It was back in high school – not that long ago to be sure – that Carmen Lopes settled on a career in travel.
She hasn’t really seen the world yet. She’s never been to London or Paris, let alone Bora Bora, although she hopes to get there one day.
But she returned from two cruises and a few trips to her birthplace in Portugal bitten by the travel bug, and she is determined to make it her life’s work.
When her high school sat her in front of a computer to research possible careers, Carmen somehow kept coming back to the ones in the travel industry.
She registered for the Travel & Tourism program at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., studied hospitality management, and worked for two years as the front office manager of a local Comfort Inn. But somehow the fit with hotels wasn’t quite right.
Finding your place
In September Carmen found her niche, at least for now, as a travel agent specializing in destination weddings and honeymoons at Atlas Travel in Milford, Mass.
It started with an internship offer last spring from Atlas.
“I had no idea what to do as my college graduation approached,” she recalled. “So when Atlas Travel offered me an opportunity I thought, ‘Why not try something outside my comfort zone?’”
By June Atlas had offered her a full-time job instead.
Carmen currently works in the office every day but as winter approaches and the weather gets bad, she expects to be more home-based.
"Everyone else works at least one day at home a week, but at this point I need to show myself,” she said. “And I feel more comfortable being here and always having someone to ask questions.”
Weddings and honeymoon specialist
Carmen’s manager already has her taking a program for Destination Weddings and Honeymoons specialists through Atlas’s consortium, Ensemble Travel. She’s also going on her first fam trip in November to honeymoon mecca Jamaica.
“There are so many different fields in travel and that element of the unknown is what I love about it,” Carmen said. “In 20 years I could be in a totally different area.”
For now though she spends much of her time training with different vendors and picking up an occasional email request from corporate customers looking for help with their vacation plans.
Her first customer was an easy one. He was celebrating his first anniversary and already had planned the details of the honeymoon he had never taken.
Carmen’s short-term goal is to expand both her knowledge and her customer base.
She hopes handling weddings will help with the latter as young clients refer their friends and return for anniversaries and family events in the future.
Not everyone has time to spend hours doing research on the computer but that’s where a dedicated and determined agent can add real value, Carmen said.
“The best day is when you can show the client the benefit of using a travel agent,” she said.
For now Carmen plans to build her own clientele by training, talking with vendors and marketing executives, using Twitter “to remind them I’m here,” and just plain hard work.
Down the road she thinks she’d like to specialize in Central America, “a market many customers don’t know much about.”
No set plan
She doesn’t have a five-year plan and certainly isn’t thinking about owning her own agency one day. Rather, she’s considering going back to school to earn a master’s degree in marketing, which she will apply “definitely to the travel industry.”
As a 22-year-old Carmen said she has a lot of options.
“It’s a perfect time to experience and visit all these different countries, to go cruising, maybe even to work on a cruise ship.”
But she’s sure of one thing: What started as an experiment in trying something new has turned into the career she wants to follow.
“When I originally thought of travel agents I felt like it was a dying industry,” Carmen acknowledged.
“But now I really understand that the knowledge and experience the travel agent brings to the table is of huge importance.”