Memorial Day is upon us and so is the unofficial start of summer and its travel season. Many will hit the roads to visit family, friends or simply to getaway and enjoy some well-deserved downtime.
Vacation planners have relied on travel agencies to give them “peace of mind” by making arrangements based on their needs and expectations.
However, technology has changed that.
With the advent of online capabilities, travel agencies have had to adapt to changing consumer purchase patterns and emerging online habits. For some, travelers simply research and book trips online, others rely solely on a travel agency while other vacationers might use both.
This begs a simple question, how have “traditional” travel agent services been impacted by the growth in online purchases?
Detroit-based Your Premier Travel Service (YPT) is a family-owned business which has spanned over forty years and three generations. Started in Detroit in 1978, it has expanded to three locations, two in the city and one in suburban Novi.
And under the leadership and vision of third-generation owner Sanya Weston, YPT is expanding and establishing locations in Atlanta and Houston through the franchising development process with Francrop Detroit.
Weston, who took control of the family business in 2004, comes from a family of entrepreneurs. She has many travel-related experiences resulting in an understanding to adapt YPT’s business model during a changing marketplace.
I recently sat down with Weston to understand how YTP has achieved business sustainability in light of changing consumer tastes and the emergence of technology.
Lee: What have been your keys for success over a forty-year period?
Weston: The keys-to-our-success have been to remain adaptable to our customer needs and changes in the travel marketplace. Over the years, we have made vacations a reality for many people who could not afford a vacation by setting up payment plans so our customers can manage the cost of a trip over time. By doing this, we created a market that did not exist and helped thousands of people take their dream vacation. We also changed as the market changed. We developed specialties such as destination weddings, wedding registries, incentive group cruising and personalize planning to serve our customers.
In keeping with the family business legacy of being responsive to travel client’s needs, it is very important to continue to reinvent ourselves to stay relevant in the industry.
Lee: What changes have occurred in this industry and what are the implications?
Weston: The changing travel landscape – that is now seeing a rebirth or interest is being driven by Millennials that are now looking for a travel agents/agencies relationship that can help them make informed decision on travel destination and experiences. Many of my Millennial clients have disposable income or have inherited money from their parents, so they want to travel more because they do not want to wait until they are “old” to see the world.
Another major change is how technology has transformed the travel industry. Most travel sites are backed by marketing dollars that try to motivate a one-stop-shop approach for the price conscious consumers. I appreciate price conscious client, they tend to know what they want and I see it as our job to offer the very best for any and all clients looking for a great destination and experience.
Lee: What is driving people to travel? Trends?
Weston: People are looking to for experiences, such as Camel riding, seeing the great deserts of the world. Millennials are competing among themselves for who has the most and best experiences. What’s driving this is Social media. Millennials want to go and see things so they can post it, share with their friends and talk about them online.
Other trends include the activity of Baby Boomers who want their grand kids to see and experience hallmark destination in the U.S. such as national museums and monuments – etc. Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon and national parks before they pass on.
Lee: Many people are purchasing products online. How have you adjusted your business model?
Weston: Years ago, the majority of our customers came into the office if they wanted to purchase an airline ticket. There was an opportunity to meet face-to-face and build a relationship with customers. The internet changed this dynamic and enabled people to purchase tickets online and plan their own vacations.
We had to work harder to build relationships with our client base. One of the ways that we did this is to turn our best customers into travel agents, or travel evangelists. They had the passion and experience to share travel with those who longed to travel but did not feel that could afford to take a vacation.
We developed a niche for group travel such as high school trips, family reunions, designation weddings, and theme cruises.
Group travel is not for every agency. We got into high school senior trips when a local travel agency abandon its high school seniors and left them stranded after hearing of this my mother went into action to make sure the children was able to continue on their trip and that was the birth of our Senior trip business
Lee: What makes your agency different from others offering travel-related services?
Weston: YPT now has a new U.S. Staycation Travel Specialist (who happens to have a degree in Ecotourism from Eastern Michigan University, and skilled at travel within the United States). EMU is one of the few universities that have a degree in eco-tourism, so we are investing in travel talent who understands the changing travel landscape.
We believe that stress reduction, physical and mental health enhancement, and strengthening of relationships with family and friends can all be accomplished through travel.
Our selections of travel packages are available at competitive prices. Whether a client is looking to arrange a corporate retreat, a destination wedding, or just want to get away, we’ll provide with exciting options for destinations from around the world and our service is always complimentary.
Lee: What’s your business philosophy?
Weston: We focus on customer first. The travel industry can be complex at times so educating our clients are key. We do not take any travel experience for granted. Addressing the small things like what to pack to international etiquette we over everything with our clients before their travel experience.
We also make it affordable with a free payment plan to accommodate everyone.
Lee: You’re expanding into other cities as part of a franchise model. What’s your thought process behind this move?
Weston: Transforming a family business into a multi-location business (Detroit and Novi) that now is exploring the opportunity of franchising to cities such a Atlanta, Chicago and Houston.
Lee: What are the hottest travel destinations domestically and internationally from Detroit? How does this compare to five years ago, for example?
Weston: In 2018, some of the hottest destinations are, the United Kingdom because of the Royal Wedding. The idea of having a real black princess has sparked the interest of African-Americans to visit the UK as a travel destination. (Additionally), Greece, Cuba, Spain Portugal, Dubai and parts of Africa are also hot destinations
Domestically, Sedona, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada, New Orleans, and San Francisco.
Five years ago, Miami, Hawaii, Alaska and the Caribbean were hot destinations.
Lee: The movie, Black Panther, was a hit at the box office. You mentioned to me this has had an impact on Africa as a travel destination. Please explain.
Weston: The Black Panther movie instilled a pride in African-Americans about their ancestral heritage and peaked their curiosity about Africa in general. Ghana and Cape, Kenya and Cape Verde. Forty or fifty years ago, most people only knew about African what they saw on television from movies like Tarzan, or safari programs, and most people did not want to go to the jungle. Travelers have learned a lot since then but Africa as a travel destination recently gained a lot of appeal following the movie.
Lee: Do people really ask for Wakanda?
Weston: Yes, I have had someone ask for Wakanda, the fictional nation and home of the Black Panther. Many people that saw the movie did not follow the comics and when they saw this beautiful country in the movies, they wanted to go there. While Wakanda is not a real destination, I can send them to some place just as spectacular.
Lee: Just curious, what are some of the strangest travel questions you’ve been asked?
Weston: I once had a groom ask me how many people were allowed in the Honeymoon suite? I’ve been asked “Do I need a passport to go to New Mexico? The answer is no. It is part of the United States. I’ve been asked what is the safest place to sit on a plan in the event of a crash? That’s an easy one to answer – none.
Lee: You also have Corporate Travel-related services. What types do you provide and how has this sector changed over the last several years?
Weston: We can assist in offering corporate retreat travel, incentive travel conferences planning and inspiring health and wellness through our Corporate Motivator program and our sales motivator program to increase sales. The goal is to encourage and motivate employees to take proper vacations that will increase health and wellness and productivity.
Entrepreneurs do not take vacations because, they forget how to relax. Studies show that when entrepreneurs take a vacation every quarter, their creativity, happiness, and productivity increased by an average of 25%.
Our solution is to offer recurring, scheduled, planned vacations.
Lee: Any recommendations for those wanting to start a business or have simply “hit the wall” after being in business?
Weston: My recommendation for anyone wanting to start a business to find a mentor, preferably one is the same type of business that can help you stay on track with your goals and counsel you when you face challenges.
For more information, please go to: www.YourPremierTravelService.com