and I love it. It's a lot of fun.
Tom: Cruise One does a lot more than just book cruises though, doesn't it?
Jessica: Yes, that is correct. Yeah, the name is deceiving. I actually book more land vacations for my clients than cruises, so that's just kind of funny.
Tom: Can you give us an idea of what goes into the training to sell travel?
Jessica: Yeah, I think the most important training, honestly, is travel, just having the experience of travel. I have traveled all around the world, all over the country and internationally as well. So the most important training has been seeing as many places as I can and being able to offer personal connections to my clients because I've actually been there and experienced that specific locale. I also, in order to purchase my franchise, we had to go through extensive training, and I constantly am getting trained and upgrading my training with the different partners that I have, like with cruise lines and different land locations to find out what's new and hot in each place that I book for my clients.
Tom: And I'm sure that with all your travel experience, that's got to help you be able to offer tips to your clients of what to do and what not to do, and that's got to help them out as well.
Jessica: Absolutely. Yeah.
Tom: Now Jessica, as I was putting together the notes for our interview, I came across something that I found really interesting, In Ontario they have a Travel Industry Act, where event planners cannot book travel for their clients. I don't know if that's just Canada, or if that's everywhere. What has been your experience with that?
Jessica: My experience working with event planners is mostly…travel agents take over all of the travel portion of the trip before clients get to the site and event planners are really the one that are working on site. So not necessarily that they're at the location when the event occurs, but they're planning everything for that specific location. The travel agent takes care of all of the travel, dealing with passports or something like that if it's an international trip, arranging flights, arranging the hotel, and then my partnership with event planners has been they take over all of the logistics in terms of what type of event is occurring.
Tom: Okay. That makes sense. You see, what I'm reading here is that an event planner can't sign any contracts or agreements for travel services on behalf of their clients, they can't make payments on behalf of any client to a supplier for travel services, and while they can make recommendations, they can't actually make the reservations unless they're working with an actual travel agent, and that's where you would come in.
Tom: Now I understand that you also plan some events for, is it your husband's business?
Jessica: I do. Yep. My husband is a manager of four dental practices and he actually is part owner as well. So they have about 100 employees between all four offices, so they do corporate retreats about twice a year, so I'm in charge of planning those for him, and I wish that I had an event planner to work with to do the on location, and I could just take care of the travel part of it. But I've been tasked with everything, so I totally understand how the event planner could be helpful and how partnering with an event planner would take a lot off of my plate as a travel agent as well.
Tom: So when you're putting together an event for your husband's company, do you go out to these venues and check them out yourself, or are you working with other travel agents, or partners, or resources to check out the venues for you? How do you find the venues and where you're going to hold these company events?
Jessica: That's a good question. I actually don't usually go visit the site. I'm so used to planning events halfway across the world or in the Caribbean, so I'm just used to doing a lot of Internet research, so I feel comfortable doing it that way. I don't think it's necessary to have to go to the site. I find that a lot of venues are pretty transparent in terms of what they offer you, and if you ask to see things, they are more than willing to provide photographs or share as much information as they can, so that you don't actually have to do that site visit. Of course if you can, if you're nearby, that's great, but that's not always possible for everyone.
Tom: Now getting back to the travel aspect of things. When you're working with an event planner and they're planning an event say, out of town, out of country, what are some of the things that they need to consider in regards to maybe transportation or lodging logistics? Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Jessica: Sure. So I think the most important thing to think about I guess is the type of event that you're looking at. It kind of goes in different directions here. If it's a corporate event or if it's families or something like that, I think the lodging and what type of transportation you need may be different. For instance, there are cruise vacations or cruise events that you could plan versus a land vacation, it could be an all-inclusive resort somewhere, or a hotel, so just thinking about exactly what they want first. If they're taking a cruise, probably flying would be the best way to get there. If they're going out of Florida, most people in the country are within five hours of a cruise port, so most people are within driving distance. There's parking at the cruise port, so people could use that. If people are organizing bus transportation, travel agents can help with that as well. Basically whatever type of transportation is necessary, it can certainly be arranged through a travel agent with that partnership. And in terms of actual venue, it really depends on what type of event that they're having. Certainly, a destination wedding venue is going to be very different than a corporate retreat or possibly a seminar at sea.
Tom: Yeah, That makes a lot of sense. I guess that was kind of an open ended question.
Jessica: That's okay.
Tom: I'll try to make them a little more specific anyway. Now while we're on the subject of family events, you were talking about a wedding that you had planned, and it was a cruise wedding. So would you mind telling us a little bit about what was involved with all of that?
Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. Basically I took care of all of the planning in terms of figuring out with the bride and groom exactly which type of itinerary they were interested in, the length as well as where they wanted to go on the cruise that fit their needs. So that was my job to find the perfect cruise for them, and then of course, to transmit that information to their family and friends to join them. So everybody of course was able to contact me directly and have that one on one relationship rather than talking to a different person every time through the cruise line, so it was great to have that partnership that way. And then the great part about working with a cruise line for a wedding is that they have an entire section designated through the cruise line, for weddings and special events.
So basically all of the venues onboard the ship are free to use. The only things that you'll pay extra for are if you need tech support, and that's true for weddings or for seminar at sea or corporate events, so tech and AV equipment is a consideration. If you would like a DJ or photographer, those are all things that the cruise line already has access to, it just would be an additional fee, just like if you were setting up any other event at hotel or something like that. So it's great because the cruise line pretty much has everything you need and you're not having to find all of these separate vendors to organize all of that, so it makes it really easy.
Tom: Well having worked cruise ships, I can tell you right off, it is not easy to get your equipment from the dock onto the ship because you have to deal with the TSA, you have to deal with the customs. It can be a lot of headaches, so I can see where working with the vendors that the cruise line already has, has got to make the logistics that much easier. And I hadn't thought much about corporate events being held on a ship, but I can see where that would be an incredible team building opportunity.
Jessica: Well the great thing about cruising is that meals are included, so a lot of times when you're planning some type of corporate event or even a wedding, the cost of food skyrockets the price of your event. So if you are holding your event on a cruise ship or at all inclusive, the meals and alcohol is already covered, so it's a major, major cost effective move.
Tom: Now if somebody was going to book a corporate event on a cruise, and we'll just go to the cruise side of things right now.
Tom: On the ships, the tours were always booked once you were on board. And I can remember the lines for the passengers, and they were getting frustrated at having to wait and their tour was sold out. Is this something that you would book in advance? For a corporate event would you book the tours for your clients, or would they have to deal with that, and would it be an additional expense once they got on board?
Jessica: Well there's different ways you can do it. For instance, a lot of corporate events like to do private shore excursions, so for instance, I'll use my husband's office as an example. Let's say all the entire office, 100 people decided they wanted to do a cruise and let's say St. Lucia was one of the port stops, and it's very easy to arrange a private shore excursion, and we can rent them a catamaran for the day. Maybe you can't get 100 people on a catamaran, but that's just an example. There are lots of opportunities for private excursions just for the group.
And the travel agent certainly can organize those. Another benefit is those costs can actually be rolled into the cruise costs, so it doesn't seem like people are pets. A lot of times on cruises, people feel like they're being nickel and dimed and being charged for each additional thing. You can basically prepay for the private shore excursions and roll them into the cost, so it's one cost, and you don't see all of the extra shore excursions added on. Does that make sense?
Tom: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. I appreciate it. Now, Jessica, if a company was doing this type of event, would you recommend travel insurance be added to this? Or if a staff member can't make it, is that just one of the costs of doing this kind of corporate event?
Jessica: That's a great question. I certainly always recommend travel insurance for trips that are out of the country, be it cruise or land trips. Mainly because your health insurance is not always valid overseas or the coverage is not as good as it could be. So I always recommend that. For domestic travel, I think a lot of times when it's any type of event domestically, like in a hotel or something, usually the cancellation fees are such that travel insurance I don't usually find to be necessary. Of course it's a good precaution, but I don't think it's as important as doing overseas travel.
Tom: Wow. That's something I didn't even realize. So travel insurance also covers medical situations?
Tom: Okay. Well that just goes to show you that I don't read the fine print.
Jessica: It's all good.
Tom: Now in your years of doing this, are there any tips you can share with our audience about cost saving, things they can do, if they have to book their own travel and they're not working with a travel agent? I know that's going against the travel agent code maybe, but could you share a couple tips? Or would you mind sharing a couple tips?
Jessica: Sure. It's funny because with the Internet, everybody thinks that they can find great last minute deals, and I don't know where that idea came about, but I honestly don't see that very often. So I think booking ahead of time, I would say generally about six months out is a great rule of thumb. It's great to save money not going during busy times. So holidays are more expensive to travel. Basically any time kids are out of school. So if you want to plan a trip as an event planner for a group, or even for personal travel, try to schedule travel when kids are in school, because it's less.
Tom: That definitely makes a lot of sense. Now, Jessica, are there any hot destinations for 2016 that our corporate event planners may want to consider if they're thinking about doing a travel destination event?
Jessica: I think in terms of the best value, definitely Cancun, Riviera, Maya, Mexico, are still a really, really good bang for your buck. There are a lot of non-stop flights, so it makes it really, really easy to get there. From the East Coast, four and a half hour flight and you're there, so it's nice. Also, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic is another pretty inexpensive travel place. They both just have really amazing beaches and lots to do in terms of excursions. They're also pretty safe. So I always try to recommend places that are safe, people don't have to worry about crime or anything like that. I would say another one is Jamaica. Jamaica is still pretty inexpensive in terms of travel.
Southwest Airlines is opening up a lot of new flight itineraries, so in terms of more popular locations that are up and coming, I would say Costa Rica. I think Costa Rica…There's a lot of ex-pats in Costa Rica. So the ex-pats found it 15, 20 years ago, and they've definitely loved it. But I think in terms of tourism, a lot of people, they just don't really know about it. People know people who have been to Costa Rica, but they haven't been themselves. So the fact that Southwest is now flying to two airports in Costa Rica, I think is huge.
Tom: It's funny you mention Costa Rica because on the last episode, 21, I interviewed Melanie Woodward, who had just returned from a big corporate event down in Costa Rica, and I had been down there a number of years ago. It was one of the ports where we got off from a cruise ship, and it was just beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. Of course all I saw of it was from the port to the airport, but everybody was so friendly that I met and just a beautiful location. Have you been to Costa Rica?
Jessica: Yeah. I love Costa Rica. There is really something for everyone, there's the volcanos, you can do the whole rain forest, hiking, zip lining, and then there's beautiful beaches so there's great surfing. I caught the biggest sailfish of my life there. It was bigger than my husband's. I was six months pregnant. It was awesome.
Tom: I want to see a photo.
Jessica: I have video. It's all catch and release too, so that's great. Costa Rica is a very environmentally friendly place, so all of the hotels follow a lot of strict environmental standards, so it's a very feel good place. Everyone's very friendly, the food's good, it's safe, it's an awesome place. Well you know, you've been there.
Tom: Yeah, but again, that was right off the cruise ship. I got off at the port, drove to the airport and flew out, but it was a gorgeous location, and everybody that I met there was super-sweet, would love to go back. You did mention the Riviera Maya and Cancun area, and I did spend a month plus down there working some resorts. We were working the Dreams and Secrets Resorts, which were absolutely gorgeous. I didn't actually stay at the resorts. They had me up at a very nice condo down at Playa del Carmen and I fell in love with the area and the people.
Just super, super area. One thing I did, which probably wasn't too smart, I climbed on a bus. Not one of the tour buses or anything, but just a regular bus, and decided I was going to see the village of Coba which was amazing, but I didn't speak any Spanish. And it was an experience wondering if I was actually going to make it back. Of course, like I say, that was a number of years ago, and I haven't been down there recently. Still, would love to go back. It was a beautiful area.
Jessica: Yeah. Riviera Maya and Cancun that area is…it's just booming, it's growing so fast, and I think especially in terms of speaking Spanish, there are definitely a lot more English speakers there now, and I'm not sure you would come across that problem now, unless you went away from the tourist area, but you certainly can get away from the tourist areas if you want to, for sure.
Tom: That's exactly what I did. I left the tourist area and got on a regular bus and headed to Coba. It was beautiful.
Jessica: Oh, nice.
Tom: Yeah, it was. Have you been to Coba?
Jessica: I haven't but I know my parents have and loved it. They were there years ago. But, yeah, I've always been wanting to go there.
Tom: And I have to apologize to everybody. I realize here we are talking about my trips, and we're not here to talk about my trips, we're here to talk about what Jessica does, so I apologize to you. Jessica, if you're working with an event planner, how do they pay you? Are you paid a flat fee? Do you get commissions? How does that work?
Jessica: In the past…I actually am working with an event planner right now on a trip to Napa. So how I'm working it with them is I'm taking care of the hotel and airport as well as transportation portion, and they're taking care of all of the rest. So basically how travel agents work is they make commission off of hotels, cruises and sometimes transportation. They do not make commission off of airline tickets, so that's a big misconception that people have. They haven't made commission off of air tickets in 20 years probably. So I'm getting commission on that portion that I'm booking, and then they're charging for the rest of the trip. So they're organizing all kinds of foodie, wine-tastings and cooking demonstrations and all of those, so when they charge the total price to the clients, they're charging an up fee, and they'll get paid that way. And I'll get paid my commission through the hotels and the transport companies.
Tom: So basically, there's no cost to them for using you because you're able to book the travel at the same rate, or maybe even better than they'd be able to book it themselves and is something that in some cases they can't do because of various laws.
Jessica: Absolutely right, yeah, it's really a partnership. There's no added fee. This is just from my end. I'm not sure how other travel agents work it. I really try to be as friendly as possible to create partnerships with people, and I don't charge any fees to any of my clients for booking trips. I know some travel agents do.
Tom: So everybody in our audience should keep that in mind. If you're dealing with a travel agency, they may be different than what Jessica is doing. So make sure you get all the information up front and you know what's going on there. Now, Jessica, you mentioned the Napa trip and that made me think, could you share any other events that you've been involved with where you've planned travel for maybe a team building exercise or something? And what kind of things that they've done and experienced on these trips?
Jessica: Ooh, I'll have to think about that for minute. I would say I do a lot of group cruises. So not necessarily that they're corporate, but I do a lot of large families and friends groups. So I've organized a lot of private excursions for them, not necessarily through the cruise line, but through private companies, and they always have a fantastic time. So whether it be a Jeep safari, or a private catamaran, I just organized a small group trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and that was all individual excursions that I planned for them in addition to the hotel and all of the transportation. And they just got back, and they said everything was amazing. The Amalfi Coast, they said it was the most beautiful place they had ever been and they're pretty well traveled.
Tom: So I can trust your advice when I'm booking a trip is what you're saying? And I am actually trusting her because we are booking a trip through her. Jessica, to be completely transparent, has organized the 25th anniversary trip for my wife and I to go to over to England and Ireland. We're going to London for three days. We're going to Liverpool. We're going to Dublin, and going to do a tour of Ireland. And Jessica, I just want to say, you've done an incredible job of organizing all this, and Deidre and I can't wait to go. So thank you for all you're doing.
Jessica: Thank you. Yeah. I appreciate it. That's my favorite thing. I'm very detail oriented, so I love doing the trips that require more effort. I love the daily planning and organizing activities and sightseeing and getting the whole package together. So it's a lot of fun for me.
Tom: There are a lot of details because I started looking online, and I thought, “Oh my gosh. I have no clue what I'm doing, so I'm going to a professional.”
Jessica: Thank you. Yeah, it's a lot of work . You go on the Internet and you type in “trip to Europe,” “trip to Ireland,” and you see 20,000 options. So it's so overwhelming, and having that person that you can go to, to just ease the burden, and the hassle and the stress, it's just so worth it.
Tom: Now I guess your company, what, has different working relationships, and partners, and resources with tour groups and that type of thing?
Jessica: We do. We have, we call them priority suppliers which are our go-to vendors for things. We also have received Partner of the Year through the major cruise lines like Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Carnival because of all of the business that we give them, and they're very happy to have us, but Cruise One is part of World Travel Holdings, which is one of the largest vacation sellers in the country. They own BJ's Travel and a ton of other companies. So yeah, we have a lot of partnerships, and we're able to get really, really great deals that a lot of people can't get. So it's really nice to be part of Cruise One.
Tom: And that's definitely another advantage of going through a travel agent instead of trying to do this on your own because Jessica's resources are going to be somebody you can trust because she's partnered with them and they've done this before. Whereas if you're just buying something off the Internet, you don't know what you're going to get, and you don't know if you're just throwing your money away or getting taken advantage of, and it's something that would ruin your event, or your retreat or your vacation.
Jessica: Right. Yeah, absolutely. I spend a lot of time to make sure that I'm really finding the best fit at the best value for my clients. That's my main goal.
Tom: Now, Jessica, we were talking before the interview started, you have something that is available for our listeners, is that correct?
Jessica: Yes. That's correct. I have a downloadable pdf. It's “The Top 10 Reasons Why Event Planners Should Partner With A Travel Agent.”
Tom: Now I know they can download it, but would you mind sharing a couple of the highlights off of it so that they understand what's going to be on there?
Jessica: Sure. I would say the main thing is that travel agents really are the destination and location specialists. So it's what we do all day long. We have special partnerships and pricing with lots of different vendors. So being able to take advantage of that partnership is excellent and it will certainly save your clients lots of money. Another one I would say is the ability to provide just really custom planning in terms of setting up everything on the travel end. So flights, hotel, busses, private excursions, anything like that, the travel agent could certainly do that so that the event planner can take care of just the event itself. And for the other ones, you'll have to download the pdf.
Tom: Well there you go, but it is free. So Jessica, where can they download this PDF?
Jessica: Yeah. They can go straight to my website, its www.shipshapevacation.com. Again, shipshapevacation.com
Tom: And as always, we will have a link to that on the show notes over at The Savvy Event Podcast website. Now, Jessica, before I let you get out of here, are there any last thoughts you can share with our audience on either on selecting a destination or working with a travel agent for their events?
Jessica: Sure. I would say, in general, partnering with a travel agent is just a really hassle-free partnership. It takes a lot of stress off of the event planner, and it's a great way to work together and plan the perfect event for your clients.
Tom: Perfect. And one more time, Jessica, your website is shipshapevacation.com?
Tom: And if somebody wants to reach out to you by email, how do they do that?
Jessica: It's my first initial which is J as in Jessica and my last name Tomcsik, T as in Tom, O as in Oscar, M as in Mary, C as in Charlie, S as in Sam, I as in Igloo, K as in Kite @CruiseOne.com. Cruise like on a boat, C-R-U-I-S-E and the number one spelled out, O-N-E.com.
Tom: And that's spoken like somebody who's used to taking information over the phone and confirming it maybe for travel plans or something? Jessica, thank you so very much for all that information today. I think you've given us some good insights as to why it's important for event planners to work with a travel agent if they're planning a destination event, and also, who knows, maybe you've inspired them to try out some of the different destinations that you've mentioned. And maybe some of them will even get in touch with you. Thank you so very much for taking the time to sit down and talk with me today.
Jessica: Thank you so much, Tom, I really appreciate it. It was great talking to you.
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