Understanding your target audience. It’s really important to know who that is because it helps tailor the offerings to create a personalized and enjoyable experience. You would not want to offer a luxury experience to someone who is looking for a more affordable three-day cruise. So, you got to know who your client is to offer the best travel experience.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary DeSpain.
Mary runs Destinations Go, a world-class travel agency that books flights, cruises, and high-end trips wherever you want to go. She also runs Destination CLEs, a phenomenal mix of travel agency and CLE provider, which empowers lawyers to take “business trips” around the world to satisfy their continuing education requirements. Destination CLEs recently sold out its Ethics Law Trip to Dublin, Ireland, and is currently scheduling lawyers for a Personal Injury Trip to the Virgin Islands and a Legal Technology Cruise to Alaska.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I came to travel planning after running continuing legal education for the Alaska State Bar. I love to travel, and always talked with friends, family, and the lawyers I worked with about how to make it easier to go to the places we want. I found some excellent resource, and after quite a bit of time learning how to get the most “bang for your buck,” I started scheduling trips of all kinds for my husband and I, friends, family, and colleagues.
We’re now scheduling trips across the globe for our travel agency clients. And we’re particularly proud of our legal trips through Destinations CLE. Those trips have been sponsored by trust companies, accounting firms, law firms, software companies, and others. And those sponsorships make it easier to provide discounted packages to lawyer across the country. We also have more experts volunteering to speak then we have room!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most memorable experience in my career so far has been understanding that friends and family aren’t necessarily my target audience. I used to wonder why they weren’t booking with me despite their constant travel posts, but I now realize that my customer base mostly comes from word-of-mouth referrals. Eventually, some customers may even become friends and family.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The most amusing error I made at the beginning of my journey was starting a travel agency during the pandemic. I quickly learned that it wasn’t realistic to expect much travel during such a challenging time. Then again, if I hadn’t started it then, we might not be doing so well today.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am most grateful for the help of my husband, Mike. He understands that I have an entrepreneurial drive and that I want to succeed at everything I do. He is always there to support me. He does everything at home so I can sit in front of my computer all day making travel happen for everyone. I love what I’m doing. It’s rewarding and I don’t think of what I do for my customers as work. I’m thankful to him for being there as my backbone and support.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
The travel and hospitality industry is continuously evolving to meet the changing needs and expectations of consumers. Some of the recent innovations include the use of virtual and augmented reality technology, which allows customers to preview destinations before booking a trip.
- Artificial intelligence is also playing a significant role, with chatbots helping customers and predictive analytics assisting companies in making informed decisions.
- Blockchain technology is improving security and transparency in areas such as payments and loyalty programs. Personalization, using data and technology, tailors each customer’s travel experience through personalized recommendations and communication.
- Sustainability is becoming more important, with a growing demand for eco-friendly travel options, and companies implementing sustainable practices such as reducing waste, supporting local communities, and preserving natural resources.
- Due to the pandemic, contactless services have become crucial, reducing the need for physical interaction, and promoting social distancing.
- Remote work solutions have also emerged as a popular trend, accommodating travelers who are looking for work locations.
These advancements are revolutionizing the travel and hospitality industry as we know it.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
I’d have to say that the “pain point” in addressing innovation which does kind of disrupt the status quo is the ability of people to book anything they want online. Although, this technology has been around for 20 years now, the question becomes “Why do you need a travel agent?” Even though the I think, and my clients think, that the experience working with us is far better, it’s always difficult to compete with “just clicking the button.” Fortunately, when clients find out how much more they get by working with us, they come right on board!
You get experience with an agent who knows what you are looking for who can recommend travel locations to fit the budget, recommend promotions to take advantage of, make sure that you have travel insurance. After all, my job is to make sure your vacation is memorable, not miserable. So, the pain point is the DIY’s, but I think I provide a service that ensures the travel experience my clients need and want.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
The impact of Covid-19 has changed the way people travel. Over the next five years, a focus on sustainability and eco-friendliness is expected, with more attention on reducing waste, offsetting carbon emissions, and promoting eco-friendly accommodations. Contactless and digital options will also increase, allowing travelers to check-in and pay online, reducing face-to-face interaction with hotel and resort employees. Companies are likely to offer more flexible cancellation and booking policies to accommodate last-minute changes. Virtual experiences will also be incorporated, allowing travelers to explore destinations from the comfort of their home. Some companies may offer unique experiences not found elsewhere to attract customers. These changes are not definite but possible outcomes for how the travel industry will adjust to the changing needs of travelers post-Covid-19.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
Well, there are so many variations of the perfect vacation, and they all vary just as people vary. In general, say you are looking for a vacation based on resting, I recommend finding a place with a stress free environment. Maybe a complete change of scenery or a new and different experience if that fits you. Sometimes choosing to be surrounded by family for optimal quality time or the reverse setting may be for quality time with yourself alone for mental relaxation or healing. A location could offer time to disconnect from everyday responsibilities. Consider this too, even though we all want a fast Wi-Fi connection, it’s really good to learn to unplug from time to time especially when we want to connect with our family or reflect on relaxation.
When I think of travel I may want luxurious accommodations and amenities, that is always a plus especially if you have a budget that can afford that. I would say to someone who does, “by all means go all out.” Then consider balancing leisure time and activities, a place that has good food and drinks, a place where you feel safe and that feeling that the vacation has a sense of value for the money you spent.
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
I agree, travel is not always about escaping but about connecting. I know that a more wellness driven experience is growing in the tourism industry. Many people see travel as an opportunity to see new places and different cultures but also focus their physical and mental wellbeing. This huge demand on a wellness driven experiences prompts facilities to offer amenities like yoga classes, meditation, spa treatments, healthy dining options, fitness centers and other wellness options. Wellness retreats, with a focus on your overall wellbeing but some venues don’t only focus on the physical aspect but also on emotional wellbeing. Overall, the efforts to cultivate a wellness driven experience is a growing trend and it’s expected to continue more and more as people prioritize their wellbeing.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
So, based on my own personal experience and success, the five most important things to create a travel experience that keeps people coming back more and more are:
- Understanding your target audience. It’s really important to know who that is because it helps tailor the offerings to create a personalized and enjoyable experience. You would not want to offer a luxury experience to someone who is looking for a more affordable three-day cruise. So, you got to know who your client is to offer the best travel experience.
- I really have two number ones, because they really go with each other. So, in knowing the target audience I am providing exceptional customer service. Customer service is truly a key factor in creating the travel experience from the beginning.
- You also end up being in a close relationship with your client during the planning stage and offering a unique and memorable experience, gives them the feeling, they can’t find this service anywhere but through you.
- My focus is always on quality over quantity. I provide high quality options rather than a whole list of things to do as that is better for the customer. You don’t want to have them to have to choose from too many options and we’re continually innovating to stay current on ideas and suggestions,
- I am always doing a lot of training as well so that I know the locations that I’m sending people to.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think I’d like to say that my plans for success and bringing goodness to the world involve philanthropy, investment in socially responsible projects. I’d like to create jobs and economic opportunities. The travel industry is really rewarding and I’d like to mentor and share my experiences. I’d like to be a role model to young adults who are trying to figure out where they want to go in life. I’d also like to advocate for positive changes in various areas such as government policies and environmental issues. My goal is to be an overall good person and contribute to the community and the planet.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a movement, it would be for education and literacy, access to health care, and anti-discrimination. I believe that education is a fundamental right and a powerful tool for promoting good in the world. I truly believe that everyone should have access to health care and not face discrimination based on their beliefs or identity. Lastly, I believe that each person can make a difference by supporting and participating in things that align with their values.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me at DestinationsGo.com and DestinationCLEs.com
To follow me on social media:
Facebook: DestinationsGo and DestinationCLEs
Instagram: DestinationsGo and DestinationCLES
LinkedIn: DestinationsGo or DestinationCLEs
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!