Julie Jones worked long hours for 15 years as a business and commercial lending lawyer, but still found time to travel extensively with her family.
She was so well-traveled, in fact, that many friends and acquaintances often called her for travel advice. That planted the seed for her career change from attorney to agent.
“I was growing tired of law. I hated the time it required,” said Jones, who last year launched TopFlight Travels, an agency she operates from her St. Louis, Mo., home.
With three young sons and a husband who is also a lawyer, it was time to look at other options that would give her more flexibility, she said.
“I have extensive knowledge about travel destinations, and I decided this was a great opportunity to try to make money at it,” Jones said.
Her agency is an affiliate of The Travel Society, one of the country's oldest host agencies and a member of Virtuoso. That was a good fit since Jones wanted to specialize in luxury and adventure travel.
“I just got back from Virtuoso Travel Week in Vegas and I had a wonderful time meeting hundreds of suppliers,” said Jones.
Key to success
“It took a leap of faith with me not having experience in the industry but Virtuoso has been key to my success. It has great marketing assistance and webinars on just about any topic or luxury supplier out there. Every week I devote a significant amount of time taking the webinars.”
Jones’ training and experience is already paying off.
“I have one full-time independent contractor working with me now and my goal is to keep expanding and adding more ICs.”
Most of Jones’ customers hail from the St. Louis area, and most of her business comes from referrals.
Types of clients
“I really have two types of clients,” she said. “One is the super busy professional couple with kids who have no time to do travel research and don't want to do research. They just want to call me and I take care of everything.
“The other type is those planning a very expensive vacation. They don't want to just rely on internet [bookings] when spending that kind of money. They are investing in their vacation and they want professional advice,” she said.
“Some people thought that the travel agent industry was a dead profession, but with me they get Virtuoso amenities such as room upgrades, resort credits and VIP treatment,” Jones added.
“Why would you not use a Virtuoso agent?”
Still relatively new to the travel retail landscape, Jones is busy checking out travel products and destinations.
“Since I've started the agency every trip I've been on is geared toward selling the place to my clients.”
She’s now planning an on-site inspection trip to Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, a five-star “glamping” property on Vancouver Island, a 45-minute seaplane ride from Vancouver, B.C.
The all-inclusive resort features top chefs, fine wine and fancy tents. Visitors can go bear-watching, whale-watching, fishing and hiking.
“I have a lot of outdoorsy clients. I think it will be an easy place to sell,” she said.
Jones loves working from home; it's convenient and there's no overhead.
“My boys, ages 14, 11 and 5, also love that I sell travel because I'm around more and they get to travel more, too,” she said.