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Travel Professional Success Stories – Kim DalPonte


Travel Professional Name: Kim DalPonte

Agency Name: Pixie Dust & Paradise Travel, Inc.

Location: Chicago, IL

Host Agency Name: Travel Planners International

Years as a Travel Professional: 6

Specialization or Niche: Family Travel



What led you to be a Travel Professional? 


My journey to becoming a travel professional stemmed from me becoming very ill just over 12 years ago.  Once you are faced with something so terrifying as a debilitating disease or death, you change the way you look at the world. You can either fight like hell, and do and see all you can, or sit back and let it get the best of you. Me personally, I’m a fighter! I had 2 very young daughters at that time, and I quickly decided that we needed to live our lives and make some family memories as soon as possible!


I decided to take my daughters to Disney World for 10 days, but I also brought my parents and sister with. I wanted to make memories with the whole family, not just my kids. We took about a million pictures on that trip. I made sure nobody was going to forget it! I spent about a year planning it myself. At that point in time, I really didn’t understand how travel agents worked, or that I needed someone who knew the destination inside out. Now I know better.


Somehow, our “once in a lifetime” trip to Disney snowballed, and we started going yearly (Or more).  Fortunately, my health drastically improved, and we were able to travel often. We quickly discovered that we wanted to see more destinations, and started going different places. I definitely gave my kids the travel bug.


My friends and family started asking me to help them plan trips all the time, that’s when I realized that I needed to go to travel school! I was a hairdresser since I was 18, and I had a hearty book of business, those hair clients turned into my travel clients. Word of mouth spread quickly that I was the “go-to Disney girl”, then they realized that I can send them anywhere in the world, and my business blew up.


After making so many wonderful memories with my own family, I knew that I needed to do this for other families as well! That is how I decided to specialize in Family Travel. I love helping families create magical memories that last a lifetime.


Have you always worked with a Host Agency? If not, can you share how working with your Host Agency has helped you? 


I have been with Travel Planners International since the day I started out in the industry. When I was finishing up travel school, I called about ten of the top host agencies I knew of. I narrowed it down to my top three. Travel Planners International was the perfect fit, and I knew it with the first phone call. They just felt like a family to me. Besides the perks of having top tier commissions, and a great consortia affiliation, they are wonderful and easy to work with. They did not make me feel like just another number, I truly feel like family there! I have been afforded so many opportunities because of them, their support, and faith in me. I have been asked to speak on several panels of expert agents, I am a TPI Ambassador, and I am invited to special events all the time. All thanks to TPI. They have been a blessing to my business.


What three things about working with your Host Agency has been the most useful and helpful?


Working with a host agency like Travel Planners International has made it so easy for me to run my business. They offer amazing support, they actually answer the phone or they call you back very quickly, are always available to help resolve any problems, and they have easy to use systems for submitting your sales, and invoicing your clients, as well as fantastic back-end support. They run your numbers and keep track of everything for you! (Of course you should still keep track on your own. I use an excel spreadsheet as back-up) They also offer extensive amounts of training opportunities, such as webinars, live events, facebook live meetings, quarterly local events, FAM trips, seminars at sea, and their annual conference, which is second to none!


What advice would you offer to someone looking to join the Travel Industry?


My advice to anyone looking to join the travel industry would be to strongly suggest that they look into travel school before jumping into a career that they know nothing about with both feet! I personally did my schooling through Career Quest Training Center. It was an online course. You can take a year to finish it, but if you are serious, and really do the work, you can be done in about 3 months.  It was the best decision I could have made for my business. I learned so much from my courses, and it made me feel confident to open my agency, whereas without them, I think I would have been lost and probably not lasted very long.


What advice would you offer to someone looking to work with a Host Agency?


For someone who is new to the industry, and looking for a host agency, I suggest calling several different hosts, speaking with them, asking all the pertinent questions, comparing who offers what they need, and to see who they feel most comfortable with. For me, that was Travel Planners International.  You can have more than one host at a time, so if you are unsure, choose two, but I suggest to narrow it down quickly, as things can get complicated when all of your booking are not in one place. I know this from experience. I did try 3 different hosts, TPI, as well as two others to see who fit my needs best. TPI was an easy decision for me!


Many articles and studies have shown that the Travel Professional is becoming more and more important, how do you feel about that? Do you see the increase in awareness from your clients as of now?


I believe that people are becoming more and more aware of the need for a travel professional! I see it every day.  Most people don’t want to spend countless hours scouring the internet for deals. Sure, there are some DIYers out there, and that’s fine, but people who are serious, and want a well-planned out trip, by an expert, see the value in using a travel professional over an OTA.  Honestly, if someone just wants a two day trip to Vegas, I tell them to book it online, as they are not my ideal client anyway. Same goes for the client that calls over and over with deals they found online after you’ve already given them quotes, or booked them. This is also why I feel that having a niche or specialty is important!


Another area of importance to me is service fees! A lot of agencies are terrified to charge a service fee, but that is just fear talking. I started this practice a year ago, and watched my business soar! The first time was definitely very scary, but it got easier and easier as time went on. Now, people ask what I charge from the beginning, during the consultation call. I simply send them my fee sheet, and usually their response is “no problem, I’ll send it right over so we can get started” or “are you sure that’s enough?” I have had very little push back on the service fee, maybe three people the entire year, and they were not my ideal clients, so it was fine. I value myself, my knowledge, my experience, and I do consider myself an expert in my area, so why would I not get paid for that?!? The clients obviously value my expertise too, or they would not pay the fee. I actually just had two families travel, they had two rooms, so two fees, and after they got back, they sent me a thank you card, with a picture of their family on vacation, and another check to thank me for my outstanding service. That made my day!


Please share a couple of things have been the most important to your success so far?


I feel that follow up is one of the most important aspects to my success. I remain in contact with my clients via email/facebook/phone calls once they have booked, then I text them to check-in while they are on their vacation, I email them, as well as send a hand written “Welcome Home” note upon their return, and I usually call to see how everything went. Keeping in touch is key! They must know, like and trust you to continue booking with you. Also, I always ask them for referrals and testimonials.


What are your plans to grow your business in the next year?


I plan to grow Pixie Dust & Paradise Travel quite a bit in 2017. My goal is to hire about 20 Independent Contractors, and really build my brand. I won’t hire just anyone who “likes to travel”, I am looking for more serious agents who have a passion for travel and want to make a career out of it, not part-time hobbyist.  I plan to do more advertising at vendor shows, and to start blogging as well.


Do you feel that getting yourself out there and traveling is important for your business? If so, how do you make yourself get out there and take those trips?


I travel as much as possible! My kids will tell you that I’m never home. I go to at least four major conferences a year, as well as several FAMS to learn certain destinations in my niche, and of course a family vacation or two! I’d say I go on no less than 8 trips per year. Once my 16 year old heads to college, I’m sure I’ll be traveling all the time!!!  I feel it is extremely important to actually see the destinations you are selling! I never sold Jamaica until I went; now I sell it all the time because I know it so well. I have sold a lot of Cancun/Riviera Maya, but had never been. I recently went on a supplier FAM, and instantly sold a ton of the resorts that I had just visited! Once I see it, I can sell it! I don’t waste my time going on just any FAMS though, I choose the ones that pertain to my niche. I’m not going just to go, I’m going to learn.