Jennifer Doncsecz, President of VIP Vacations Inc.
Plan your next romantic getaway with Jennifer! She is an entrepreneur and an expert of love. Hear from her about overcoming great disruptions in the industry, starting a business, and how she found her niche with destination weddings.

Steve: What are the benefits of working with a travel agent, that you would get?

Jennifer: When people ask, because millennials are very straightforward, “Well, I found the same price on Expedia.” I’ll ask, “Do you know what Expedia is? Do you know you’re just doing our job?” Sites like that, they don’t know you, and they don’t have a relationship with you. If you have to call, you’re gonna be on a long hold and are they going to help you? We’re trying to build relationships. There’s something to be said for working with a small business, and that rings true to a lot of millennials.

They are now getting their college degrees, and it’s like the high school degrees, in my time. They’re looking for the job that makes them happy. A lot of them are wondering if they can create their own business. I think that they appreciate it when you talk to them reasonably, and say, “I’m sure it is easier it is easier to look for a price online. Are you sure that you’re getting the best advice? Do you want someone who you can turn to when you have a question?” People do want that, but, they want the convenience to be able to make a payment. So we merged that, we have a payment link on our website.

We answer emails. My brides have this app on their phone called, “What’s App,” and if they’re in their destination and they have a problem, instead of worrying about making a long-distance call, they just ping me on that. It’s funny, you dread hearing from them, but, 95% of the time, when I get a ping from them while they’re in destination, it’s them sending a picture of their wedding. So that’s the difference! That’s the relationship we want to have. I respect agencies that charge service fees to book. For us, we don’t – we don’t feel we need to. We establish the boundary line from the beginning. We’re not just a place where you book it on your own. That’s because we ask questions, and we care. We’re not this machine that gets a quote and, “now you go, and now you, and now you go.” We start the email with, “how’s your day? Do you know about this destination?” Sometimes they don’t want to read about it on their phone, sometimes they just want a price.

What I think was most profound was when the hurricanes, this past fall, how people who had issues, became advocates. Even though their trip could have gone perfectly, they could have recommended us. Because it went wrong, and we helped them, they’re greater advocates, than they might have been, even if it went right. That says a lot about how you could become a superhero for your client in bad times, with weather, issues with baggage, just getting feedback about travel insurance. Or, if they see some salacious news story about crime in Mexico, we become the sound of reason. I think that’s the value you get when you use a travel consultant.

Steve: What trends in the travel industry do you foresee in the near future? What about the long term?

Jennifer: I think it’s going to be easier for consumers to work with a travel agent virtually. They have to do it now by phone. We hardly talk to our clients. We’re a store front with a visible location, but, most of the time, it’s still via email. I see the trend being much more message and text based, than even email.

Several years ago, our website became reactive, which meant that if you used a tablet or a phone, you didn’t have to move your finger to see the other side of the page. It compressed it, and yet, you could expand if you needed to look close. There were reactive sites where you couldn’t see that picture, it wouldn’t allow you to zoom. Agents need to stay current with technology, for sure.

But, I think that the relationship thing is going to be back, even more so than it ever was. It was a big peak of people booking their tickets online and realizing that a reconnection to get to Cancun, is probably not a good idea that they save five dollars.

I hate for people to have bad experiences to turn back to an agent, so we make our own brand ambassadors. It’s been a big pull for us this year. We look through referrals. We find that there are just a few people who go out of their way. We’re gonna label them Brand Ambassadors, and send them some fun goodies, every time somebody books [from their recommendation]. We’re not enticing them by money. We’re sending them that beach bag that we got from the Jamaican Tourism Board. Or, if we’re at an airport, and they have really great coffee from that destination, and you know they love coffee, so you throw it in the bag and say, “thank you.”

Before you know it, there’s a group of people on social media talking about you, and mentioning you to all of their friends. That, I think, is where more of the industry is going. It’s going to be an endorsed recommendation more than ever. Reviews are huge! We saw that with Trip Advisor over the years. We’re gonna see that more and more. We’ve got Facebook reviews, and reviews on a bunch of other sites, which, agents need to mind their P’s and Q’s.

Steve: How is your company leveraging social media?

Jennifer: Getting Brand Ambassadors, who were already doing it, so now we’re just thanking them more and more. Social media is a tricky thing. It can be a time suck, and you can spend all this time, just to do what? Put a picture up? It’s tough to track the true ROI, but, you need to have a presence. You need for people to look at it. Every booking that we have, that comes in we want to put where they’ve heard about us, how they heard about us. There has to be a serious look into how much time you’re putting into social media, and what you’re getting back from it. Obviously, it must fit strongly with your brand. Again, the recommendations and the reviews are huge.

We do use Facebook and Instagram. I think social media is changing where, people want to work with people, not just a company. There has to be sense of authenticity to it. We look at the Insights on our Facebook. It’s funny, we can post some great posts with fun stuff on it, get a lot of likes. But when we view the most clickthroughs, the most views, the most likes, are usually, in any month when we have photos of our team doing something in the office, so it’s still people driven.

Steve: What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?

Jennifer: My daughter went to Penn State for hospitality and tourism. I think it was in 2009, I was interviewed by Pathways to Hospitality, which is the book that every college tourism 101 class gets – from Cornell, to Florida State, to Penn State, to the local schools that have a hospitality or tourism program. In that book, they interview the CEO of an airline, a CEO of a hotel, a car rental, even restaurants, all of these are segments of tourism in between chapters. When it came to travel agents, I was interviewed. They sent me the book, and I saw what the price would be. School textbooks are not cheap. That was a very proud moment. but I think it was mostly at the pinnacle when my daughter took a picture of it and put it on social media, when she got into that first class, six years later. So that really hit me.

I also like leaving a legacy. Three of my children work for me. We are a blended family of five, so three of the five work for me, full time. That is like so important. Because that’s not what they wanted to go to school for, and yet, they are just the next generation.

My son, the oldest, was just named one of the top 25 agents in North America, from Travel Agent Magazine. That makes me so proud. That’s greater than having a show on the Travel Channel for three years or doing Fox News since 2007. Those are the moments that make me so proud.

I have an agent who started with me, she’s not a child of mine (laughing). She was going to college and she’s now my office manager, eight years later. Those are things that make me proud. The college textbook, that’s a pretty big one, though.

Steve: In the classic saying, “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger,” what are some things that you wish you had known ahead of time?

Jennifer: I wish that I had known that I couldn’t control world events and how much they would have such an impact on our business. You’re kind of naïve, and people book with you, they’re gonna have a great time, they’re gonna come back. Yes, you understand weather, even the stock market. But, there are just some world events, in your brain, you cannot even picture, and it can just crush you. Having the foresight to prepare for those days, I wish I knew then, how important that would be. You know, “prepare yourself!” you could be on this amazing course and it could be derailed for absolutely no reason. You prepare for the storms, you may have a blizzard, what you do next for your clients. But, you have no idea how a 9-11 event will affect your business. You have no idea what’s coming with Zika, or terrorism in different parts of the world. Prepare yourself.

I would still do this business, if I knew then. I think I would not be as shocked or as jolted, as everybody was during those events. Everybody was, 9-11 hit everybody.

Steve: What books, blogs, materials and journals about the travel industry would you recommend?

Jennifer: Overall, I am addicted to the TED talks. I probably listen to four or five a week. They range from technology, to politics, to education, they have so many topics that they cover. It makes me feel like I am in a higher level of learning, because it’s different avenues of business. It has some professionals that you would otherwise never have the opportunity to see, if it wasn’t for the TED talks.

I love business books. I probably inhale two or three a month. They range from John Maxwell – and there’s one book I just finished – the Art of War in Business by a Navy Seal – it’s crazy! I think they’re wonderful.

The travel trades are wonderful too. I like Vacation Agent, Travel Magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report. I think if you’re also part of a consortia that has leadership training and business, that’s key.

Steve: What are some fun facts about yourself?

Jennifer: I am hopelessly addicted to shoes. Every Tuesday, I tweet #ShoesdayTuesday. Aside from loving pink, I think the next love is shoes. And if people had no idea or didn’t watch social media, they would be shocked to know that my dog comes to work with me every day. Since we’ve been interviewing, she’s been sitting on my lap. Her name is Sophie. She has a car seat in the car. She comes to work and makes everybody happy. She’s my Velcro dog, stuck to me all the time. Dogs, shoes, and the color pink; that’s pretty much my thing.

I also like wine. I’ve noticed lately, I’ve been tagged on social media a lot more with wine. I’m wondering if that’s a good thing for people to see.

The shoes, I’ve had CEOs of huge companies say “I want to come in on Tuesday to see your shoes!” and I’m like “really?! How’d you know about that?!” That’s kind of been my thing.

We had a big advertising campaign a few years ago. We pronounced ourselves, “Travel Stylists.” “Styling your vacation,” is what we called it. It was a fabulous ad, too. It won a Magellan (from Travel Weekly). I think my love of style and fashion propelled that campaign, but, also the shoe thing was a pretty big deal.

My husband always jokes with me. If he had to work at home, for the same amount of years that I did, he would probably be sitting in his boxer shorts at the computer. He would come home and I would be in a suit every day. That was just the way I approached business. I think that travel agents need to realize, whether they work at home or are going to a conference, that the first impression still means a lot. We’re comfortable here, but, we also joke that at any given time, a TV crew could come in and film us – and they do! You just have to look that way. I think that the style thing is probably that if people didn’t know, that’s a big deal for me.