Business Spotlight: Travel agent LeAnn Smith dishes out tips

LeAnn Smith is a vacation specialist for Kish Travel in State College. Smith has been working in the travel industry for more than 35 years.
LeAnn Smith is a vacation specialist for Kish Travel in State College. Smith has been working in the travel industry for more than 35 years. CDT photo

LeAnn Smith enjoys Western dude ranches and Hawaii’s beaches. There are, however, countless destinations for people to choose from when they plan a vacation.

Smith, an agent for Kish Travel, should know. She has worked in the travel industry for 35 years and said it’s important for her to stay informed of new resorts, what companies merge and people’s evolving tastes. .

“People like coming back to a person,” she said. “I think it’s important to take your time with them, to learn about them and to check things out thoroughly for them. I put myself in their shoes.”

With warmer months drawing near, Smith said she is prepared for a surge in traveling plans.

Q: We’re in the thick of winter, but it’s refreshing to know spring break is on the horizon. Is this one of the busier times of the year where you’re trying to get students, families and couples prepared for Spring Break travels?

A: Yes, the first six months of the year are always very busy. It’s cold in the northeast now, and everyone wants to get out of town to a warm destination.

Q: What are some of the most common spring break destinations?

A: For our clients, the most common destinations ... are Florida, Disney World, a Disney Cruise, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Mexico and Hawaii.

Q: Have you ever had anyone request an odd location for spring break?

A: Yes, we have. One that comes to mind is Iceland, which can be very attractive because of the geothermal pools, which are accessible even in the winter. That, combined with Iceland’s rugged landscape and natural wonders, make it a great destination all year round.

Q: What is the local trend for vacationing?

A: Our clients in central Pennsylvania tend to travel to Mexico and the Caribbean. Many enjoy the benefits of cruising. The ship serves as the hotel from which clients have the opportunity to visit many points of interest, including, in some cases, private islands with beautiful beaches. Modern cruise ships provide an amazing array of activities where there is something for every age and taste.

Q: President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba on Dec. 17. Does that have an impact on prospective travelers to Cuba?

A: We have sent clients to Cuba and anticipate that the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba will make it a more attractive destination going forward. Cuba is a beautiful island country with a rich culture that, because of recent history, many American have yet to experience. Our clients who have been lucky enough to travel to Cuba recommend it highly as a travel destination.

Q: I imagine it’s not always easy planning people’s vacations. What are some of the challenges in being a travel agent?

A: The challenges often include things that are out of our control. A bad snow storm can disrupt travelers’ schedules, a sick baby can lead to a cancellation, and world politics sometimes disrupt our clients’ plans.

Q: Has the Internet affected the way people plan vacations, particularly younger people?

A: Yes, the Internet has impacted the travel industry a great deal, but not always in a negative way. The Internet has allowed people to see beautiful pictures of resorts and destinations worldwide. This gets them excited about making vacation plans and narrows their focus and gives them basic facts about destinations.

However, booking travel on the internet can be challenging to the inexperienced traveler. Experienced travel agents are able to help travelers go beyond the Internet. We can help them, for example, select resorts based on our experience visiting destinations. We also can help them make transportation arrangements that maximize their time away and often save them money in the process. We sometimes need to help clients change their travel plans made on the Internet.

Q: What are the benefits of using a travel agent instead of planning your own vacations?

A: There are many benefits travel agents provide their clients. First and foremost, we are advocates for our clients in every step of the travel process. We are the professionals who are able to assist clients not only with their reservations, but also with any issues or problems that may arise during or after the travel experience. Travel agents work hard to prevent unexpected hassles and unpleasant surprises.