Interviewing: Suzy Schreiner, Owner – Azure Blue Vacations
Interview By: Andy Ogg, CTIE, Co-Owner – Travel Professional NEWS
First off, thank you very much for the time today and joining our fantastic Travel Professional NEWS readers!
Would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and your Agency with our readers?
Sure thing! I was born and raised in Seattle and live there with my husband and two daughters – ages 15 and 13. I have been a travel agent for 14 years and started Azure Blue Vacations in 2016 with a focus on leisure travel. My specialties are European touring (including food & wine tours), tropical locations and cruising. However, those who know me, know that I jump at the chance to go to Europe whenever I can!
Where are you located?
My agency is home-based just outside of Seattle in an area called Mill Creek.
How did you become a Travel Professional and do you work with a host?
My first ‘real’ job was working at the front desk at Hilton Hotel in Bellevue, Wa. I used to flip through their catalog of hotels (yes, they were paper catalogs) and dream about all the places that I wanted to visit from London to Tahiti. I majored in Hotel and Restaurant Management at Washington State University and went on to work at Walt Disney World back in the 90s. I moved back to Seattle in 1998 and was married in 2002. My husband and I decided to adopt the first of our two daughters from China back in 2006 and I wanted to be able to find a career where I could work from home and also utilize my skills. I started working with a Disney-focused host agency and quickly became one of their top producers. As the years went on, I wanted to diversify and build up my European portfolio as well as build a brand that would relate to worldwide travel experiences. Thus, I switched over to Travel Planners International and started Azure Blue Vacations. Azure Blue Vacations really took off and averages about $1.4 million annually.
With COVID unfortunately still around, our poor industry taking consistent punches, can you share how you’ve continued to produce bookings through these turbulent times?
Like so many travel agents, I kept in contact with my clients through email, facebook and instagram; checking in on them and sharing travel inspiration. For the last couple of months, I have not shied away from sharing news about what is open for tourism and some of the great deals that are out there. I either take part in FAMs or invest in my business by building my own FAM and share my experiences with my clients. I believe that this serves two purposes: 1) For those who are comfortable planning a trip, they know that they can count on me for a good recommendation and best deal. 2) For those who may not be ready yet, they see that I am still active and there is no doubt that my company is solid for planning future travel.
What kind of bookings are you seeing for 2020 and 2021?
I do still receive requests for cruises for November and December. Cruisers want to cruise! I am also receiving more requests each week for all-inclusive vacations in Mexico and the Caribbean. For 2021, most of my 2020 European clients shifted their vacations to similar time periods in 2021. As soon as we see more movement towards the EU opening up, I think that I will see a big increase in Europe requests.
Which suppliers have you had the best results with through these past months?
I just put together a 2021 Christmas Markets river cruise with AmaWaterways that sold four cabins in the first two days! They put together a social-media friendly flyer with my company call-to-action and scheduled a webinar to help build excitement and spread the word to my clients.
I have also worked closely with Globus/Avalon and they have been great to deal with as far as helping me secure 2021 trips for my clients who have future travel credits. They really went out of their way to make sure that they get a great deal for my clients when rescheduling their land tours and river cruises.
As an active Travel Professional on Social Media, can you share how you’ve used the platform of Facebook to create new leads and bookings? Have you seen similar success on any other Social Media outlets? If so, would you mind sharing some results?
Don’t just post for posting sake, but rather, think of who your audience is and what would be enticing for them or spark their curiosity. I am not one of those Instagram and Facebook influencers who have thousands of followers. My followers are generally my clients and their friends and my friends. However, what I have seen is quality over quantity. Each time I head out on my next adventure, I share about it. When I build posts, I try to think of the questions that my followers would have and share accordingly. Additionally, I send out personal emails to clients who may not have a current booking and share links to these posts along with a short note of what made me think of them.
As I look at my bookings over the last couple of years, many of them stemmed from these posts and Corona has not stopped the interest.
Attitude is definitely everything, especially with the climate we find ourselves in this year, how has your positive attitude helped with your business through these times?
I have really tried to find the silver lining in the changes and restrictions and share them with my clients. There are plenty of positives to be found: many cruise lines are offering cancellations up to sailing – so clients can book a Fall or Winter cruise and feel confident that, if they are not comfortable sailing, they can change the date without penalty. Resorts throughout Mexico and the Caribbean are running on lower occupancy. That means that our clients have the opportunity to enjoy plenty of space at the beaches and pools, but with lower rates! Even looking at theme parks: Certainly some of the events that attract crowds are being cancelled and some planning services are not running. However, the parks feel like they did 20 years ago when you could visit a theme park without having to plan each step of your trip 6 months in advance!
For those who are wanting to travel, I am sharing with them what experiences are out there and what to expect. The changes that are needed to help give them a healthful experience can also be things that enhance their vacation!
Through these times, we all learn a lot about ourselves and our businesses, can you share a few things that you’ve learned through this current pandemic either personally, professionally or both.
I am a woman of faith and that not only affects me personally, but directly affects me professionally. In March, when it felt like everything around me was imploding and there were way more questions than answers, I had a few really anxious moments: not knowing how the virus would affect my family, my health and how the fallout would affect my business. I took time to stop, pray and remind myself that faith really isn’t faith if I cannot look forward in hope without knowing how I am going to get there. So, I simply decided to take on each day with a hopeful attitude. What I have found is that we can choose to live our days in fear or in hope. Our choice may not make any difference on the outcome of tomorrow, but the impact on our hearts and attitudes is priceless. So, I choose hope!
Before we conclude, I personally want to thank you for your time and information shared today. We appreciate your involvement in our publication!
Thank YOU! Now more than ever, agents need to encourage agents. The definition of encourage is “to give courage” and I am glad for the chance to (hopefully) do that for my fellow travel professionals.