The Forrest family had never before attended a FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer tournament. So, in December 2018, when Annemarie Forrest purchased tickets for this year’s competition in France, including three matches in two different cities, she realized just how big a project she took on.
There were the airline tickets and hotels in multiple cities (including a side trip to London and Lausanne, Switzerland) for themselves and their son and daughter, 8 and 10. The family also wanted to enjoy other activities during the two-week vacation, and they needed intercity transportation between matches – quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.
“Planning a two-week trip to Europe for our whole family felt daunting,” said Annemarie Forrest. “My husband and I both have busy jobs and thought it would be well worth the money to have some help in planning the trip in order to save us some time.”
“I was thrilled when I first spoke to Luke and Annemarie,” said Beth Johnston, luxury transformational travel concierge with her newly rebranded agency, Orenda Travel, in Pinckney, Michigan. “They’re both busy professionals with a family, and have a limited amount of time to plan. I think this is where my value came in.
“I did the research and planning, came up with good, reliable options for them to choose from and then took care of all of the booking, payments, and contacting the suppliers to make sure everything was ready for them.”
Johnston had started her travel career as a destination wedding specialist, but earlier this spring she transitioned into family travel. “This was my first European curation. I have traveled to Europe myself and actually lived in Germany for a summer while I was in college. But planning out an itinerary for a family with multiple cities and countries was a challenge,” she said.
“My focus was the best value, not necessarily the least expensive. It involved many hours of research and back-and-forth with the clients before booking all the different components.”
“Beth was easy to work with and helped us think of things we wouldn't have otherwise, like buying trip insurance,” said Forrest. “She helped identify hotels we likely wouldn't have that met our specifications in our budget. She helped make sure we were organized.”
Trip highlights the value of a good travel advisor
For both moms, the trip was special. Forrest played soccer herself, and coaches her daughter’s team today. Johnston is the mother of three sons, all who played soccer, “so I do love the game,” said Johnston, whose youngest played travel team and high school soccer. (She even co-announced his junior varsity high school games.)
“Since I grew up with two younger brothers and three boys of my own, my life has been surrounded by sports,” Johnston said. “Women's sports have grown since my boys grew up, and empowering young girls and boys to achieve their goals is a wonderful way for families to connect and see different parts of the world.”
Like a good soccer coach, Johnston was there for the Forrests throughout their World Cup adventure, from planning and preparing for it, and during it. Spending 30 years as an elementary educator helped. “I think my value as a family travel advisor is, first of all, knowing children and their developmental levels from my teaching career,” she said.
“I love putting together gift packages for my clients. This one was particularly fun for me. I wanted to get the kids some things they could use to keep them occupied while traveling, but also be educational,” Johnston said, adding that “you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the teaching out of the teacher.
“I knew the kids were big Harry Potter fans, so I found an UNO card game that was Harry Potter themed (Annemarie Forrest sent Johnston a photo of them playing on a train between cities). I also found two city scavenger hunts, one for London and one for Paris, that the kids could do in each of those cities. They focused on city landmarks and history, but in a fun, interactive way.”
Johnston also purchased an official FIFA World Cup soccer ball for the kids, and for the parents she purchased a bottle of French wine. “I packaged it all in a cool, soccer-themed zipper bag that they could use on their travels.”
The family’s Travefy itinerary was also part of the package, including paper document vouchers (also accessible online) in case internet service was not available during any part of their trip.
But despite all of her advanced planning, over two weeks the odds were likely something might go awry, and it did.
“One night, we arrived at one of our hotels after the registration desk had closed, and I wasn't sure what to do,” Forrest said. “I made a quick call to Beth and she found us the information we needed to access our room within minutes. It was comforting to have someone to call who I knew would help us.”
Johnston called her supplier, but they weren't able to contact the hotel. “I dug back through my direct correspondence with the hotel and found the codes for checking in after hours and forwarded those immediately to the client,” she said.
Annemarie Forrest contacted Johnston the next morning when she realized the information had been provided to her previously. “I told Annemarie, that’s what I’m here for ... to make sure everything goes smoothly before, during and after you travel,” Johnston said.
Booking the vacation for the Forrests was a learning experience for Johnston, too. “I am a lifelong learner, so I appreciate this part of my entrepreneurial journey. This was basically the longest, multi-destination and most complex trip that I have planned so far, a true FIT,” said Johnston.
“I learned that it takes quite a bit of research and planning. I had never booked train travel before, so that was new. The reason travel advisors charge planning fees became very apparent to me with this trip, I underestimated the amount of time it would take me. I have learned my true value.”
2023 … and beyond
The U.S. Women’s team finals victory – 2-0 over the Netherlands – was a big win for the Forrests and for Johnston.
“We had an incredible trip and created wonderful memories,” said Forrest, whose family is already pondering the 2023 Women’s World Cup – with Johnston’s assistance. “It will likely be in a location we've never been to before, and having help navigating unchartered territory will be invaluable,” Forrest said.
“Every time the client sent me photos of their trip I was thrilled. I often say that planning a trip for clients is almost as good as going yourself. The fact that I played a part in creating lasting family memories and helping a family connect to each other through travel is why I do what I do,” Johnston said.
The excitement surrounding the women’s team’s second consecutive World Cup championship helped garner exposure for Johnston and Orenda Travel.
“The fact that the U.S. won the World Cup, and my clients were there, gave my social media posts a huge boost. I was getting lots of traction on my Facebook page about my clients at the final game. It definitely was one of my top posts overall,” Johnston said. “I think anytime there is an event, like the FIFA Women's World Cup, that has vast attraction to a larger audience base, that helps with social media exposure.”
With a World Cup victory of her own under her belt, Johnston is considering adding international sporting events to her services. “I knew that this could be a great opportunity for me to shine in my new niche and also to convert clients who did not use a travel advisor before to a hopefully long-term relationship,” she said.
“A trip of this length and complexity (multiple cities, countries) is perfect for a travel advisor,” said Johnston. “Our connections with preferred suppliers and other advisors allow us to recommend and vet out accommodations, tours, transportation, etc., that are reliable and fit the traveler’s needs.”