If travel agents know one thing better than most other professionals, it’s that first-rate travel experiences never happen by accident. It takes a 360-degree understanding of every situation, collaborative planning, the flexibility to pivot on a dime and the determination to ensure client satisfaction at all costs.
The same could be said for a happy marriage, which may be why so many married couples have partnered together to build their travel agencies.
“We have a shared passion for travel, and for being entrepreneurs,” explains Julie Welch of her decision to co-found Amaze Travel in Northville, Mich. with her husband Jim. “Any time you have a business partner you are entering into a committed relationship. We are fortunate we found that trusted partner in one another.”
The Welches both left careers in finance to launch Amaze in 2014, and the agency has already hit a $3 million sales milestone. Along the way, they celebrated the birth of their daughter Siena during the summer of 2017.
“The business still needed our attention even as we brought Siena home from the hospital and were learning all about parenthood,” recalls Julie. “This certainly caused us to reassess our processes, and it amplified the challenges of being an entrepreneur with your partner.”
In the end, she says, the couple’s strong commitment to communication and ability to work together helped them navigate the waters of co-parenting a newborn… and a business.
For Rayanna Cole Dombroski and Scott Dombroski, independent contractors of Montecito Village Travel in Santa Barbara, Calif., working together was a huge advantage when their daughter was very young. “When Cadyn was born, we wanted to make sure that we were both there for her,” says Rayanna. The couple job-shared (each worked one week on, one week off) until Cadyn reached school age and they have adjusted their routine as needed as the years have passed. “She’s always had someone to come home to.”
Having been in the business for 32 and 22 years respectively, Rayanna and Scott have also experienced the downside of the industry. “Not having a consistent paycheck can be one of the biggest challenges,” Rayanna says. “With two commission-only incomes, it can be very difficult when a disaster hits. For example, after 9/11, business was almost non-existent. We had to take out a loan against our home.”
“We’re aware that all of our eggs are in one financial basket,” says Kasra Esteghamat who together with his husband, John Oberacker, owns Eden For Your World in Long Beach, Calif. Although Kasra does note that this is nothing new. Prior to entering into the travel business nine years ago the couple co-owned a successful landscape design service; collectively they have been in business together for 25 years.
Working together in the same industry and knowing what the job requires is definitely an advantage. “If only one of us were in the travel industry, friction could arise on a vacation if one partner needed to take off to do a site inspection. And, since we both know what is expected in the industry, that 2:00 a.m. emergency call is understood (if still not necessarily appreciated) by the partner.”
Married or not, every travel agent knows that one of the biggest occupational hazards is that you can never fully disconnect. “Even when we are on vacation, we’re still working,” says Julie. “We are always evaluating the property where we’re staying, or which clients we could envision staying there. And, when we are traveling together, we don’t have backup while we’re away.”
All three couples are independent contractors with Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, a Virtuoso host agency, which provides them additional perks and flexibility in running their businesses, and all have figured out a division of labor that works for them.
“We each handle the entire sales cycle with our respective clients and each have our own book of business, but there are times when we might refer a client to the other person depending upon the destination,“ says Julie. “Jim manages finance and strategy and I handle marketing and operations, including creating our internal processes.”
John and Kasra have taken the roles of CEO and COO, respectively, while Rayanna says Scott generally handles corporate travel and she takes care of leisure as well as a lot of the behind-the-scenes operations of their business including the accounting, computer and software details.
Each couple says that the greatest benefit is their knowledge of one another and the ability to assist each other when needed. “We tend to know what the other is thinking; how the other would handle a situation and we tend to agree,” says Kasra.
They all agree that knowing that they have each other’s backs is paramount. As Rayanna puts it, “You have to like each other.”