After traveling around the world for over 30 years Samantha Schultz started Plan Your Perfect Vacation, a Cruse Planners franchise agency. Originally from New Bedford, Massachusetts, Schultz grew up in Tempe, Arizona and graduated from Arizona State University with degrees in Business Management and Business Education. She later obtained a Master’s degree in Marketing and Communications. Her career had her hop-scotching from retail management out of college to teaching high school business and marketing to working in corporate learning and development to the corporate offices of Bath & Body Work’s to finally achieving her dream of owning her own travel agency.
Now, Schultz lives in Queen City, Charlotte, North Carolina, where she helps clients plan their perfect vacations.
What inspired you to join the travel industry as a travel advisor?
After taking my first international trip to Europe for 36 days at the age of 18, I knew I had to see the rest of the world. After that trip, I actually applied for a job with STA Travel and was offered a position, but while completing two degrees in four years, the hours didn’t work with my school schedule. At that point, I figured my dream of a job in the travel industry would just stay a dream until I got the confidence to take the leap and leave the corporate world. Over the years I continued to travel all over the world and that experience made me an unofficial expert with friends, colleagues and family, which helped me take the plunge.
How long have you been in the travel industry?
October 1 is my official 2-year anniversary as a travel professional, although I’ve been providing advice and recommendations to family and friends for many years.
Where do you see yourself as a travel advisor five years from now?
I see myself specializing more—something I’m currently working through now to find my niche and where I can provide the most value to my clients and provide the best experience working with a travel professional. There are so many directions that specializing can take and making sure that I am able to match my clients with their perfect vacation will ultimately dictate the direction my business takes over the next five years.
What do you think Millennial-age travel advisors have brought to the industry?
The ability to understand, identify with, and serve a new type of traveler—the experiences they want, how they want to receive information, how they want to communicate is just the start. Based on their experiences and world view, Millennials want to focus on unique experiences in unique locales, and having someone in their generation understand that desire and be able to match them with the perfect trip is going to continue to be important in order to keep growing the industry.
How do you think the industry can continue to attract younger travel advisors?
I think through education. There is a belief that the travel bloggers you see on social media are the same as a travel advisor, and this couldn’t be further from reality! More education on the role, running a business and the need to differentiate yourself in the industry.
How do you find your Millennial-age clients?
Social media and local events—the more this age group sees and hears about where I have traveled and am currently traveling and they can learn about the possibilities, the more they are engaged. You have to go where your clients hang out—Millennials love being on social media sharing their lives with the world, attending events and enjoying new experiences.
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?
I wouldn’t want to generalize and say all millennial travelers are motivated in the same way, for example, Instagram-worthy photos play a role with some, for others its one-of-a-kind experiences, and for some being immersed in the culture. As with any client, it’s all about qualifying and truly getting to know them.
I’m not sure there is a lean toward Millennial travelers seeking out Millennial-age travel advisors because at the end of the day, they want an expert, they want you to know as much or more than them, and they want you to be engaging because that is going to shine through with what you can craft for their trip.
How does the form in which you communicate with your Millennial-age clients differ from how your older counterparts communicate?
I would say 98 percent of my Millennial clients start with direct messages on social media, e-mail or text. But for initial consultations, most prefer talking on the phone. The only difference I really see is with the social media influence for reaching out initially, and then most clients seem to prefer email throughout the process as it allows both parties to communicate any time of day or night.
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?
The youngest clientele I’m currently working with is around 24, but mainly honeymooners. I think this completely changes the dynamic from selling to a 22 year old that wants to travel solo. What I have found with the younger clients is that expectations have to be set early on, especially when it comes to price—for those that haven’t traveled or been out of the country, education is key from the start.
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 don’t believe I’ve had enough experience with Gen Z clients to make a solid comparison.
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?
My experience with Millennials has shown that there is a massive influence from social media, so I believe this is a trend we will continue to see with future generations as more platforms continue to evolve. However, because Gen Z has never known a world without technology and social media, it’s even more important to have a presence, the challenge is that Gen Z can be harder to target because they aren’t as engaged on platforms like Facebook, but are very comfortable with Snapchat. A lot of times I’ll field requests to go to a certain resort or city, but after I go through my process of qualifying and recommending a trip that matches their style, their wants, and desires, both generations will generally choose travel locales that fit with them and less about where a social media celebrity recently stayed. I try not to generalize, and instead focus on serving each client based on what they envision as their perfect vacation.