While thousands of her colleagues pursue destination weddings, luxury travel and other popular niches, Dina Dini has carved out a specialty many travel agents likely would never think of: selling Amtrak Vacations, mostly to international guests visiting the United States. And she's thriving personally and professionally.
The owner of Dina Dini Travel LLC in Wellington, FL, this former airline executive stumbled onto her lucrative niche about two years ago. It has been so successful for her business, it's grown to about 75% of her sales, and allowed her to form friendships with clients from around the world.
"Right now, I have more business than I can handle. I could take eight leads a day if it weren't unfair to the clients for me to spread myself so thin," said Dini.
She says the Southwest Chief, which traverses more than 2,200 miles across the Midwest and Southwest United States, including stops at the Grand Canyon, is one of the top bookings. International clients also want to see Montana's Glacier National Park.
Her clients come mostly from Australia and England, where rail travel is very popular, and usually book three- and four-week vacations. "They want to see America by train, because they can take in so much, and don't have to worry about getting lost," she said. "They can dine and have their wine and not worry about being pulled over."
One of Dini's favorite bookings was for a father and his five-year-old daughter, who wanted to see Canada and the United States and spend time on a dude ranch. "It took me two weeks to book that reservation, but the father was so grateful for making a dream come true for him."
While the bulk of her new business comes from the Avoya sales leads program, the unique and romantic nature of rail travel has resulted in a good deal of referral business. Clients sitting in the observation car make friends with other passengers, and tell them about her, and the next thing she knows, they are texting her.
From runways to railways
Dini started in the travel industry in 1973 as a reservation agent at National Airlines. She moved up the management ranks, and worked for a score of other airlines before retiring in 1995.
She moved to Florida in 2013, presumably to retire and work for a few non-profit organizations. But after a year, she wanted more. Dini completed the online training program with Career Quest and opened for business in July 2014 as an independent agent.
Her initial strategy was to specialize in cruises and travel to Japan, since she spent many years working for ANA. "But when that first sales lead came in, the options I could offer were overwhelming. I sat down and had a heart-to-heart with my oldest son, and told him, 'I think I made a mistake.' He said 'No. You want to be too perfect. If you make a mistake, it's okay."
At about that time, her host agency was looking for agents to be specialists for Amtrak Vacations, and studying their route network and PNRs reminded her of the airline industry. Dini also has improved her product knowledge by taking a handful of Amtrak Vacations trips herself. "I can tell my clients what to expect in coach, a roomette or business class. I know the hotels, and how to upsell the product. It's a slam dunk for me."
Retirement is put on hold
For a woman who was prepared for retirement a few years ago, Dini's life as a travel agent has kept her quite busy. When she isn't booking travel, or following her clients' postings on Facebook, she's often hosting them for a few nights in her home. "They start out as customers, and then become friends. I tell them, when they're on the East Coast, I will pick them up at the Amtrak station and they have a place to stay with me."
Her clients have come to love her so much that they utilize Dini for non-Amtrak vacations as well. "I may specialize in Amtrak Vacations, but I sell the world. Because of their satisfaction with their Amtrak vacation, they are committed to me."