They know a guy
No matter how much planning and internet research you do, something can always go wrong on vacation. Flights are missed, hotels lose reservations, and everything from transportation to finding something to eat can be a hassle.
But what if you knew someone back home who had friends working in hotels, airlines and cruises all over the world? Traveling with backup makes the experience a lot better.
The seven employees at the Travel Store, in the Arlington Plaza at State Street and Arlington Avenue, know that you can’t get everything from Expedia.com. That’s why for the four years they’ve been in the Plaza they’ve been using their vast network of personal connections across the globe to provide the Santa Barbara community with the finest custom travel arrangements.
“In a nutshell, we specialize in custom luxury trave,” said Tanya Bryant, Travel Store general manager. “What does that mean? It means, sure you can buy something on the internet, but does that mean you are getting the right something? So I sit down and we basically interview our clients and try to match our clients with the best possible fit, whether it’s a hotel, a cruise, a tour, any number of options.
Now in its 44th year, the Travel Store is an employee-owned company that has become one of the best travel agencies in the country. There are locations across California, but because employees own stock in the company and the industry relies on personal connections, each store is run like a small business and is very independent, Ms. Bryant said.
Travel agents at the store help clients take care of anything that goes into their trips from beginning to end. But they won’t just help you book a hotel or a flight. Agents will sit with clients for extensive interviews to determine what kind of trip would be perfect for them. Some plan for two years. Some test the Travel Store’s magic and want to leave in two weeks.
An average price is hard to determine. Costs could include everything from a flight to Phoenix to a month-long safari. To find the right fit for clients, agents ask questions about everything, Ms. Bryant told the News-Press.
“What was your last favorite trip? What was your least favorite? What do you need in a hotel? What do you absolutely hate in a hotel? Usually I use hotels as a way for me to understand general likes, so style and price range or level of luxury,” said Ms. Bryant.
As clients start asking questions, agents start thinking through every hotelier, every ground operator, every tour guide, and every airline agent they know.
“I explain it to people like I have a rolodex in my head and as people are telling me their list of things they like to do I’m shifting in my mind,” said Ms. Bryant.
Travel Store is a member of an organization of agencies, a consortia, called Signature Travel Network. As a member, Travel Store has access to a vast network of connections and perks that are amassed by the almost 1,000 agencies that do businesses with hotels, airlines and cruises across the world, allowing them to pass on those benefits to clients. If something happens, clients can call the Travel Store. If their connections fall through, they call up Signature for some extra weight.
“It’s the equivalent of ‘Can I talk to your manager’. It’s getting someone else, a different layer, involved,” said Ms. Bryant.
It’s this network of extensive experience and knowledge that gives the Travel Store an advantage over online booking sites or call centers. Call up Kayak and they won’t be able to pull strings to get your room switched to the starboard side on a fully booked cruise last minute. But at Travel Store? They know a guy.
“We’re definitely a relationship-based business on both sides. We stand in the middle of our clients, who we have a very personal and intimate relationship with. Sometimes they become friends. A lot of the times they become friends, and the same on our supplier side. We become friends with suppliers who are then more likely to give us favors,” said Ms. Bryant.
Relationships are what Travel Store is all about. Sometimes, Ms. Bryant will sit with clients who just returned from their trip for hours as they recount every detail of their experience. Helping Santa Barbara residents have the best trips of their lives is Travel Store’s mission, and budget doesn’t matter. If a client wants to be pampered? Travel Store will exceed expectations. Have a tight budget but need your honeymoon to be unforgettable? To Travel Store, that’s almost more exciting.
“Whether it’s somebody on a really tight budget or somebody with unlimited funds, it doesn’t matter to me. My clients are VIPs regardless of their budget constraints. I want every person’s trip to be the best it can possibly be,” Ms. Bryant said.
Travel Store employees are required to travel somewhere new once per year on a work trip to learn about a destination or hotel. On one trip, Ms. Bryant went to Cabo for three hectic days to visit 15 hotels. It’s these trips that give agents expertise and strengthens relationships.
“The only way I can talk about it is if I experienced it. If it’s not me that’s been there, someone in my office or my company has. There’s all ranges of experiences in our office, from almost a year to 25 years,” said Ms. Bryant.
The business is built on return clients and referrals, but even so, no two trips are alike.
“Even if they go to France every year, we talk about different day trips or a different place to go or a different way to see it. So maybe if they’ve always gone and stayed in a hotel for a week, maybe we do a river cruise. Or if they’ve stayed in only one neighborhood in France maybe we go outside of that neighborhood. I don’t think I’ve ever had two trips that have been identical,” said Ms. Bryant.
With those personal connections around the world, Travel Store tries hard to give people unforgettably unique experiences. Whether it’s shutting down a museum for a private dinner, diving between tectonic plates in the fissures of Iceland, or driving a restored ’65 Fiat through the Italian countryside, Travel Store will make sure you have that “one wow moment.”
“There’s no amount of money or accolades or letters after your name or whatever it is that feels that way. I made a difference in those people’s lives. A true and lasting memory that can never be taken away,” said Ms. Bryant.
General Manager Tanya Bryant, left, and Assistant Travel Planner Madison Wallace are among the staffers at the Travel Store in downtown Santa Barbara.