For 15 years, former AIG Travel executive Lisa Bourget harbored a persistent entrepreneurial itch. Then in the midst of a global pandemic, Bourget made the leap, launching Quiet Meadow Travel in June 2021 from her home in Blair, WI.
“Some would say last summer was a crazy time to start, but it aligned with everything I had going,” Bourget told Travel Market Report. That everything included a husband who was about to retire, completion of their newly built “forever home,” and a desire for more flexibility.
When Bourget started Quiet Meadow Travel, she brought with her a supplier’s familiarity with retail travel, strong transferrable skills, a passion for travel and a healthy dose of humility. “I know that a lot of small businesses don’t succeed. I have an appreciation and respect for the hard side.”
Among the tools Bourget believes will help her succeed are “perseverance with a capital P,” diligence about the financials, a willingness to learn and strong relationship and customer service skills.
Bourget has worked in travel since 2004, starting out in hospitality. In 2008, she left a job as a hotel general manager to join AIG Travel, where she worked her way up to regional VP of field sales for AIG Travel–Travel Guard, a position she held from 2017 to 2020.
In her VP role, Bourget represented the insurance provider at major retail travel conferences and worked with travel agency partners up and down the East Coast. That experience fueled her entrepreneurial dream. “The itch to have my own business became stronger when I was out there visiting agency partners,” she said.
It takes grit
One asset she knew would serve her well was her customer service know-how.
“I have a passion and a skill set for always delivering a high level of customer service – not just a passion, but respect for the grit you have to have to deliver that every day, to dig in and do what it takes. It’s kind of ingrained in me, from being in the hospitality industry, working with call centers and then with agency partners.”
Her years working with travel advisors also taught Bourget another critical lesson – the need for flexibility and resilience. “You have to embrace change – whether it’s a different direction in the industry, different marketing tools, social media, shrinking commissions.
“I don’t say this lightly: You’ve got to be able to pivot quickly – first it’s Ebola, then something else, the economy, Covid. Now we’ve got Russia-Ukraine.”
A lot to learn
For all her industry background and familiarity with retail travel, Bourget anticipated a steep learning curve. “You don’t know what you don’t know. I had worked with a lot of agency partners, but I didn’t know everything behind the scenes.”
Even with that foresight, she wasn’t fully prepared for just how much there was to learn – especially when it came to product knowledge. There are, she discovered, a huge number of suppliers out there, and that makes learning a product very time-consuming. “Some of the products and some of the suppliers are very complex.”
One aspect of the supply side that Bourget knows well is the intricacy of overlapping supplier relationships. “It’s such a web,” said Bourget, who is affiliated with Travel Planners International. “There are thousands of agents within TPI. TPI is part of a consortium, and TPI has hundreds and hundreds of suppliers, and those suppliers are in different consortiums.
“Understanding that web and all the different relationships within that web has helped me be a little bit ahead of the game. Just because I’m asking person X for this doesn’t mean they can deliver. You’ve got to think of all that.”
Helping one another
As a new travel advisor, Bourget has found the support of travel advisors both inside and outside her host agency to be a huge help. “I’ve got this network of professional travel advisors – I can ping them and say, ‘Tell me about Iceland.’”
The willingness of travel advisors to share their knowledge is one of the things Bourget loves about the industry. “There’s those little nuances that you’re not going to find on the Internet that you get from colleagues – that nugget somebody shares that you put into the product you’re selling, and it knocks it out of the park.”
‘Now I get it’
When she was a supplier, Bourget often heard travel advisors talk about their struggles. “I knew they put a lot of time into research. I knew it was challenging to have an efficient business model. Do I charge service fees? Do I now? Shrinking commission structures.
“You’ve got to take care of your clients and sell what works for them. But there’s also the business side. They might be asking for a supplier that’s not preferred.
“Those are challenges we would hear about a lot. But now I get it. Now that I’m on the other side of the business, I really understand.”