Julie Loy Hutchens of Ahoy Travel Co. | Nine in Nine Interview
Welcome to our Nine in Nine Interview series, nine questions with a Chamber member or community member, presented in a nine minute or less read.
It's a place to learn more about the inspiring people who help make the Mountain Communities such a unique place to live, through their business or nonprofit work!
Julie Hutchens of Ahoy Travel Co. is the 2018 Ambassador of the Year for our Mountain Communities Women in Business Group. We wanted to learn more about Julie and the interesting world of travel and the travel agencies that make it happen!
MCCOC: First, congratulations on being our Ambassador of the Year! We truly appreciate everything you do to help make connections and build the group. Now, tell us a little about Ahoy Travel. Do you specialize in any particular needs or locations?
Julie: Thank you! Ahoy Travel, an owner/agent company, has been offering personalized total travel services since 1992. Our niche is large groups, though we do individual work as well. We have several excellent group trips on the agenda for 2019 - 2021, such as a South Africa Safari group in June 2019, Mexican Rivera Cruise also in June 2019, and a 12 day round trip from Los Angeles to Alaska in September 2019, just to name a few. We also arrange bus trips throughout the year to events like wine tasting, the Balloon Festival in Mesquite, Las Vegas, Dodger games, plays, and even to the horseraces.
We also work directly with organizations and individuals to put together special events. We are so excited to be the exclusive agency for the non-profit Lawrence Anthony Earth Org. (LAEO). The LAEO United States headquarters is right in in Pine Mountain Club, and we are putting together plans for Eco-trips to the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, South and East Africa. Please go to our website (www.ahoytravelco.com) for updated information as it becomes available. We are also working with local bestselling author and business coach, Judith Cassis. Currently we are putting together a Seminar at Sea for her, with onboard learning and classes - sure to be a fun event!
MCCOC: How did you get started in the travel sector?
Julie: Travel has always been a part of my life. I was introduced to traveling by my parents. My family was always going camping, sightseeing, and taking adventure trips to other states to explore their historical sites and events. I fell in love with traveling and always thought I would venture into starting my own travel agency one day. After college, where I received a B.A. in television engineering, I worked for 12 years in the industry. Then the television industry went through a major overhaul due to government cutbacks (in the '80's). I left the industry and moved to Lake Isabella where I met my husband. I needed to decompress from city life.
I had an opportunity to do volunteer work for a local travel agency. The travel agency experience rekindled my desire for travel. I continued there for a year then branched out to opening Ahoy Trave Co. I haven't looked back since. Ahoy Travel is my passion come true!
MCCOC: What is the benefit to working with a travel agent versus going-it-alone on travel plans?
Julie: I enjoy working with prospective clients. The creation and development of Ahoy Travel Co. was founded on my core principle, "The customer comes first." The difference between a company such as Ahoy and major online travel sites, is that our agents develop a one-on-one relationship wtih their clients. The agent retains a portfolio for each client. The portfolio has all the client's travel information, cumulatively, as a reference for future trips. All agents are able to adddress each client's travel desires from handling special needs, all documentation requirements, visa requirements, medical requirements required for the destination they are going, airline bookings, cruise arrangements, land tours, pre- and post-trip excurisions, as well as special acoomodations.
The client also has a personal contact to ease their mind, knowing there is someone to address issues which arise. The client can be worry-free during their trip. An example of such an occurence is when 9-11 happened. We had a large group in Vancouver, British Columbia, that were grounded because no flights were allowed (now with large groups, we do have agents escorting in case of such instances). We made ground arrangements through Amtrak, to bring everyone home safely. The Ahoy Travel Co. motto is "Our work is not finished until the clients are home safely." That is a major difference between self-bookings and Ahoy Travel Co.
MCCOC: Can travel agents match the hotel, cruise, and airline prices that someone would find online?
Julie: Funny you would ask this question! It is a myth that you can save money by self-booking. An agent-based planner has extensive resources available to them due to their vast knowledge of the workings of the travel industry. An agent-based trip planner, most times, can find better package deals as well as using contacts within the travel industry to activate pricing that the public cannot access.
MCCOC: What is your favorite thing about your work?.
Julie: The best part of my work is the ability to fulfill a client's dream vacation, their bucket-list, or family adventure. We don't just fulfill a client's trip arrangements, we stay in contact post-trip. We like to contact clients for feedback of their experiences. This feedback helps agents to address any issues, pro or con, immediately. We encourage our clients to submit photos for sharing on our website, as well as reviews of their overall experience with our service and their travel experience.
MCCOC: Any funny stories or anecdotes to share?
Julie: I have a funny story I would love to share. I was finishing up arrangements for a client and the last thing was the flight. I asked the client which they would prefer - an aisle or window seat in the plane? The client's response was "Oh honey, I would prefer the aisle, the window will ruin my hair!" I wore a smile for the rest of the day.
MCCOC: What do you think is the least know, but most intriguing travel destination? Any hidden secret locales we should know about?
Julie: I must say this is a great question! The answer really is more of a "depending" one. Since there are so many intriguing unknown destinations that have yet to be discovered by the majority, I would have to say it is dependent on where and what the client is looking for. We have clients that want to go to tourist destinations and do the traditional tourist activities, then we have the clients who steer clear of those places. They want to experience the true culture of their destinations, travel to those unusual hide-away places, theless travelled and unexplored. So, to answer the question, it "depends" on the client.
MCCOC: How can someone meet with you if they would like to book travel?
Julie: We encourage a meeting with prospective travelers. Our agents find it extremely helpful, to both parties, to do a face-to-face meeting. This develops a personal rapport. Our agents are in several locations, not only in California, wer are also in Nevada as well as Georgia. We are in perpetual growth.
By the way, we do encourage individuals interested in becoming travel agents to contact us. We are always looking for motivated individuals, and encourage those with a passion for travel to hop on board our moving ship!
There are several ways to contact us initially, but the best way is via email to email@example.com.
MCCOC: What is your dream vacation? Have you taken it yet?
Julie: The biggest problem in travel is that every trip you plan, you want to go on! I have traveled to Europe; I loved it! Now we are going to be planning wine/culinary river cruises. These are becoming very popular and are definitely on my list. I would have to say that on the top of my bucket list is Antarctica. I have traveled extensively, but haven't been there yet.
MCCOC: Thank you so much Julie! I love your enthusiasm for travel and providing your clients with a top-notch service. All this talk about travel makes me want to plan my next vacation!