Twenty-eight year old Denise Chaykun was vaguely aware that once upon a time there existed something called travel agents. But she had no idea she was on her way to becoming one when she opened Magical Mystery Tours a little over a year ago.
“I sort of knew they existed. But I tended to think of it as something from when I was younger, and we went on vacation and my mom would go to somebody in the mall,” Chaykun told Travel Market Report.
Chaykun’s entry into the profession was a bit of a fluke.
‘Anywhere but Syracuse’
It all began when a busy lawyer friend told her he needed a vacation but didn’t have the time to plan one. Chaykun volunteered. Then, to add an element of fun, she refused to tell him where she was sending him.
“I made a little questionnaire to gauge where he’d been before, because I figured he’d want to go somewhere new. And he told me anywhere but Syracuse, N.Y.”
A week before his trip, she sent her friend information about the weather, so he would know what to pack. The morning of the trip she picked him up, drove him to the airport and told him which airline to check in with.
“He was so excited – you know it’s something good, but you don’t know what or where you’re going,” she said.
A business is born
The trip – which was to San Francisco – worked out flawlessly. Her friend enjoyed it so much that he told his friends about it. They all thought it sounded like something they’d like to do.
So her lawyer friend suggested to Chaykun that she start a business. Chaykun approached her best friend, whom she describes as a “total travel junkie,” and she agreed to become her business partner.
And that’s how Magical Mystery Tours was born. Chaykun, who is president, concentrates primarily on the back-end of the business, while her partner and one other agent do most of the travel planning.
It didn’t take long for them to learn that they couldn’t operate a business on mystery trips alone, so they soon expanded into more traditional travel. Mystery vacations currently comprise about 10% of the business.
Starting from scratch
Other than being two people who liked to travel, neither Chaykun nor her business partner knew anything about the travel agency profession.
“It took a while, researching and figuring out how things work,” she said. They did much of their research on Google. “We also quizzed anybody we could find who had some connection to the industry.
“In the beginning we didn’t even understand commissions. We just thought we’d book on standard online sites and add service fees. It was pleasant to find out this is normal.”
The agency handles most of its bookings through its host TravelQuest. And it charges service fees for everything it does, in addition to earning commissions on some sales.
Taking it slowly
Chaykun, her business partner and their one travel agent hold other jobs, each putting in 15 to 20 hours a week at Magical Mystery Tours.
For the past year, they have only marketed through personal networks – a mixture of family, friends, and friends of friends. They just launched a website in March.
They handled 100 bookings last year. About half were full vacations; the other half consisted of arranging aspects of travel, including hotel or car bookings. They did five mystery trips.
They are in no rush to grow the business, Chaykun said. “I’d love to see this as a sustainable career for our travel agents, but I also think it can be a lucrative part-time venture.
“We still have lots to learn,” Chaykun added. “It’s been really satisfying and exciting. We’re having a blast.”