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ASTA news ASTA PREMIUM MEMBER One on one Maria Saenz, senior travel counselor, MCC DS LCS, Montrose Travel


Destination Specialist program has allowed me to build sales I would never have achieved in this market on my own.


What do you consider the most important travel trend right now? Right now, cultural immersion is huge. Clients want to go off the beaten path, open closed doors, meet the locals, and experience life-changing moments. Tey want an experience, they want to contribute to the culture, and they want to be able to passionately share their trip with friends and family. Wouldn’t you want to view the Sistine Chapel with only 20 people after hours? How about a private tour of St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum before it opens to the public? Better yet, having lunch prepared by a Fijian village and being the special guest of the local chief.


What do you enjoy most about being a travel agent? I enjoy helping people discover the world and watching the excitement and thrill they get after returning from a wonderfully well-planned trip. I love to share my adventures with clients, and it’s this part of the relationship I enjoy the most. I enjoy helping clients discover a new perspective on cultures that were thousands of years in the making. I like to encourage my clients to do something extraordinary and unforgettable every day on their trips.


What’s been your career highlight? My South Pacific Destination Specialist designation has changed my life. Ensemble Travel Group, our agency’s consortium, invited me in 2010 to join them in a new specialist program that was taking off. Fiji was a new destination for me. It was phenomenal and I fell completely in love with it. Te trip was a total cultural immersion and I realized in that moment that this is what traveling is really about. I remember writing to Joe McClure [president of Montrose Travel] on the flight home to share my excitement, along with my desire to change divisions and work in the romance niche to gain more access to the destination. Te Ensemble South Pacific


What’s your best piece of advice for newcomers to the industry? Travel! Nothing speaks louder to a prospective client than being able to say: ‘I’ve been there’, ‘I stayed at that hotel,’ or ‘I know and love that ship.’ Personal experience is very powerful in business. In addition, it’s important to specialize and to completely absorb yourself in one particular, or just a handful of, destinations. You need to decide what you want to know infinitely better than the next travel agent and be able to tell your clients why they should book with you. What’s also important is building fruitful relationships with vendors, suppliers, hotels and airlines, as well as the most important relationship of all: you and your client.


What’s the most important benefit of being an ASTA member? For me, ASTA is the watchdog working for me behind the scenes. I give my clients all my energy and I know ASTA is looking out for me and protecting this industry. ASTA’s got my back and for that I’m extremely grateful. I had the pleasure of attending my first ASTA Destination Expo in Dubai last year. It was a great experience and opened my eyes to many preconceived notions I had of the destination. I wanted to learn more about the people and culture I knew little about.


What idea do you wish you had come up with? Probably Facebook! But if I have to say something specifically related to travel, it would be the river cruising concept. Te force river cruising has had on our industry is undeniable and it continues to grow. Personally, I love river cruises and suggest them to clients whenever I have the opportunity. In December, I’ll be going on my third river cruise, this time with Uniworld for Europe’s Christmas markets, and I can’t wait. I’ve sailed on Avalon and Viking already and now Uniworld. Next year I’ll be on Tauck.


If you were President for the day, what would you change? I would change a public misunderstanding: travel agents have not been replaced by the internet. Tis is not a dying career. Tose of us who continue our education via certifications, travel frequently, dedicate time to learning, and expand on every horizon possible should be recognized as valued professionals. I think it’s very important to have credentials that speak of the passion we have for our work. It makes us special and unique and gives clients a sense of comfort and security knowing they’re in the hands of an experienced professional.


What would you be doing if you weren’t working in travel? Probably teaching. I love guiding clients and teaching colleagues how to travel the world. When I eventually retire, I’d enjoy being a part of shaping the next generation by engaging young professionals and teaching them what I know. It’s very important to find ways to harness that experience and educate those who choose travel as a career.


Where do you want to go next in the world? Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong River. I’m already planning this trip for 2015, and there are so many options. Many clients are asking me about these destinations, so to stay ahead in terms of consumer interest, there’s a need to go. montrosetravel.com


summer 2014 | ASTAnetwork | 15


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