Sheena Young, strategic special project manager at Valerie Wilson Travel, talks about the opportunities and challenges of the travel industry
How did you get started in the wonderful world of travel?
My first job after college was working as a front desk agent for a major hotel brand in 2005. Then, while working as an events coordinator and executive assistant for a trading firm in 2008, I became one of the travel coordinators between our firm and TMC. At the time, I didn’t even realize what a TMC was. It wasn’t until I joined Valerie Wilson Travel in 2013 that the veil was truly lifted on this side of the business. I started in Strategic Special Projects and have recently celebrated my three-year anniversary with VWT.
Do you find it frustrating that Millennials are wary of travel agents?
I don’t. I find that it’s an opportunity for innovation in education, marketing and publicity. There’s an opportunity for TMCs to establish themselves as thought leaders and content creators both online and offline. It should also be noted that the frustration that some TMCs feel is due to an ongoing over-generalization of the ‘Millennial’ traveler. Our generation is full of diversity in age, culture, race, interest and even our travel type. Informed Millennials who’ve been taught about the added value of an advisor will be the fastest growing segment. If you figure out what a person wants and you deliver, you have their loyalty.
What do your duties at Valerie Wilson Travel entail?
In essence, I’m a project manager specifically for one of the co-presidents of the company. This means I design, lead, implement and/or collaborate with various teams and the co-president on new ideas, programs and events from the conceptualization phase on through researching, vetting, planning and launching. I also support Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of VWT, in overall strategic planning, priority setting and project management in various business departments.
What was the funniest moment you’ve had with a client?
When I was the project lead for a group trip, I received a text from the main point of contact asking if he could change his itinerary. His reason was that he wanted to play polo with Prince William and wondered if it was okay to change his trip. It’s nice that he checked with me, but I don’t think there was any option. Who says no to polo with the Prince?
How do you see our industry evolving in the future?
How the world evolves in relation to politics, government,military, health, terrorism and religion has a direct impact on travel, which in turn influences how people move throughout the world. Watching those trends, causing those trends, anticipating them, or reacting to them further brings about evolution. Now, it’s not just about your summer vacation. People are more nomadic by nature. This is just one evolution but changes like this are happening in various travel segments. On a daily basis we see a lot of this within business travel and the increase in mobile use for travelers is bringing about its own evolution.
What are some of the best opportunities facing our industry today?
Of the 3.17 billion internet users (stats from Brandwatch), 2.3 billion are active social media users and they have on average about 5 social media accounts. On a daily basis, over 27 million pieces of content are shared. We have the chance to find creative, potent ways to engage new and seasoned users online. We can be the answer to their search results. We can be the content that they share. I’m speaking beyond selling a trip. We need to engage and work with content creators and social media influencers. I’d love to see more TMC’s do this. Social media is one of many online ways to market your business, build brand equity and consumer loyalty. If your target consumer is using it, it’s very important to meet them there.
What would you say is the most valuable benefit of being an ASTA member?
As an ASTA member you have a direct impact on how we’re able to support legislation for travel on behalf of TMC’s, suppliers and the traveler. Our advocacy efforts impact the world of travel. What could be more valuable than that? Yes, there’s the built-in network, the ongoing educational benefits, and the amazing summits and conferences, but at its very core, our voices and united efforts impact the world of travel on a political level. That’s powerful!