Blair Kochar

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Blaire’s career as a travel advisor was founded as a result of her love of traveling and passion to plan. Blaire found herself craving a more permanent role in the industry, thus resulting in BPK Travel, an independent affiliation of Brownell Travel, in Houston, Texas.

Blaire’s work experience has always focused on one thing: communication. After spending six years as landman in the oil and gas industry, Blaire has the skills needed to connect with her clients. Blaire is constantly seeking the perfect destination to turn her clients’ dream vacation into reality.

What inspired you to join the travel industry as a travel advisor?
From a young age, I had always coordinated family and close friends’ travel. I would make spreadsheets with flight options, hotel options and recommendations for activities and restaurants. Like many Millennials, I believed a profession as a travel advisor was a thing of the past that was now replaced by the internet and individual research. My views changed, however, when many of my friends who were getting married credited a travel advisor they found on Instagram as the person who planned their special trip. They began discussing how this travel advisor passed along exclusive amenities and potential upgrades and made the planning process much easier. I conducted some researched and found a whole new network of travel advisors who were younger and used social media as their way of reaching new clients. I soon realized there was a resurgence of this career and felt my previous work experience as a Landman in the oil and gas industry would pair well with my love of travel and passion to plan.

How long have you been in the travel industry?
One and a half years

Where do you see yourself as a travel advisor five years from now?
Many of my clients are honeymooners. In my first year as a travel advisor, I planned about 50 honeymoons. Five years from now, I hope to grow with my clients and begin breaking in to more of the family travel market. I also see my network expanding by word of mouth to a greater extent than it already is. Further, I expect to see a shift in my top selling destinations. Right now, my top destinations are French Polynesia, Italy, Greece and Mexico. I envision that my honeymooners will want to experience cities over beaches during their next big trip.

What do you think Millennial-age travel advisors have brought to the industry?
One person said something interesting to me recently…we were discussing customer acquisition and what I do to connect with clients. Of course, I cited social media, Instagram especially, as being my way to reach current and new clients. This person then said “your social media is your digital storefront”. This made complete sense as so many face-to-face connections in all aspects of business and communication are transitions to something that is quicker and easier, like a phone call, e-mail or web search.

Another thing that I feel like Millennial-age travel advisors do well is implementing a more accessible way to information. Whether it’s a communication inquiry link on a website, a quick text to answer outlying questions or providing access to a smart phone app that has integrated your personalized itinerary, Millennials are providing a quicker and easier way to distribute information.

How do you think the industry can continue to attract younger travel advisors?
I think the reinvention of the travel advisor is catching on, especially through social media. With many travel advisors now displaying not only much of their personal travels but also details of clients’ trips on social media or individual websites, those who are interested in becoming a travel advisor are able to see exactly what this career entails. And in my opinion, becoming a travel advisor is the perfect career to combine entrepreneurship, connecting with others, satisfying your wanderlust and being part of a community all while providing flexibility and requiring you to be self-motivated. These are all attractive traits in a career for Millennials.

One thing that I do feel strongly about, however, is proper training when entering the industry. There are so many people who think that a job as a travel advisor is centered around traveling to the best destinations and staying at the top hotels, but proper training debunks this myth and really prepares a new entrant into the industry with the necessary tools and resources to become successful. I chose to apply to Brownell Travel’s mentorship program because it was the best and most complete overview of my job role as a travel advisor. This yearlong program encompassed everything needed for someone beginning their career as a travel advisor. It taught me how to build a business and complete basic back office duties such as invoicing or creating client profiles, who are Brownell’s preferred partners and what they do for my clients and myself, how to create and implement a marketing plan to acquire and maintain customers, and the best and the most effective ways to communicate with my clients and peers in the industry. This program also vets its applicants and only accepts 3-5 people twice a year. This is important because Brownell is never overloaded with new travel advisors and has the appropriate amount of office support to answer any questions these new advisors may have. I feel that if every new advisor had proper training, it would not only prepare younger people for a successful and long-lasting career but would also weed out those new entrants who want to only travel the world rather than create and grow a new business.

How do you find your Millennial-age and Gen Z clients?
My business really began with my friend group. I started my career in my late twenties, which was a time when many of my peers were getting married. I spent some time perfecting my ‘elevator pitch’ to convince these friends who have always relied on the internet to use my services. Once I realized my worth, it was easy to convey that very thing to my inner circle. From there, word spread to those initial clients’ family and friends both through word of mouth and also tagging my Instagram handle.

Also, throughout my travels, I post many pictures of the destinations and write captions that explain the benefit of each hotel or what type of perks you would receive if you booked your vacation to this destination through me. I have had many clients, both Millennial and Gen-Z, find me on Instagram through my posts and hashtags because they were eying that certain destination and did not realize that they would receive amazing exclusive amenities through booking with a travel agent. From there, I’ve been able to book many trips for people I’ve connected with through social media.

What motivates Millennial travelers and do you think there’s a tendency for Millennial-age travelers to seek out Millennial-age travel advisors and if so, why?Millennial travelers are motivated by experiences. There is such a difference when I have conversations with my Millennial peers compared to conversations with my parents and their friends. My parents and their friends feel that their time to travel is when they are empty nesters and retired. Before then, their paychecks went towards their big houses and country club memberships. Millennials feel differently. They don’t want to wait to experience bucket list destinations and don’t need big houses or fancy cars. They are putting their bonuses towards a safari to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary or a trip to Italy to celebrate their 30th birthday. They are realizing the importance of experiencing the world at a younger age.

I do feel that it is important to a Millennial traveler to have a Millennial aged travel agent. Just from my personal experience, I feel like I can understand what Millennials are looking for when planning their trips. Millennials don’t necessarily need a full day tour filled with history lessons and site seeing, but prefer to see the world through a different lens—one that is more interactive and less cookie cutter. For these types of experiences, I always try to recommend excursions that are out-of-the-box like a walking tour in Florence that also includes stops at local bars along the way or a transfer between locations with a stop for lunch at a restaurant that may be family run and off-the-beaten-path. Millennials enjoy experiences that allow them to connect with others. Aside from this, I believe I am accessible through many forms of communication aside from e-mail (i.e. text message, Instagram message, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger) and at different times of the day, which works best with a Millennial’s work schedule.

How does the form in which you communicate with your Millennial-age clients differ from how your older counterparts communicate?
Communicating ‘Millennial to Millennial’ is definitely different than how my older counterparts communicate. For example, Millennials communicate with me often after normal business hours. There have been countless times when I’ve scheduled an initial planning call at 8:00pm or 9:00pm because that is when my client is able to get off work. I also have communicated frequently with Millennials via text message and Instagram or Facebook message. Of course, I always ask to connect on e-mail after our initial talks in order to keep a better paper trail, but a quick and accessible form of communication is important to a Millennial and is easy for a fellow Millennial to understand.

Many of my older counterparts are not as glued to their phone as I am, and are therefore not as accessible to communication that is out of the ordinary e-mail or phone call, perhaps on their office line, as I am. These counterparts also have specific office hours that they stick to fairly religiously in order to create more structure.

Are you starting to sell to the Gen Z demographic (those in their early 20s) and if so, how is that different from how you sell – in terms of their expectations – to the Millennial demographic?
Though my Gen Z client base is not as large at my Millennial client base, I feel like Gen Z doesn’t have as tough of expectations as Millennial travelers. Gen Z cares more about a beautiful location to take a pretty picture or Snapchat rather than the service levels of the hotels I recommend.

If you do sell to the Gen Z crowd (those in their early 20s), what is the key differentiator you are finding between the Millennial traveler and the Gen Z traveler?
I find that Millennials are more open to something that is a bit more off-the-beaten-path, whereas Gen Z is influenced by the ‘hot spots’ they see on Instagram. Gen Z travelers care more about the perfect picture in locations like Santorini or the Amalfi Coast, and Millennials are a bit more daring with where they want to go. Gen Z travelers are also more likely to find me on a social media channel, especially if I’ve been to and posted about a destination they’re interested in and they were intrigued by my pictures.

And one more Millennial vs. Gen Z question: Are you seeing the Gen Z crowd more influenced by what they see on social media than Millennials and how is it affecting where they choose to travel?
Most definitely. I see social media as both a blessing and a curse—it is such a great way to connect with others but it is also an outlet to essentially brag about your life. There are so many ‘content creators’ nowadays who post a perfect and seemingly effortless photo in an insanely beautiful location and get millions of likes. Though Millennials are attached to their phone, the Gen Z crowd is even more so. These Gen Z travelers want to emulate the experience they see from these influencers. For example, there’s a hotel in a specific destination that is not really well-known for its service or even considered one of the best hotels in that destination, but many influencers have stayed there and posted about it. As a result, I’ve received inquiries about this hotel but of course advise my clients of its pros and cons. I feel like Millennials are more willing to listen to my advice, whereas Gen Z travelers care more about relating to what they see on social media.

 

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