Written by a Travel Consultant
“Thank you for calling ________. This is Katrina, how many I help you?”
This is what I say dozens of times a day, five days a week as a travel consultant at for one of America’s leading Destination Management Companies. I have probably spoken to you at one point or another.
Maybe I helped you work out an idea, find some flights, or perhaps I answered questions about your reservation and we chatted about which tours your passenger would love the most.
You may think that every travel consultant you talk to has always worked in travel and that’s why we are so knowledgeable. Well let me tell you, while this may be true for some of us, it is not true for all of us.
Prior to working in tourism, I had some personal experience with travel. Having ventured to both India and China previously in my life; and am lucky enough to be a part of a family that travels often. But professionally… I spent ten years working in the Spa Industry. Not exactly related to travel.
Skipping ahead to the present, I am coming up on my two year work-anniversary. A time I generally reflect on where I am professionally, and if I am still feeling fulfilled by the work I’m doing. (After all, I am a Millennial) The first thing that came to mind was how much I have learned since my first day here.
After multiple interviews, answering a variety of questions ranging from who I am as a person, to my knowledge of geography, I was informed I got the travel consultant position and given a date to start training.
I arrived to the 12th floor of a building located in downtown Portland, OR. After being greeted warmly and completing the initial formalities, I was shown to a training room. Two columns of tables waited inside. On each table, two computers were placed next to each other with a chair waiting in front of each computer. Each seat facing what I assumed was the front of the room. Although I would quickly learn that there isn’t really a “front” to the room.
I found the computer with my name taped to it and sat down, noticing that every computer in the room had a different name on it. I took in this moment of walking into something relatively completely foreign.
We spent almost the same amount of time laughing and connecting with the other “Newbies” in class as we did while studying the history, architecture, and culture of London, Paris and Italy. (The first of many locations we would learn.)
By the end, we had made friends, were familiar with the company’s advanced booking system, and had all our knowledge either in our heads or at our fingertips.
Once training was completed, our Newbie class graduated from the classroom to our very own desks, complete with a laminated compass dangling from the ceiling above our chair that had our names and our hire date. I suddenly felt very official, having never worked at a desk full-time before.
My first few weeks on the job was a learning process. You can only be taught so much before you have to jump in the deep end and actually do it.
I learned to navigate answering questions from travel agents while building individual bookings and coming up with the most efficient routing options for the locations the travel agent was asking for. I learned patience after spending a half hour creating an itinerary, only for the travel agent to ask me to rework it.
I learned how to listen to each travel agent I spoke to, grasp who their passengers are and what they are interested in. Every trip is different. I’ve booked trips for families, for honeymoons and anniversaries. I’ve booked soul searching trips, and trips for groups of friends. Trips for food lovers and history lovers. I’ve even booked bucket-list trips for people trying to have the experiences they must do or see during their lives. Whether it’s seeing the Eiffel Tower or driving a BMW on the Autobahn.
On the other hand, I developed a thicker skin. I took constructive criticism, I became flustered and stuttered over my words when being yelled at by frustrated travel agents for mistakes that had been made on reservations that I hadn’t been in before.
I figured out how to communicate in a calming matter regardless of the tone coming from the other side of the line. I began educating travel agents about our policies and the reasons we have them. I empathized when things went wrong, whether while booking a reservation or while working damage control if their passengers missed their flight or whatever disarray occurred.
As time went on my knowledge expanded. I became a relative expert in the areas I was trained in. I took phone calls with ease and generally felt comfortable and confident in my ability to communicate.
Naturally, it was once I reached this level of security that I was informed I would be leaving my now decorated desk and heading back to the training room. This time to learn about the rest of Europe.
If I once felt like I was standing on top of the Mountain, now I was back at the bottom. This time we learned about Switzerland rail, the coo-coo clocks in Bavaria, Germany and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. All while laughing every day.
A few months after that, I was given the option of either learning Central and South America or Asia. Personally, I chose to learn Central America, which involved returning to the training room for intensive learning.
Training is an ongoing part of life at this job. Sometimes I feel like my brain will burst with all of this knowledge. Since my first day working here I have traveled first to Italy then Norway less than a year later. Each trip couldn’t have been more different than the other. I was selected along with five other employees to go to Italy for ten nights. Together with our local Italian partners, we explored Rome, Florence, Venice and Tuscany.
We got to go on tours that we offer, we stayed in hotels we’ve recommended to travel agents, and we climbed countless flights of hotel stairs while we checked out and inspected several hotels a day. Never in my life did I think I could travel to Italy, eat as much pasta and bread as I did, and somehow lose weight.
Nine months later I was sent to Norway, this time I went alone and met up with a group of people from all around the world who all work in travel. Together, we bonded over a 4 day pilgrimage. Hiking 4 – 6 hours a day, working our way from Oslo to Trondheim.
I learned about the Norwegian culture and history. I was amazed by the similarities between Norway and the Pacific Northwest in terms of climate. I saw familiar landscapes decorated with foreign (to me) architecture. Traditional houses with with straw or stone slabbed roofs. Others propped up on stilts about 4 feet off the ground. (Later, I learned this is to prevent rodents from reaching the food inside the houses.)
Aside from these two trips I have also visited Spain, England and France on my own. Not to mention, Iceland and Japan planned for later this year.
Personally, I have never worked for a company that cares so much about their employees. This company has all the training we need, sometimes even before we need it. But training and trips aren’t the only things I’ve learned during my almost two years. I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that I can work somewhere while having genuine fun.
I have fun talking to you every day. I have fun designing trips with you, and learning about the world in a way I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. (At least not as easily.) More than that, I have fun with my co-workers. We have a management team that encourages us to have fun with our jobs. We have incentives and when we meet them we all get rewards, sometimes we get to spin a wheel of prizes and whichever one it lands on the entire office gets.
When the weather is nice (during the 4 months of the year that Portland, Oregon has regular sunshine) we get to have Beer Friday about once a month. This is a glorious time to be an employee here. Management provides a variety of beers and sometimes wine with snacks and places it in one of our break rooms for the staff to enjoy after work.
It’s a time when we can hang out and chat and bond with other co-workers, who typically feel more like friends after the amount of time we all spend together between the work day and social events the company holds.
I know that I am the type of person who needs to feel like I can always grow. Now that I’m coming up on my work anniversary, I know that I am happy. I am fulfilled and I can’t wait to book your next trip.
*** I am no longer working at Avanti. This post was written for them but I have since moved onto writing full time ***