When Beth Pearlman Brownstein took the plunge and became a home-based travel professional two years ago, she considered opening a brick-and-mortar storefront. But when she thought of being in the office until 11 at night, she reconsidered. And that’s how she went from the C-suite of large Midwestern corporations to working in her own Chicago home.
Brownstein had always been a Type A kind of girl, from her perfect 4.0 summa-cum-laude average in college to her high-stress jobs as head of employee relations at major corporations. But as the economy soured, what once was a role she saw as helping her co-workers became more and more about being the one who let them go.
“It was my passion, but firing people and handling harassment lawsuits was very draining. And so was knowing who was about to be terminated,” she says.
Then one day her husband bought her a gift, a vacation trip to Beaches Turks & Caicos, and Brownstein caught the travel bug. Suddenly she envisioned a future quite different from H.R. Thinking Beaches would be a great company to work for, she started by applying for a position at a local travel agency, determined to learn the travel business. And as fate would have it, that’s where she found her true path.
Over the next three years as an independent contractor at a family-owned agency, she absorbed everything she could—and within four years had “reached my five-year goal of earning $300,000 in annual bookings.”
Going out on her own, though, was still a scary thought. “When you are not working with an agency it’s like drinking from the fire hose to find the resources you need,” Brownstein said. So she signed on with outsideagents.com and vacations.com, which provided support, training and development, and mentoring.
Sure enough, what surprised her most about being in her own business is “how quickly everything changes, sometimes even day to day. You book a resort—and then you find out it is closing and moving your clients.”
She was also disconcerted by the lack of quality control and attention to detail on the part of many suppliers, the number of documents coming in that had the client scheduled to get to the ship an hour after its scheduled departure, the number of times people who were supposed to show up simply did not.
For anyone considering becoming a travel professional, she suggests, “the best way to start is by working in a host agency. I wouldn’t be able to have had the personal contacts that you really need to help you without being with a brick-and-mortar agency first. You need those face-to-face contacts."
“I learned a lot in my two years with a host. But I have learned a whole lot more after going out on my own. I’ve learned that other’s people’s mistakes can easily become your problem—and how not to let that happen.”
It’s also important to attend as many local training events and trade shows as possible. She herself went to the annual Apple Vacations trade show in Chicago and the vacation.com conventions, along with many events for home-based agents, and took online courses and the Aruba specialist program.
The best training, Brownstein said, was from Beaches’ sister company, Sandals; “it’s done live and in person, it’s a four-hour class that you sit in, it’s hands-on and it provides a whole lot of knowledge.” Also top-notch are Delta Vacations and Apple Vacations, while Travel Research Online, Travel Agent Academy and Travel Agent University offer good webinars, she said.
But “the best decision I ever made in this business,” she said, was joining the Destination Weddings and Honeymoon Specialists Association, whose “tools, weekly webinars, camaraderie among the agents and helpfulness make them just an outstanding organization” for newcomers as well as for seasoned agents.
If she had it all to do again, would she still have quit that corporate job? “I’d have done it sooner,” she said. “I named my company Peace Love and Travel because I have learned about so many cultures I never would have experienced if I stayed in my little bubble. Travel is an education that you can’t get in school. And it brings peace to the world.”
In the end, what more could a woman who cares about human resources ask for?