- Travel agent Melissa Miller Lonsk says travel agents have taken on a new role.
- Melissa Miller Lonsk was working in publishing when she decided to quit her job and go on a six-month world tour, launching her career.
- She tells everyone to be prepared when traveling, as delays and cancellations can make vacations unpredictable.
Melissa Miller Lonsk can’t remember all of the vacations she took as a child, but she easily remembers one specific detail: the name of the travel agency her family used to book their cruises.
Thanks in part to Sand and Sea Travel, Lonsk caught the travel bug early.
As a college student and then in her twenties working for a book publisher in New York, she turned to economic adventure, maximizing her exposure to new places. Lonsk stayed with friends in countries around the world, fueling her passion for different cultures.
And when Lonsk and husband Seth got engaged in 2014, she asked what he would think if she quit her job, and they planned a six-month world tour after their wedding.
“I mean, I was half kidding,” Lonsk said. “And he was like, ‘Yeah. Let’s do it.'”
The joke not only launched the newlyweds on an adventure – including extended stays in Australia and New Zealand – but it also set Lonsk on a new professional path. Seven years later, she is a full-time travel agent. Her Vacation Curation business is part of Tzell Travel Group, where she formed after changing careers.
Contrary to popular belief, Lonsk insists the industry is not dying.
“People think it’s going to go away with the internet, but that’s just changing,” she said. “You want someone to help you sort through all the information. Yes, you can do it yourself, but knowing it’s been organized helps you not waste your time.”
Agents can also leverage existing relationships with hotels, resorts, and destination management companies.
Bigger changes in the travel industry resulting from COVID-19 have, in fact, created new opportunities for agents like Lonsk. In March 2020, she helped several clients get their aging parents and other family members out of foreign countries and back to the United States.
More than two years into the pandemic, Lonsk’s access to a global distribution system that connects directly to many airlines, hotels and car rental services has proven useful for those facing an unpredictable and understaffed travel landscape.
“Ideally, now I can see that your flight was unfortunately canceled or delayed, and you’re going to miss your connection,” Lonsk said. “I can rebook in the system while you’re flying. I don’t always have to wait on hold because I have a preferred line.”
Beyond managing the inconveniences of contemporary air travel, agents are also able to leverage existing relationships with hotels, resorts, and destination management companies. Lonsk’s connection with Tzell gives it the opportunity to meet suppliers around the world and then tailor their offerings to its customers’ needs.
One of Lonsk’s favorite parts of his job is building relationships with clients and then helping them plan their trips at different stages of their lives.
“For a lot of people, the first time they contact a travel agent is when they’re going on their honeymoon, because it’s such a big expense for them,” she said. “Now all those newlyweds from six years ago have little kids, go out and travel. I have families with older kids. I ask people to send me their vacation photos so I can watch their family grow and change.”
“I just tell everyone they have to be prepared.”
Largely due to staff shortages in the post-pandemic world, almost everything – from booking travel to processing documents to obtaining refunds – is taking longer. Flight delays and cancellations are more common. This can mean hectic travel days, missed excursions and other costly issues, which Lonsk works to remedy in real time for customers, who pay it a flat rate for services.
“I just tell everyone they have to be prepared,” she said.
Lonsk recommends looking for refundable fares, but reminds customers to check specific airlines’ refund policies before booking. Many policies have become stricter.
But she remains optimistic and grateful for the chance to feed the travellers. She is in such demand that she sometimes has to suggest another agent to a potential client.
“When people come back and they’ve had a good time, it’s a memory,” she said. “Vacations are things you will remember. Like I said, I still remember the travel agent who booked our cruises when I was a kid. [I’m] contribute to this.”