Ja'Vonne Harley, Advantage International

Ja’Vonne Harley is a one-woman content machine! This 26-year travel industry veteran has merged her passions into an incredibly successful $2M agency.

Her unique niche of working with corporations and radio stations to book incentive and promotional trips, come along trips with radio shows is just one part of the biz. She’ll share with us how she got into booking these trips as well as how she broke into getting her own radio show on Sirius XM, Traveling Culturati. (She’ll even share some hints on how to polish your radio/podcast voice for broadcasting!)

But Ja’Vonne doesn’t stop with just radio shows, she also loves to satisfy her curiosity and learn about new cultures by creating special interest groups that travel with her and her husband around the world. In fact, through the years, Advantage International has amassed such a large fan base that they have a frequent traveler program that is both a thank you to their best clients, as well as brilliant marketing!

And there’s more folks. She recently started promoting and growing their third brand, Traveling While Black. That’s right, we’ll also be discussing how she’s successfully managed not one, not two, but three travel brands — Advantage International, Traveling Culturati, and Traveling While Black!

Join us for tons of fun as we kick back and get our learning on with this multi-talented travel agent!

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Show Notes

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1. Ja'Vonne's Blog: You have to see it to believe it. 154 pages of blog posts!

2. Reports from HAR's Survey: Fee Reports and Income Reports

3. TAC Vol. 1 on Multiple Brands: It's just not Ja'Vonne who has more than one brand with their travel agency. Hear how another agent manages his dual travel brands in our first episode ever!

4. TAC Vol. 19 on Accessible Travel: If a significant portion of your clients are baby boomers, make sure you're agency is ready to help those travelers hit the globe well into their golden years by brushing up on your knowledge of accessibility travel.

5. Ja'Vonne's Fav Travel Conferences to Network: IMEX Las Vegas, IMEX Frankfurt, IBTM World, IBTM (Americas) IBTM Asia Pacific, ITB Berlin, ITB India, ITB China, ITB Asia

6. HAR's Event Calendar: Wondering what conferences, webinars, meetings and events are going on for travel advisors? We've got it all in one place for you!

7. TAC Vol 14 on Starting a Podcast:Ja'Vonne got you excited about getting on the air? Hear advice from 5 different travel podcast hosts on how they got started and what they'd recommend for newbies!

8. TAC Vol 15 on Marketing a Podcast: The fun doesn't stop at making a podcast! We meet up with the travel podcast crew to hear the different approaches they take to marketing their successful podcasts.

9. Checkfront: The online booking software Ja'Vonne uses on her site to automated her group bookings.


Stephanie: [00:00:12] You're listening to Travel Agent Chatter, volume 20. We've made it into the 20s, yay! Travel Agent Chatter is an audio series produced by the team here at Host Agency Reviews every quarter. I am Steph Lee, the founder of Host Agency Reviews, and I am your host for today's show.

Today's episode is bursting with ideas from an agency that has drilled down into multiple niches. Some of the topics we'll be covering is, How to use radio to grow your business, how to automate your custom FITs and how to approach having multiple brands at your agency.

Our guest today has over 25 years of experience under her belt, escorting groups between 20 and 100 passengers around the world. Her specialty is private and special interest groups, as well as promotion and come along trips with radio stations. So there's a lot of fun stuff to unpack. So let's get onto the show.

Hello, hello everyone. I have missed you! It has been a few months since our last in-depth Travel Agent Chatter episode, but hopefully, you've been able to tune into some of our Friday 15s that have been happening in the interim.

So, that's right, folks. If you're just kind of tuning in, we got a little bit crazy in our Travel Agent Chatter podcast feed, and now we have two different types of shows that we're pushing out via it. So this right here that you're listening to right now is our Travel Agent Chatter feed, which is where we talk in-depth with travel advisors from all corners of the industry. And we kind of figure out what makes their agency unique and successful.

Ja'Vonne Harley
Ja'Vonne Harley, Advantage International

So today's guest is Ja'Vonne Harley, the owner of Advantage International. She's also the owner of Traveling While Black, and she is the host and producer of the radio show, Traveling Culturati. She's, she's a woman of many talents. So, it's gonna be a really fabulous conversation because she has a lot of insights and she does things that are... there's some really unique aspects to our industry.

So, first of all, she's one of the few agencies that I know that has used radio effectively to grow her client base. She's really just a content machine. She has 154 pages of blog posts, if you can believe it. Now she's been in the industry a long time, but it's still pretty impressive.

And I, I just also have to share with you that when I asked her about her 154 pages of blog posts, she was like, "Oh, is that good? Like, I was thinking I was behind on things." I was like, "That's amazing."

So, I think it's safe to say with $2 million in sales and the fact that she has a very popular frequent traveler program for all of her super fans, that she is doing something very right with her ag- with her agency.

So, before we meet Ja'Vonne and bring her on, just a quick reminder that whatever format you're consuming Travel Agent Chatter in, whether it be via podcast, a video on our YouTube channel, or if you're reading the transcript on the site and wanna see the sprinkled pictures of Ja'Vonne throughout it traveling around the world, we have got you covered. So, any links and resources that we go over on today's show, those will be in our show notes. You can find those by visiting hostagencyreviews.com/tac and clicking on episode 20.

Now, to give you a quick itinerary for today's show, we're gonna be breaking it down into five segments. The first is beginning as we'll kind of learn a little bit about Ja'Vonne's history. We'll talk about her business structure and some unique aspects of it. Then we'll move into talking about radio and how she's used radio.

And we'll finish it up with our second to last segment that goes into the customized FITs that she plans. And then we'll move into our last segment, our usual last segment, which is the warm fuzzies. So there's so much to unpack today. Um, I can't wait to start picking Ja'Vonne's brain. So let me bring her in.


Ja'Vonne, welcome to Travel Agent Chatter!

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:04:17] Hello, Stephanie. Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited.

Stephanie: [00:04:20] Oh, it is so darn fabulous to have you on today. I'm super excited. Well, I'll, I'll actually, I'll tell you what, because I'm really excited to have you on, but I'm nervous, which I'm not normally nervous.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:04:30] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:04:32] And if you haven't noticed this yet, people will notice this because Ja'Vonne has the most gorgeous radio voice ever. It's so silky smooth and composed and it's kinda dreamy. And so, I feel a little self-conscious. I've been drinking water [laughs] all morning-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:04:48] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:04:48] ... and I've got two things of water [laughs] because I'm like, "I'm gonna be like talking right asi- alongside Ja'Vonne. And I have to make sure my voice sounds good." [laughs] And I'm very hydrated.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:05:00] You sound fabulous. You sound fabulous. And, and it happens. I did a presentation to children ages one through five. And I was so nervous because I'm used to presenting in front of adults and these children made me so nervous when that happened. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:05:17] [laughs] I know, I was just like, "How do I make myself sound so much better?" I just... So we're gonna ask you about that in a little bit, but this is one of those Travel Agent Chatter episodes, where we're able to tap into the brain of a long-time travel industry veteran.

So she has been in the travel industry for 26 years. And I'm just gonna go ahead and give you some applause there, because that means Ja'Vonne, that you've made it through the airline commission cuts, the recession, and now the pandemic, which is a lot of perseverance and dedication. So kudos to you.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:05:51] Thank you. That is a feat, I tell you. And I have a lot of gray hairs to prove it.

Stephanie: [00:05:57] [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:05:57] Although I use dye number 56. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:06:01] Oh. [laughs] I'm starting to get some gray hairs. Like, they have all come in, like, right where like a widow's peak would be.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:06:09] Yeah.

Stephanie: [00:06:09] And so it's... it looks like a Cruella de Vil, but I've decided to start calling it my wisdom streak-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:06:14] Yes, [crosstalk 00:05:21].

Stephanie: [00:06:15] ... instead of Cruella de Vil. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:06:17] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:06:18] Well, well, let's kind of talk about your pre entrepreneur days because prior to starting your agency you were in the travel industry, but wha- you weren't what were you doing in it?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:06:29] I've worked for an airline consolidator. And, and actually, even before that, I was into retail merchandising. I wanted to be a buyer and... From... and end in the fashion industry, but I was a little derailed with that and decided to just take a travel agency course. And when I did, I thought, "Okay, this is something that maybe I can do." I really just kinda did it as a sabbatical, to be honest with you. [laughs] And then I realized, "Well, this is something I could do."

But I first landed a job with an airline consolidator, and that's a big name now, but then, I won't date myself too much. It wasn't that familiar with folks to, to be with an airline consolidator and a wholesaler. So, I learned a lot about planning and behind the scenes, because what we did was we resold to the travel agency community.

Ja'Vonne Harley about to take off!
Ja'Vonne Harley, about to take off!

Stephanie: [00:07:23] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. That's, So you, you were based out of Washington DC then, right?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:07:30] That's correct. That's correct.

Stephanie: [00:07:31] Okay. So then you got this idea that you wanted to start your own agency. So where, where did kinda the seeds from that idea come from?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:07:42] Well, after I left the company that I was the airline consolidator that I was with, I did go on a few job interviews. However, I just kind of felt myself in a fog. And I started remembering some of the conversations that I had with friends and family who marveled at my travels. You know, those of us in the travel industry, we love to talk about our travels, right?

Stephanie: [00:08:03] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:08:04] It gives us bragging rights. We don't think it's bragging, we're just excited about what we're doing. But I noticed they were hanging on every word and they would always say, "I would really love to do that, but I'm not as adventurous at you... a- as you are. And I wouldn't wanna go and do it on my own." And... Plus I don't wanna feel like I'm in a fishbowl."

So that gave me the idea. And that's all I kept thinking about as I was in other job interviews. And I thought, "You know what, why don't I curate my own programs and start my own business?" And that's exactly what I did. And I knew immediately that I wanted to focus on group travel, that I wanted to focus on special interest groups. And I wanted to focus on African-American travelers.

Stephanie: [00:08:49] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And you also kind of focused on the radio segment because your husband was in that field as well. Right?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:08:56] Absolutely. Well, that kinda came a little bit later as I was doing programs for friends and family, but, but putting them together in my own groups and then inviting them to come along. And then I got the idea, after a few conversations with my husband who was a general sales manager at a radio station, that, ah, has the radio station ever considered doing travel programs or what-

Stephanie: [00:09:23] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:09:23] ... we would call come-along programs. And I knew they were doing incentive programs. So, I was also trying to get my foot in the door with that business too. The incentive programs being that they would incentivize their advertisers and incentivize their sales staff to meet certain goals and then be rewarded with travel.

Stephanie: [00:09:44] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:09:44] And so I was successful with doing that. And then I thought, "Okay, let's expand this a little bit more. So you can really connect with your audience and offer programs for them to travel along with their favorite radio hosts."

Business Structure

Traveling Culturati

Stephanie: [00:09:58] Yeah, absolutely. Well, let's, let's move into kind of the next section, which is kind of talking about your business structure. So, it's not an unusual per se for a travel agency to have multiple brands. In, in volume one, I think it was, we talked with Andrey Zakharenko where he had two brands that he was working with. But you have three that you're working with. So there's Advantage International, Traveling Culturati, and then Traveling While Black. So walk me through what each of these are and why did you start them?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:10:32] Well, Advantage International is the business end of everything. It's the travel company. And Traveling Culturati is the radio show. And I came up with the name because my aesthetic with my group bookings through Advantage and my personal travel experience is a cultural and a heritage aesthetic and focus.

So that's how I named the radio show, but I always knew that I would have another focus of the radio show in addition to just providing travel information to the general public, to also garner more clients, to also garner more experiences, and to use the radio platform to grow my clientele.

And Traveling While Black, now that's interesting. So, that came about in a very casual conversation more than 20 years ago with my husband and myself. We now partner, he left radio and started working with me about 15 years ago. So it came about in a conversation when we talked about the unique experiences a black traveler faces through conversation, through reactions, and just through the whole booking process that we noticed in making our reservations with the travel industry once they knew that it was a black travel group.

So we started saying, "Oh, this is traveling while black." We've all heard of driving while black and all of these things, and it's not necessarily a negative connotation. It embodies all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are some things we do within our own community that we laugh at and [laughs] becomes a part of Traveling While Black as well. So-

Stephanie: [00:12:18] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley
Ja'Vonne Harley, smoking a Cuban cigar

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:12:18] ... we had grabbed that URL, travelingwhileblack.com. But for so many years, we just pointed it to Advantage International. And a couple of years ago, we decided to use it on its own exclusively for a marketing brand because all three really are cross-promoted. Advantage as I said, it is the business and it's the company that makes all of the, it has the expertise arrangements, but Traveling Culturati are the [inaudible 00:11:56], and Traveling While Black are those, like, experiences that happen. And we know that to our travelers, to those experiences.

Stephanie: [00:13:05] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. I... Well, I have to tell you, I love the name Traveling Culturati. It's, like, one of my favorite names. It just... It evokes such a strong picture of what's going on. So I love that. Not that I don't like the other names, but that one is, like, super powerful and really-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:13:19] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:13:20] ... resonates with me.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:13:21] It's my favorite too.

 I'll tell you one time I, I subscribed to the word of the day.

Stephanie: [00:13:26] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:13:27] And so, years ago-

Stephanie: [00:13:28] Oh.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:13:29] ... the word came to me to my, my email box culturati, and I thought, "Well, I've never heard of that word before, the culturati." And I kept using the word in a very joking way. And then I thought to use it when I rebranded the radio show as Traveling Culturati. So that's how I got [laughs] the name by subscribing-

Stephanie: [00:13:49] Oh, I thought you-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:13:51] ... to the word of the day. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:13:52] I thought you made it up. [laughs] I know-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:13:55] No, it's a real word. It's a real word.

Stephanie: [00:13:57] Oh, that's awesome. [laughs] That's even better. I'm like- [laughs] ... getting my learning on already with my vocabulary. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:14:05] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:14:06] Well, let's see. So with these multiple brands that you're kind of running, I think you're in a great position to talk about the pros and cons of having more than one brand. And if you could give some type of advice to advisors that either have multiple brands or that are thinking about having multiple brands, you know, having run this multiple brands for, you know, over a decade, what would you... what would your piece of advice for people to be?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:14:30] Well, if you're going to have multiple brands, first of all, you need to have very clear lanes for them so that it's not confusing for you or your consumer. You should be able to explain it and tell you... whoever it is you're speaking to why you have the multiple brands and what do they focus on, or what do... w- what are the purposes of those different brands?

And then, are you gonna use them completely separately, or are they kind of bundled together where there's a lot of cross-promotion and that's what it is for us. So, just be very clear on your focus, be very clear on your vision and be able to communicate and explain it to anyone who's asking, whether you're gonna use them together or independently.

Stephanie: [00:15:16] Mm-hmm [affirmative], those are great tips. And, and this isn't so much about business structure, but it kind of is. So one of the things we've talked about before is the realization tha- that you had during one of your trips, when one of the travelers came up to you and they asked if your trips, all your trips were for seniors.

And I thought this was really insightful because of you just looking around and saying, "Yeah, you know, we, we do, like, kind of specialize in senior trips. And that's our niche." You used it kind of as a reflection point where you took a step back to look at your agency with new eyes. So would you mind kind of sharing that story and how it changed things for you?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:15:55] Absolutely. And I think it's so important as you said to change our eyes 'cause you always have to be willing to change. The travel industry is a very fluid industry. So you have to make sure that you're fluid with it. Otherwise, the industry will outgrow you or it will [laughs] surpass you. And-

Stephanie: [00:16:14] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:16:15] ... so, yeah, that was a realization for me. I like to say boomer versus senior, because senior, I think has a very negative connotation to it.

Stephanie: [00:16:22] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:16:23] But yes, boomers were our, or are our primary demographic. But what I realized at that moment that my traveler said that to me was that one, we had been in business for 20 years. So if you... your demographic is the boomer demographic, they're 20 years older, right?

Stephanie: [00:16:45] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:16:46] So, I hadn't really made that switch in my head. And so I knew at that moment that I needed to do a couple of things. That one I, I needed to include another demographic. And I focused on gen X. And two, I needed to look structurally at some of my programs, the amount of movement the... how I communicated the different challenges. And if I'm going to have one particular program that's gonna have more adventure in it then I need to be very clear with that so that the right people sign up for the right program.

And so it wasn't that I steered off of that course. I just broadened my client base and started going more toward gen X, still maintaining my core client group, which are boomers because there are some very vibrant, active boomers-

Stephanie: [00:17:44] Yes.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:17:45] ... that are very adventurous. So I didn't want to leave them out. And they've been with me for 23 years. So why would I turn away from them at any point? But I did have to make some adjustments.

Ja'Vonne Harley, hiking

Stephanie: [00:17:57] Yeah. That's, You know, the last episode we talked with that's volume 19, we talked with Becky Kirby kind of about accessibility travel and talked about, you know, as the baby boomer generation is aging, this is people, a huge population that is traveling but is gonna need more assistance as they're traveling.

So, that travel companies and travel agencies need to start thinking about how they can accommodate you know, making travel more accessible and things that you should be asking. So that's... that kind of ties in really nicely with it too and something, I think all agencies should be thinking about if they have baby boomers in their client base.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:18:36] Absolutely. And some very simple things like number of bathroom breaks and having-

Stephanie: [00:18:42] Hmm.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:18:43] ... facilities on a bus. I, I know 20 years ago versus today, I need to make sure I have [laughs] that-

Stephanie: [00:18:52] Yeah.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:18:52] ... so it's easier for me. It just happens. It's a part of what we go through. But yeah, just some little changes as well, o- or maybe not checking the program too much, putting in more downtime. And then asking yourself if you go- are going to address accessibility ah, programs, because when you travel outside of the United States, when you travel around the world, that means very different things and, and different places, and what's gonna be available to you. ADA-

Stephanie: [00:19:25] Yeah.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:19:25] ... is not present in all countries. So, you have to be aware of that.

Stephanie: [00:19:31] Yes, definitely. and so one of the other thing that's unique about your business structure, I'm gonna get to the question in just a second so bear with me. But so we do our big travel agent survey every year where we publish tons of information about advisor demographics, how much they earn kind of fees they're charging what they're charging them for and how much. It's just the reports we push harder is chock full of info and I'll link to those in our show notes for everyone.

But how this relates to you, Ja'Vonne, is instead of [laughs] this being 100% self-promotion about this survey is-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:20:09] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:20:10] ... One of the things that comes out of our survey is when we, we publish kind of the demographics that, that go there you know, we ask a lot of things about people's agency structure. And so, in 2020, our report found that 61% of agencies are hosted. And I think it's like 20% are independent. And so I'll, I'll put a link to that particular report in the show notes, if people are interested.

But anyhow, going with that is you've gone, you know, you're not in that 61%, you're in that 20% that went independent, so the minority and besides being independent, you're also very unique in that you don't belong to a consortia. So, since isn't all that common of a scenario, I was wondering if you could share why this route worked so well for you.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:21:03] I, I think probably it's stemmed from my beginnings in the travel industry that I have never worked for a full-service travel agency. I have only worked for a consolidator or a wholesaler.

Stephanie: [00:21:18] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:21:18] So, when I started my business, I kind of stayed in that same lane as far as the, the back end of the business. So I knew contract negotiation with the airlines. I knew contract negotiation with the hotels. I had some relationships and I had done events independently before as well. So, it was kind of a, a no-brainer. It wasn't even something that I thought about.

Of course when I started my business travel agencies issuing airline tickets we're still getting commission and that was very different then. But I still went the route of just issuing tickets and not worrying about a commi- a commission, I had a ticketing fee. So I would charge a, a ticketing fee as opposed to a commission at the time. And so it didn't matter where I got my airfare prices from. Everything else was negotiated when it came to my groups and that's what my primary focus was on. So I just-

Stephanie: [00:22:18] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:22:18] ... automatically and organically contacted the airlines, contacted the hotels, [laughs] and through events, the airlines have always done ticketing for event and meeting planners.

Stephanie: [00:22:31] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah. And I, I think, you know, we work with a lot of new advisors as well as experienced ones, but just by default with how much traffic we get, there's a lot of new people or people that are looking into it. And it's... I, I think it's important for people to note, like, you had those, the decade-plus of experience in the industry.

And it's really hard to go this route without the industry connections and knowledge that you had built up. Because one of the challenges I think is finding and vetting suppliers and understanding how to negotiate things. So how do you go about doing that? Like, what are, what are your tips for doing that and how do you build these relationships?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:23:12] A, a lot of it has to do with industry functions. Whether-

Stephanie: [00:23:15] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:23:15] ... they are local or whether you're a hosted buyer, or whether you spend your own money to travel to them, they're very, very useful and, ah, a, a big return on investment. So, for example, if you went to I- a, a tra- a travel trade show in Germany, for example, called IMEX, or if you went to the, the North American one that's in Las Vegas, you have a world full of suppliers in one place that you can get their information from. You can book one-on-one meetings with them while you're there. You can exchange your business cards, you can go to networking events.

So it is really about relationships. And anytime you can put yourself in front of people versus phone calls, sometimes we have to just [inaudible 00:24:02] you put directly in [inaudible 00:24:04] of some, always gonna have a [inaudible 00:24:08] impression, it's gonna have a, a lasting relationship.

Stephanie: [00:24:20] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And, and you're, I mean, you're a travel agency, but you specialize more in kind of the MICE, the meetings and events and conferences, conventions side of things. So the events that you're talking about, like IMEX, those are more for people that are doing large groups. Is that what you'd say?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:24:40] Well, yes and no. So they are set up for MICE, meetings, incentives, co- conventions but, and, and events, but they're not exclusive. And, and so-

Ja'Vonne Harley at travel conference

Stephanie: [00:24:53] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:24:54] ... you can go to the one in Vegas. They, they used to have it here in Chicago, but they moved it to Vegas. You can go to the one in, in Vegas and just walk the floor and meet people and visit the booths and get destination information from tourism boards, from DMCs, from ground operators, tour operators, hotels, airlines, they're all there. So, it's still for the travel industry. There are parts of it that are exclusively for MICE, but the entire event is not just for MICE agencies and-

Stephanie: [00:25:27] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:25:28] ... a travel agency can go. [inaudible 00:25:23] travel agency. And I don't consider I am a group specialist and specializing in special interest groups and incentive travel for corporations.

Stephanie: [00:25:47] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And, and you've made a lot of connections with DMCs and tourism boards that you use to kind of put special tweaks within your itineraries to really make them unique to your company.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:26:02] Ah, yes. Well, doing the incentive programs for corporations, of course, they have huge budgets a [laughs] lot of times, but in putting these programs together we have those immersive experiences that I love to do anyway, but they also have meetings, they have relationship building team building a- a- activities and exercises. And so I've taken some of that and have implemented it into my regular s- or special interest group programs, not in the big corporate way, but in a way that it is affordable, but it gives me that unique element to the itinerary that it's not just your cookie cutter itinerary.

Stephanie: [00:26:47] Exactly. And, and what are your favorite? You, you mentioned IMEX, and what are some of your other favorite events to go to to kind of network and get to know these people?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:26:57] There's EI- EIBTM, if I can remember all of the [inaudible 00:26:51] [laughs], to be honest with you. There's ITME.

Stephanie: [00:27:03] This one is trickier.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:27:05] Yeah. There's ITB.

Stephanie: [00:27:06] ITB.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:27:07] ... ITB. Yeah, there's ITB um, EIBTM there's a AIBTM and so the EMA is [inaudible 00:27:06] an American.

Stephanie: [00:27:17] Okay.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:27:17] And then there's, you know, smaller ones, regional and there's just too many for the list I'll remember, but there are a lot of smaller regional ones as well-

Stephanie: [00:27:26] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:27:26] ... Depending on what the destination is.

Stephanie: [00:27:30] Yeah. We'll make sure to link to those in the show notes, if people just wanna see a list of the things that Ja'Vonne just mentioned. And, and also to mention that we do have our events calendar at hostagencyreviews.com/events. So there's... Right now, I think there's about 35 plus events on there that you can take a peek at. So if you have events that you would like to list, the listings are all free, so please feel free to add those. Or if you wanna see what events are out there, make sure to swing on by. Let's-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:28:02] A- and don't forget there... Don't forget there's ASTA.

Stephanie: [00:28:05] Oh, yeah. [crosstalk 00:27:56]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:28:06] And ASTA will have their local events a- and their regional events, and then they have their international events as well. So, you should be a member of ASTA. [laughs] If you have a travel company, you should be a member of ASTA.

Stephanie: [00:28:21] Yes. I love that plug and we, the HAR team, the whole HAR team is actually gonna be in Chicago in a few weeks for ASTA's global convention. So hopefully, we will see some of you there.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:28:33] Yeah.



Stephanie: [00:28:34] Let's see. So, let's move into our next segment where I wanna talk with you about radio because it's an area that I don't know anything/a lot about and between you and Gene's background and things, you're, like, bonafide experts in my book.

So, the first question that I have is for any tips. Like, I know you did, like, a broadcasting incubator in the very beginning but it could be from anywhere, just your experience. So what are some tips for us non-radio people that can we use on our podcast or just our radio game that can... Well, actually, you know what I'm looking for Ja'Vonne here is how do I sound like you? [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:29:16] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:29:17] It sounds good. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:29:20] O- one thing is record yourself.

Stephanie: [00:29:22] [crosstalk 00:29:13] just gonna beat around the bush. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:29:24] Yeah, I know, it's fine. It's fine. But record yourself and then critique yourself. And one thing that, that I did, of course, going to the incubator, they had us doing commercials, they had us doing voiceovers. And i- if you can change... I like changing my voice sometimes too. So if you kinda like playing-

Stephanie: [00:29:43] Hmm.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:29:43] ... around with that, even if you wanted to do something a little cartoonish, something animated, you can do that. But if you're not i- in, in that position where you're in a class, record some television commercials or radio commercials that you hear and try to really pick up on their intonations, their inflections, and their cadence.

One thing I had to teach myself to do was to slow down. I can be a fast talker, especially if I'm excited, but if somebody is listening to you on radio, their attention span is already kind of short. So you wanna make sure that they're understanding everything that you're saying.

The second thing is then to practice it, kind of re-script those same commercials and try to read them yourself, but really listen to those inflections and those That's the thing that you wanna make sure that you're not monotone. So even if you're reading something, just kind of think of how you would naturally say it and then add some of those inflections. Like I just said, add some of those inflections.

It may sound crazy if you're just talking to somebody generally, but on radio or just like what we're doing now, if somebody is listening to you, it's gonna make you a little bit more interesting. And then those little, those little things make them perk up a little bit more. And then what I always do is I speak from my chest. One thing I noticed in listening to myself is that sometimes I had a tendency to become nasally. So-

Stephanie: [00:31:08] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:31:09] ... I, I started speaking and recording myself, but I started noticing how it felt here when I had heard the voice I really liked. So, I can really feel that difference here versus having it, you know, and here. So speaking from your, from your chest. I, I, I also wanna let you know that I went to School of the Arts in Washington, DC for high school and, and trained vocally. So, [laughs]-

Stephanie: [00:31:34] Oh, you've got a lot going on there then. So I'm not feeling quite as bad.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:31:40] [laughing] And, and, and singing. One of the exercises that we would do is speak our way through a song. So, I've always been one to... I had a lot of training with speaking, with singing, and, and so forth.

Stephanie: [00:31:54] Those, those are fantastic tips, and I'm going to apologize in advance everybody if I'm just putting random intonations in during this-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:32:02] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:32:02] ... and found [inaudible 00:31:54] [laughs].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:32:02] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:32:06] That'll be fun.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:32:07] I hear the difference already. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:32:10] You're my mentor. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:32:11] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:32:13] And, and also just bringing this back to, well, we're just gonna do another plug for ASTA because I know ASTA has media training. I don't know if they have a radio-specific one, but I know they have media-ready trainings for advisors that they can take to make sure that they better understand how to look good on camera and how to speak. And I think a lot of the consortia do as well, so make sure to tap into the re- those resources.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:32:38] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Stephanie: [00:32:41] Let's see. So let's talk about the side of Advantage International that works with radio stations with the come-along trips and kind of the promotions because this seems like a great way to gain exposure for your agency and get a lot of travelers. So what... Like, how big are these trips? What are the normal sizes?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:33:02] Well, it really depends on the destination. A lot of times if we're doing something for the Caribbean we can do hotel buyouts. It could be something very, like a single market versus a multi-market.

and then on something more long haul, it's probably around 100 people.

Stephanie: [00:33:23] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Okay. And it's, it's not just like, what I think is neat is it's, you're not just doing these come along and promotional group trips with the radio stations. You also have had your own radio show for the past 10 years. That's the Traveling Culturati.

And I, you know, I fell in love... I listened to a few of them and I just, like, fell in love with it because of the detail that you go into it when it comes to the destinations or the food or the history or the culture there. And it's, it's not cookie-cutter information. It's, it's really fun factoids. And that's what I think helps travel agents really sell an itinerary and get people excited are these little tidbits of information that's like insider information. They can look when they go there.

So tell me about Traveling Culturati and what your goal is when it comes to researching those cool factoids and throwing them out during the show, because it's clearly something you're really passionate about.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:34:24] Well, that's where I started, what is my own passion? So if, if you're considering doing a radio show or a podcast-

Stephanie: [00:34:33] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:34:33] ... a- and, and like you said, it's not cookie-cutter because let's face it, the travel industry is a huge industry. And not only is it a huge industry, but there's a lot of information out there. So you don't want to give the same information that everybody else gives. So, what are you passionate about? What is your unique niche or your unique gift?

And so, for me, it was my curiosity with culture. And so that why I came up with the name Traveling Culturati [laughs] even though it dropped in my box from the word of the day.

Stephanie: [00:35:08] [laughs] It's so amazing.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:35:08] [laughs] It was a... Th- these were the things that I enjoyed from my personal travel. And it's the same thing I do with my business. It's what I love personally about travel. And I'm sharing that with my clients. So I'm doing the same thing with the radio audience is I'm sharing my passion with them and you have to start there. Otherwise, you will start to sound monotone and you, you won't be excited about what you're talking about.

So, when, when I re-branded the show, Traveling Culturati, I, I wanted to bring that forward. And so, when I would take my trips, when I would develop my programs for Advantage, I would also reach out to tourism boards and to destination management companies or guides that I had met along the way and said, "I would love to have you on my show to talk about Taiko drumming in Japan, or to talk about a tea ceremony in Japan, to talk about the naming ceremony in, in Ghana or maybe hieroglyphics in, in Egypt. H- how wine is, is made, you know. Maybe talk about how something gets to a table. What is the favorite dish of the, of the country, or what are the three most defining cultural aspects of your culture?" so-

Stephanie: [00:36:29] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:36:29] ... again, it all went back to the things that I love to find out about when I traveled and I thought they would be of interest to other people. And, and it has proven that, that they are, and black history is something that's also very important to me as well.

J'Vonne Harley by MLK statue in DC
Ja'Vonne visiting Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in D.C.

And so bringing that to my audience, and one of the things that really resonated with me and made me feel wonderful is that a, a, a listener, an avid listener [laughs]-

Stephanie: [00:36:59] A superfan.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:37:00] ... to my show.

Stephanie: [00:37:01] [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:37:01] Yeah, superfan from California an older white gentleman, you know, he sends me emails all the time, but he said, "I'd never would have traveled i- in search of black history if I hadn't listened to your show. And it is absolutely fascinating, the things that I've learned, the sites that I've visited and the foods that I've tasted and the cultures that I have experienced. And even here in the United States, if it hadn't been for you encouraging us to, to seek out these things." And because he's a retired ranger, he sends me these nice little spots in national parks that are either placards or trails for black history-

Stephanie: [00:37:45] Oh.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:37:45] ... which I absolutely love.

Stephanie: [00:37:47] Cool. That's really neat.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:37:50] Yeah. There are a lot of black history trails in national parks and a lot, we don't often know about that.

Stephanie: [00:37:58] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah, that's fantastic to have, like, made that connection just via the airwaves.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:38:04] Yeah. Yeah. So again, speak your passion. What are you passionate about? And, and people will find it interesting because you're passionate about it and that's gonna come across,

Stephanie: [00:38:16] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:38:17] ... in your delivery.

Stephanie: [00:38:19] Yeah. And you know, now that we have the internet and you can reach everybody, I guarantee there's someone else, at least one other person in the world that is just as excited-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:38:26] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:38:26] ... as you about-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:38:28] Yeah, so-

Stephanie: [00:38:28] ... cockroaches or whatever it is. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:38:30] [laughs] Or if you like spas, you know, then you can give people tips on finding the best spas, tips on how to put together a spa vacation or the do's and don'ts of a spa vacation, or how to behave in a spa, the different types of spas. So again, whatever your niche, whatever your passion is, that's what you want to talk about.

Stephanie: [00:38:53] That was a lot better example [laughs] than cockroaches. [laughing]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:38:57] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:39:00] Well, let's kind of... So if, if somebody's... I'm, I'm curious about the route that you go to get a radio show 'cause I don't know anything about that. So if an agent wanted to kind of experiment with doing a radio show, do they just need to reach out and kind of pitch the idea of a radio show? Or how does that work?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:39:17] Well, certainly, you would have to do that. But what's so much easier now that wasn't for me many years ago is the podcast.

Stephanie: [00:39:25] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:39:25] ... everyone can get a, a podcast and that is a radio show. It's not your traditional, but it is a radio. It's a podcast. It is a radio show. It's you talking about it. You can do just audio, or you can do audiovisual, but if you're going to a radio station or network, you really have to utilize your connections. And you have to be prepared. If, if you're going to broker your time, that's something that you wanna know about. So, that means that you're paying for your airtime. Or if you're going to get sponsors for yourself or if you are a-

Stephanie: [00:40:06] Hmm.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:40:07] ... broadcaster, which means you're licensed and you have the broadcaster card and media card and so forth, they may hire you. But more than likely you have to either broker your hour or you have to get sponsors and you want to them for that, or with that-

Stephanie: [00:40:26] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:40:27] ... already in mind. But the easiest route to go is the podcast.

Stephanie: [00:40:32] Yeah. I... You know, I have to say I had started ours having no idea what I was doing. I honestly still don't know what I'm doing. But we did do a, an episode and I can't remember which one it is. But where we talked about podcasts and how to start a podcast. We had six or five or six different travel podcasts hosts on there and talking about their experience.

And if this is something that speaks to you, definitely go back and listen to those episodes 'cause they're... I learned so much from it on different ideas on things I can do within the podcast. It's really helpful. Let's see, I'm, I'm outside right now. And so the... in, in the middle of a heatwave wearing a long sleeve shirt, I'm not sure what I'm doing, but [laughs] there's all these bugs-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:41:16] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:41:16] ... flying around me. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:41:18] Well, good thing they're not... you're not on the east coast and you're dealing with the cicadas. Although they're, they're ending their seven-week cycle, but-

Stephanie: [00:41:25] Ah.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:41:25] ... still, they were a nuisance all the same. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:41:27] Oh, I'm so glad.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:41:28] And talking about eating bugs. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:41:30] Yeah, I am so glad. I don't know how I'd handle that. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:41:35] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:41:35] Well, let's see. So just talking about kind of this interest in cultural things, or even like these find specific details that can really help someone sell a trip or an itinerary or destination. And they wanna integrate some cultural learning with their clients. What's an easy step they can take to do that? We talked about it a little bit, but do you have any other tips?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:41:58] [inaudible 00:41:49] the other thing you [inaudible 00:42:05] and on their site, you can also find cultural programs if you just put that in cultural [inaudible 00:42:14]

Stephanie: [00:42:27] For the, for the tourism boards?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:42:31] Yes. [inaudible 00:42:22] is very and I highly recommend is go to the bloggers who's blogging about that culture. They have a lot of insight because usually, they are there themselves and maybe they're even offering these programs, or maybe they know so much about it [inaudible 00:42:45] because [inaudible 00:42:49] they know about.

So if it's a food, wine blogger or a spa blogger or a cultural blogger, or whatever it is, I find a lot of information from bloggers. Like when I go to a destination, I'll see what local bloggers-

Stephanie: [00:43:12] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:43:12] ... write about in reviewing restaurants. And, and so rather than these very broad lists, because they're there and they're doing it locally all the time, use the same principle for, for cultural programs.

Stephanie: [00:43:27] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah, I just eat that step up. Like, I mean, very similar to you, I'm very perpetually curious and I know that my experiences in destination are so much deeper and really helps my understanding of things than if I just go to a destination and see a very superficial view of things if I can yeah, have a more rounded view of things. I always have a much better trip. So...

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:43:55] Yeah. And just think about what-

Stephanie: [00:43:57] Well, let's see.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:43:58] ... culture is. Culture is food, it's music, it's the arts. It's even, you know, political things that are happening. For example, one show that I did was street art because street art-

Stephanie: [00:44:11] Hmm, fine.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:44:11] ... is a very cultural expression and, y- you know, we had the Black Lives Matter movement that really was highlighted this past year, but there are a lot of street murals about it. I had a muralist on, a, a professional muralists on who talked about the street art that she does, painting entire sides of buildings, or even how some of the street art has made its way into the museum. Of course, it's a-

Stephanie: [00:44:39] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:44:39] ... it's an outdoor museum because the street art is everywhere, but sometimes that street art is expressionist. So, just kind of think about what culture is, what is that definition of culture? And there's so many areas of it.

Stephanie: [00:44:52] That's so true. You know, I'm... So I'm based in Minneapolis and after George Floyd's killing, obviously, we had some, some problems, and a lot of businesses were boarded up. And like, while it was a very difficult time, like, in our neighborhood, it was also very beautiful. Like, the murals that popped up on all that plywood was just gorgeous. I would go around and take pictures of it. And I, I sent it to my friend in Tokyo and she was like, "Americans are so creative." She's like, "I had to show all of these to my friends. It's so beautiful." and I was like-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:45:28] Yeah.

Stephanie: [00:45:29] ... "I know." And, and they ended up, like, coming up with a project where people co- could submit the pictures of all this beautiful the street murals throughout Minneapolis during the civil unrest. And... So that we could document it 'cause you know, people take down the plywood and then it was like, oh, that's-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:45:47] Yeah.

Stephanie: [00:45:48] ... that was like a really beautiful mural. So that was cool. Like the U of M put something together to kind of document that.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:45:54] Yeah. And, and we have to remember that culture is forever changing. That's actually how I opened my cultural segment is that culture is forever changing and it's the arts, the music, food, but it's also sometimes politics and strife. It changes our culture. It's forever evolving. So there's always an opportunity to culturally connect with a destination.

Special Interest FIT Groups

Stephanie: [00:46:17] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Exactly. Well, let's move into the next segment, which is where we'll kind of talk about your custom FITs. And it- it's not uncommon for agencies to, you know, dabble in custom FITs or to do them, but you're... that's, like, really your go-to type of travel.

Ja'Vonne Harley at a tasting

And when it comes to your groups, they're all custom FITs and you work directly at the very local level instead of using a tour operator as an intermediary that uses their DMC connection. So I wanna talk about a few of the unique aspects that Advantage International does when it comes to their FIT.

So, the first thing that I thought was really cool is that some of your clients aren't super tech-savvy. But despite that, you still don't do any bookings via the phone. 100% of your customer FIT bookings are done by the clients online. So can you walk me through how that's done?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:47:19] Oh, yes, absolutely. And considering as they said we've... To you at another time, is that with a boomer demographic, i- [laughs] it was a little bit of a struggle, but we assured them that in that transition process, we would be on the phone with them and help them through that process. But yeah, so we put all of our efforts into the website so that there's a booking is there's a plugin basically, so that we can manage our inventory, our pricing, and it can all be online. So that way we're 24/7 without having to-

Stephanie: [00:48:06] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:48:07] ... be [inaudible 00:47:58] very, a very simple process. You just click book now and then [inaudible 00:48:02] information. And then it takes you... you can put in your credit card information and then it transmits to us that we have the reservation and we've also put, ah, designed a traveler information form. So once someone is reserved on one of or registered on one of our programs, they can then go online and fill out the traveler information form that we can download into an Excel. So it makes it all so, so easy to-

Stephanie: [00:48:40] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:48:40] ... to manage everything so that we can eliminate as many human hands as possible. That's where a lot of mistakes come in. [laughs] The more human hands-

Stephanie: [00:48:50] Yeah.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:48:50] ... it has to touch. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:48:52] Yeah. I mean, if you're doing groups of 100 having to book 100 people like, you know, via the phone is incredibly time-consuming. And so having... And I, you know, I went through the process and we'll link to your website so people can kind of see it with your itineraries and go through the booking process. But it was really simple. I was, I was kind of surprised. I was like, "Oh, this is really, really nice." And it's... I think, I think when it was going through, like, the, the checkout, it said powered by, is it like Checkfront? Do you remember the name of it by chance?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:49:24] Yes, Checkfront-

Stephanie: [00:49:25] Okay.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:49:25] ... is the on- Checkfront is the online booking program that we use.

Stephanie: [00:49:31] Okay.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:49:32] And a- again, it allows us to have the inventory. There are a ton out there. And with that, there's also a wide price range. So you wanna look at different ones and to see what you can afford, what you really need from your agency. But understand that it's gonna give you the tools so that it'll make things much more efficient,

Stephanie: [00:49:54] Yes.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:49:54] ... save you time. Because we... I mean, before we did all of this, we were manually processing invoices and payments and mailers. So we don't mail out anything anymore other than the final documents. Everything gets emailed to the client.

So, we made sure that through that booking process, they would automatically get that email to them so that we wanted to streamline it, the clients got the information a lot faster. Once we... Of course, we have to load the information into the system, but it also allows us to do it in a very... in an aggregate way versus a individual manual way.

Stephanie: [00:50:33] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And, and the payment processing too is automatic, correct?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:50:39] Yes, it is. So we do have a merchant service and that too is plugged into the booking process.

Stephanie: [00:50:47] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:50:47] And then that gets processed and it, it happens seamlessly and it gets automatically deposited into our accounts-

Stephanie: [00:50:56] Oh, so nice.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:50:57] ... so everything is-

Stephanie: [00:50:58] So nice.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:50:58] ... real-time. Everything is real-time. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:50:59] That is just so nice. 'Cause I... Yeah, I'm just imagining all the work behind, like, having to do a group of 100. And again, like you said, the errors that could be happening and it's,

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:51:12] Yeah.

Stephanie: [00:51:12] ... yeah, to be having that work done for you. And you just put the work in up front where you load it into the system and then it's taken care of, for you allows you-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:51:19] Yeah.

Stephanie: [00:51:19] ... to have time to do, like, things that make the group more special. And, Let's see. So, one of the things too during the checkout is the, I, I think it's called, like, the, let me loo- look it up. It's, like, the single, the single option. Like if there's any single rooms available people can [crosstalk 00:51:29].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:51:38] We call it single willing to share, yeah.

Stephanie: [00:51:40] Yes-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:51:41] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:51:41] ... single willing to share. So tell me more about that. Like, how many people take advantage of that?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:51:46] Well mostly women take advantage of it. Not so many of, of the gentlemen will take advantage of it, but I would say of our double occupancy rooms about 10% to 20%. So the single willing to share when... gives the group or the individual members an opportunity to share a room with someone else so that they can avoid paying the single supplement.

Stephanie: [00:52:12] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:52:13] I know it's... Single supplement is like this thing [laughs] explaining it to everyone. [laughs] And so-

Stephanie: [00:52:19] Yeah.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:52:20] ... But they, they understand, you're not sharing the costs of your accommodation. So that's why the- there's a single supplement so that we can price it per person based on double occupancy and then single o- occupancy. So yeah, the single willing to share when they make a reservation with us, they sign up as a single willing to share.

And then that way their reservation is flagged so that anybody else signing up for a single willing to share, we put them in contact with each other. We don't automatically pair people up. We encourage them to communicate with each other. And if they're living in the same city, maybe meet and have coffee to determine, "Yes, I want to live with this person [laughs]-

Stephanie: [00:53:03] [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:53:03] ... for 10 days of my vacation."

Stephanie: [00:53:04] Or definitely not.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:53:05] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:53:05] Definitely not.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:53:06] Or definitely not.

Stephanie: [00:53:11] [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:53:11] [laughing] And I can tell you that in my 23 years of [inaudible 00:53:08]

Stephanie: [00:53:18] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. No, no. Yeah. Like having one issue is amazing 'cause yeah, that's the thing I would worry about. And I would imagine other advisors would worry about if they implemented a program like this, but it, I think like you said, it just comes down to having, like, the conversations and, and people seeing if they click or not.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:53:42] Right. And the, the decision is still ultimately theirs. And because they sign up as a single, they're already committed to going on the trip and they're committed to pay the single rate in the event, they don't get a roommate. And sometimes people say, "You know what, I'm just gonna go ahead and pay the single rate because [laughs] I've, I've... it's already on my invoice. And after consideration, I just thought I'm on vacation. I wanna have the room by myself."

Stephanie: [00:54:08] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:54:08] But some people say, "I could buy a pair of shoes for... or a shoe... shoes and a handbag for that difference in price." [laughs] So, [crosstalk 00:54:06].

Stephanie: [00:54:15] Yeah. All I put is a down payment on the next one.

Ja'Vonne Harley

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:54:18] Exactly. So it... But we... I, I think the success of it is because we leave it to them. They are always in control of that decision.

Stephanie: [00:54:28] Mm-hmm [affirmative], yeah. So the, the other thing that you do that I don't see that often is you include the air with your groups. So I guess two questions there. So why include the air with the group? Is that from feedback and then who does the ticketing for you, since you're a non-ticketing IATA?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:54:48] Yeah, I think initially starting out, w- why include the air was because it was a natural process for me-

Stephanie: [00:54:56] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:54:56] ... that I worked for an airline consolidator [laughs]. So, in my thinking, the package should come with air. But also part of that is that the group arrives together and we provide group transfers from the airport to the hotel. So, it's a great way to keep the group together. Th- the second question that y- you asked was what? I forgot. [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:55:23] Nope, no problem. I try not to ask two questions at the same time 'cause I have a really short memory too. The other question was who does the ticketing since you're a non-ticketing

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:55:34] Okay. So, yes, as I said with airlines, they have always had divisions that deal with groups with incentive and corporate travel. So the airlines issue the ticket. Now some airlines charge a ticketing fee that we build into the costs of the package and some, some don't.

I get a group connect with the airline, and that means you have to make group deposit, but... and that's the other part that my clients love about the air being included. In today's environment, if you're booking an airline ticket on your own, you have to purchase that ticket within... right away. Or the price is just gonna keep changing.

With group air, you lock in that price and with a group deposit and the availability. Of course, there are some terms and conditions you have to watch out for some benchmarks on when to release space and to not have to forfeit your deposit. So there is some structure to that and some organization on your part, but the client also gets one package that includes the air, the hotel, the tours, the taxes, all of that. And they get to make payments on the entire package. They don't have to commit to that airline ticket independently-

Stephanie: [00:56:54] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:56:54] ... And pay for it all upfront at once.

Stephanie: [00:56:57] No, it's, it's just... Yeah, like, as I've gotten older, I appreciate having more things done for me. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:57:05] [laughs]

Stephanie: [00:57:06] When I was in my 20s, I would be like, "I'll do everything myself." Now I'm like-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:57:10] Yeah.

Stephanie: [00:57:11] ... "Please do it for me."

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:57:13] 'Cause consider i- consider if, if you're a traveler and you're joining a group and you're doing your own air, you are not arriving with other people then you have to navigate getting from the airport to the hotel. If you have a schedule change or anything like that, then you may miss some [inaudible 00:57:23] extra work out of everything. And it keeps the group together.

Stephanie: [00:57:41] Yeah. Well, another fun, fun aspect and kind of unique aspect of your group is, and I think this is ingenious is that you have special perks for clients that have traveled with you multiple times. So tell us more about how that works and what your thought process is behind this, like, frequent, frequent traveler program.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:58:00] [laughs] Yes. We call them Advantage Elite. And if they're signing up for one of the programs that we promote on Traveling Culturati, we call them The Culturati. And so-

Stephanie: [00:58:12] Hmm.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:58:13] ... if they've traveled with us three or more times then there are extra premium items that they receive with their packaging, or we'll do a special event for them on one of the free days or nights that we have within the program. So yes, and, and if we get because of the group, any room upgrades or things like that, we, we pass those on to our Elite or The Culturati members.

So if the hotel says, "Look, we're gonna give you five upgrades," then we'll go through our list of travelers. So if we can't give it to all those the Elite or Culturati, then we'll go through the list and there are those who have traveled with us the most will get those perks. Sometimes we've paid extra and upgraded them to economy premium o- or-

Stephanie: [00:59:02] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:59:02] ... premium economy. So, there are tons of different perks and we do different ones to keep them excited about, "What are we gonna get this time?" Sometimes it's a special dinner, a cocktail reception, a cooking class a premium item, or an upgrade on a flight or hotel room.

Stephanie: [00:59:19] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And is, is the idea behind it just as a thank you to them, or is this, you know, it also has a strong marketing component to it as well, I imagine.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:59:28] Absolutely, it does. So a- as you would see, it's on our website, you know-

Stephanie: [00:59:32] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [00:59:32] ... be part of the Advantage Elite. Also when other group members see them with items that they didn't get and they start to question it or they hear, "Oh, you all went out to dinner," and it's like, "Yeah, well, that's what they do for those of us who have been traveling with them for a number of years."

And, and oftentimes they come up and say, "So, how many trips do I need to do with you in order to get these perks?" So yes, it's to thank the traveler. And I am very appreciative just 'cause some travelers have been with me for 20 plus years since the very beginning. And some of-

Stephanie: [01:00:07] Yeah.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:00:07] ... them travel with me on two to three programs a year. Some travel once a year, some travel every other year. And I love to see when they come together and it's like, "Oh, hi, I saw you on the Brazil trip." Or, "We went to the Austra- on the Australia trip together." I love seeing them interact that way. So, it benefits them and it's also a marketing tool and I just get enjoyment out of their interactions about it too.

Stephanie: [01:00:32] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. I, you know, I'm excited. Like, I'm like, "I wanna be one of the Advantage-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:00:36] [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:00:37] ... like, Elite. And I want, like, a surprise every time." And be like,-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:00:40] [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:00:40] ... "What are they gonna give us this time?" Like, oh, [laughs].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:00:43] [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:00:46] Well, so when you have your trip you've got the frequent travelers, but then every trip there's some new people. So I know one of the hardest things when you're putting together these groups can be building comraderie. What type of things do you do to facilitate that group bonding, like, before, during, and after the trip?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:01:06] We do have online orientation-

Stephanie: [01:01:10] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:01:10] ... and that's we either use GoToWebinar or we use Zoom so that everyone gets a chance to meet each other. If I have a single market event and it's for a client, for example, they may host a orientation in-person and I'm... I'll go to that city and i- it's a chance to bring everybody together. We also do group activities. So we always have a welcome dinner. We always have a farewell dinner. So I love to wow them in the beginning and wow them in the end.

One of the things we do for the group activity is we tell them in the beginning, we have a special prize for someone at our farewell dinner, anybody who can name everyone in the group. And believe it or not, there's usually some very competitive people. [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:01:58] I believe that; my partner is.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:02:01] And I'm amazed [laughs].

Stephanie: [01:02:01] [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:02:01] I'm amazed at how they could do it. But one thing we do on the... when we first come together on the bus, we're at the airport, we're all loaded on the bus and we're ready to go. I always ask how many people have traveled with us before, and we get a raise of hands. And how many people are here for the very first time? And, you know, those people will raise their hands.

And then I'll say to the frequent travelers, I want you to turn to someone, er, who is traveling with us for the first time and let them know everything's gonna be all right. And they all say it in unison. And it, it really is a good icebreaker.

Stephanie: [01:02:41] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. That's really smart. I love that. Do you do you do any, like, games or anything for people to kind of mingle with icebreakers during your, like, welcoming dinner?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:02:55] We do. So one, one of the ones that we've done and Google is so fantastic these days. So you can Google group activities or icebreakers and they'll give you a whole list of them. But one that I do and I love is w- with our traveler information form, I have them provide me with some information. So I have some unique insight information about people.

Stephanie: [01:03:18] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:03:19] And so I'll do a questionnaire, find father and daughter who's traveling together. So that's part of the mixer. So they have to go around and talk to other group members and find out who's the father and daughter, or who's the mother and daughter, or who's the mother and son, or there's a couple that's celebrating their 30th anniversary.

So... But you have to go out and talk to everybody. So it's a whole list of questions about unique things within the group, and then-

Stephanie: [01:03:44] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:03:44] ... they can fill it out with the couple's name and so forth. And then the first person to return that to me, completely filled out, I reward them with a prize.

Stephanie: [01:03:54] Awesome. Well, this has been just a, it's like a great time to wrap things up because it's been like, let's see, it's been like 60 minutes just full-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:04:03] [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:04:03] ... of useful info.

Warm Fuzzy!

So let's move into the last segment. And I'm personally of the opinion that warm fuzzies have never been more needed for travel advisors after the long year and a half that we've all been going through. So, I, I know that you know, being a travel advisor and in the t- travel industry can be really w- wearing. There's a lot of big and small challenges that we all face every day with the pandemic.

So this... the idea behind this segment is to kind of let people step outside of that and get a bigger picture of what's going on and why we still love what we do 'cause it can be very difficult, especially during these trying times. So Ja'Vonne, what's something that can bring a little bit of light into everyone's day and lift their spirits. What's your story?

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:04:50] Well, I, I just think we all have to breathe. We all have to take everything with a grain of salt. I always say don't sweat the small stuff. And in the scheme of things, I'm grateful that my clients are still there.

Stephanie: [01:05:06] Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:05:06] Uh, I connected with them through the pandemic when no one was traveling with travel webinar series. So always find a way to connect with your travelers. Even if it's an email that says, "Checking in, how are you doing? This is... These are trying times for everyone." And to receive the phone calls and the emails back from everyone was very, very r- rewarding.

I just had one person call me the other day and said, "I'm just checking in on you and Gene and Advantage. And I wanted to let you know that I'm okay, I've enjoyed receiving your emails and all of your tips and information to just keep me going and keeping me in the mind that I will be traveling again very soon." And that's very rewarding.

Stephanie: [01:05:55] That is 'cause sometimes, you know, it feels like you're pushing out content into a deep dark hole. When you-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:06:02] Yes. [laugh]

Stephanie: [01:06:02] ... don't hear [laughs] back from anybody and you're like, "You know, Ja'Vonne's had 154 pages of blogs." And so, [laughs]-

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:06:07] [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:06:09] ... we all know.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:06:09] It's like, "Well, is anybody there? Is anybody there?" [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:06:11] [laughs] Echo, echo. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:06:14] [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:06:16] Well, I don't know about all of you, but I am feeling a ton smarter than I did an hour ago. So Ja'Vonne, thank you for sharing your invaluable expertise on everything that you've kind of gathered and thought of through the years with us today. It was really great, thank you.

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:06:33] Well, thank you so much for having me. It was such an honor and a pleasure. And anytime I get an opportunity to talk about what I do, I'm there. [laughs] So thanks again for having me.

Stephanie: [01:06:42] You're such a fun guest and it goes beyond your voice, I swear. [laughs]

Ja'Vonne Harley: [01:06:48] [laughs]

Stephanie: [01:06:49] Well thank you everyone for tuning in and taking the time to listen to this episode today. That is all the chatter we have got for you today. Until next time, everybody!

Ja'Vonne Harley, soaring


You can read a transcript, view the show notes, or go ahead and watch a video of today's episode by going to hostagencyreviews.com/tac and clicking on episode 20. We'd love to hear your ideas on future guests. If you or someone you know, would make a good guest, or if you have a topic you'd like covered on a future TAC episode, drop me a line at stephanie@hostagencyreviews.com, I am always looking for unique stories.

So, in fact, I found Ja'Vonne when her husband connected with me on LinkedIn, now is like, "What in the world is this cool radio travel agency?" So find the guests from the weirdest ways. And if you are one of those, please go ahead and email me so we can connect!


About the Author
Steph Lee - Host Agency Reviews

Steph Lee

Steph grew up in the travel industry. She worked with thousands of agents in her role as a former host agency director before leaving in 2012 to start HAR. She's insatiably curious, loves her pups Fennec and Orion, and -- in case you haven't noticed -- is pretty quirky and free-spirited.

If you’re looking for Steph, she leaves a trace where ever she goes! You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest as 'iamstephly'. 🙂 She doesn't do TikTok as no one would ever see her again.