RUNNING a successful travel business requires more than just understanding the market. Travel agent Mary Yuletide “Juliet” Amazona says most of the time you have to “go the extra mile.”
“Travelers these days have become even more demanding. They want results right away or problems be fixed right away. This could be the reason why even amidst the popularity of online booking, travelers still need travel agents to handle their itinerary,” said the 31-year-old Amazona, who is a part-owner and sales and marketing manager of Cebu-based iTravel, iExplore Tours and Services.
She said they went beyond the usual eight-hour operation just to cater to customer ticketing concerns.
“We are open 24/7. So even if our outlet is closed one and half day during the weekends we can still be reached anytime of the day so long as we have Internet connection,” she said.
She added they also keep themselves abreast with the weather news so they could immediately update their clients with possible travel changes or updates.
“The ‘now generation’ of travelers demand real-time and quick information but for us, this is our way of going the extra mile to please our customers,” she said.
Amazona and two other partners founded iTravel, iExplore Tours and Services on Jan. 8, 2010 with a startup capital of P200,000. The travel agency is located on Osmeña Blvd at the YMCA Arcade.
Amazona worked for a resort for six years.
“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try out something new and challenging. I was aware of the challenges and big risks involved, particularly on finances in setting up the business, but I really want to grow and see where I am better at,” she said in an interview with Sun.Star Cebu.
Starting the business wasn’t that difficult for Amazona and her partners since they have been exposed in the industry for quite a time. The contacts they had during their corporate days as well as family and friends where their first clients.
They started out with 10 clients during the first month of their operation, initially offering local ticketing services and local tour packages.
They came up with a signature Cebu-Bohol tour package that is centered on eco-tourism. According to Amazona, tourists planted trees as one of the activities. Since then, she said the tour package has become one of the most sought-after, especially among European clients.
Over the years, their company captured markets in Singapore, Malaysia, Japanese, Iran, India and Saudi Arabia, including the balikbayans, who frequent Cebu, Bohol, Boracay and Palawan.
But with the “now generation” of travelers, Amazona said they have improved their tour packages since they are after adventure tourism.
“They are looking for new places to visit or new activities to do in those popular tourism sites,” she said.
She said Cebu travelers have also grown matured and are now looking for new destinations to go to such as Batanes in the Philippines and Dubai, Japan and Europe for overseas travel. Amazona said travel agencies selling Batanes during the International Travel Fair last July closed half a million in sales.
She is convinced that the aggressive tourism marketing promotions of the Department of Tourism and the social media tourism campaigns in Facebook and Instagram have encouraged Filipinos to travel and explore the Philippines and the world.
“Travel has become easier and cheaper these days. Information is readily available online. My travel tip is for travelers to do research before going to places, research not only the sites to see but also the accessibility,” said Amazona. She referred to budget-conscious travelers who look for cheaper hotels only to find out they are far from the locations of the tourism sites.
“They end up paying more because their hotel is quite inaccessible,” she said. “This is where travel agencies come in. True, the popularity of online booking has eaten up our ticketing services but in terms of tour itinerary people still come to us. And when problems exist, they have people to turn to.”
Amazona said that in the industry some travel agents share notes of travel experiences.
“We learn from each other. In case, there are places where guests want to see which I haven’t been to, I ask my friends in the industry, do research on my own and talk to my local counterpart. This way I have something to recommend to clients,” she said.
Amazona said she is a staunch supporter of the country’s tourism industry. She said they would continue to encourage Filipinos to explore the Philippines first by coming up with new and affordable tour packages.
“We need more local ambassadors for our tourism industry to further grow,” she said.
In the next five years, Amazona said they plan to expand in Manila and Cagayan de Oro City to cater to wider clients.
In travel industry, "go the extra mile"