He started J and L Travel in San Diego in 2001, and moved to Florida in January 2003. J and L operates with three independent contractors and primarily sells groups, cruises and fundraising tours.
Joining the military at a very young age instilled a number of values in Air Force veteran Debra Groh, owner and vacation specialist at Dream Vacations, Salisbury, MD. Principal among them is “service of your fellow man. Service is now second nature to me,” she said.
Service is a common theme, of course, among veterans and travel agents alike. Afghanistan veteran Ashley Metesh-McCoy, owner of Kinship Vacations in Fort Eustis, VA, donates 10% of her agency’s profits to Fisher House Foundation and Ronald McDonald House Charities.
“Having experienced many times of separation from family and my husband, first as a military brat, then as an active duty soldier, and now as an army spouse, I'm passionate about helping people reconnect and reinvigorate relationships after long periods apart and/or those that need a break from their busy daily lives in order to nurture relationships,” she said.
Being in the Air Force also taught Groh to focus on “a love for details and thoroughness” and accomplishing goals, “respect for people, how to follow directions, and how to work as a team,” she said. And “n the military I also gained listening skills and a bit of intuitiveness, “which I have in spades to ferret out what my clients really want and what they are really looking for.”
“There are plenty of connections between serving in the military and being a travel agent,” agreed Schatz, including attention to detail and the ability to multi-task.
“Preparing my clients for their travel is similar to making sure those I reported to in the military were prepared for what they were about to do. Both require discipline and the ability to safeguard information,” she said. “And having been given the opportunity to help in some small way the people in the locations I served was also important to me, and inspires me to introduce my clients to the areas the locals love, the restaurants the locals eat at, and the events that the locals attend. What better way to learn about their destination than to be adventurers and live a bit like the locals.”
The military remains a part of their lives and their careers
Former Marine Jim Smith of West Palm Beach, FL has spent a good portion of the past 14 years advising the travel industry on how to serve travelers with disabilities. “I guess my military service had some bearing on that, and committed me to helping improve accessible travel,” he acknowledged. “You don’t realize what’s happening, until you have time to step back and see how some of the pieces connect.”
He works with Active International, a U.S.-based organization that tries to educate travel agents and the industry on how to serve individuals who face accessibility challenges.
Meanwhile, Groh said she relishes the chance to serve veterans through her travel agency. “I love helping them. I am always seeking new ways to build my business by marketing to veterans. I honor and so highly respect veterans as they are my own rock stars,” she said.
“I have a few military clients and I would like to grow this niche as I feel as if I have an understanding of what military families need from their vacations,” Schatz agreed.
And at Lori’s Travel in Rochester, NY, Mike Chaba’s Marine connections include his active work to keep up the local Toys for Tots charity, a holiday Marine Corps staple. Through the agency, which his wife owns, the husband-and-wife team also has been able to provide free flights to veterans in need, and support annual events.
“I made friends in the Marines that I still have today,” he said. “The Corps is a brotherhood like no other, anywhere, anyhow.”