Molly Williams, The Optimists Travel

Special thanks to this episode's sponsor: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Molly Williams
Molly Williams, CEO of The Optimists Travel

When it was time to settle down to start a family, Molly Williams hit her stride by starting a travel agency that specializes in production/entertainment travel. Ten years in, she’s leading a team of 6 women who book travel for bands such as Ricky Martin, Janet Jackson, and Pearl Jam.

Join us as we dive into the world of production travel and share some resources and tips on how to break into it. But we don’t just stop there because there’s an even more interesting story for other entrepreneurs to learn from!

Like all agencies, Molly’s agency was decimated by the pandemic. When travel came to a standstill, she made a decision not to give up, but instead to invest in her agency and do a complete brand rehaul.

What does that mean? Molly worked with a pricing strategist to find out what fees she should charge and where. She worked with a copywriter/consultant to develop a fee schedule and to communicate the immense value she provides clients. She also worked with a branding agency to turn her vision of her newly renamed agency, The Optimists Travel, into a reality.

For those that are looking for some ways to build corporate responsibility into your agency’s DNA, we’ve also got some inspiration for you on that front too!

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

We ❤️ reviews! (so much we might do a dance in our T. rex suits to get them)

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  1. Check out Molly full rebrand on her travel agency page: The Optimists Travel
  2. ASTA's Roadmap to Becoming a Travel Advisor Course: Molly helped out with the video tutorial of how to use the GDS system! Use code HAR149 to bring the price from $299 to $149.
  3. Tour Connection & Cvent: Two CMS systems catered toward event management.
  4. HAR's Guide to Charging Fees and ASTA course, "Professional Fees, Strategies and Solutions" will help you feel confident about charging fees.
  5. Entertainment Travel Advisors Coalition (ETAC): For experienced advisors who work in the entertainment or production travel sector
  6. Global Distribution System (GDS). What is it and do you need it?
  7. Read up on the COVID's impact on advisor income.
  8. Molly's Linkedin profile offers an account of her rebrand from Smart and Savvy Traveler to "The Optimists"
  9. Business Women's Circle (BWC): A networking group Molly is involved in, where she connected with peers that helped her through her rebrand.
  10. Moxtra: Molly's one-stop shop for CRM, workflow management software, and digital office. (Similar to Sococo's digital office).
  11. HAR's 2020 travel advisor income report: The average income of advisors in 2020 was pretty darn dismal. Average hosted agent income dropped 84% between 2019 and 2020.
  12. SuperHuman advertising agency: The ad agency that helped Molly with her rebrand.


SPonsored by uniworld cruise

[00:00:00] Steph: You're listening to Travel Agent Chatter, volume 21. Travel Agent Chatter is a series produced by the team here at Host Agency Reviews every quarter. In today's TAC episode, our guest will be talking about how she specializes in entertainment or production travel, which for some of you, maybe a new nook in the travel industry.

So whether or not you book production travel, you want to stay tuned in because the approach our guest takes can be applied to any advisor that works with groups or is looking to rebrand their business.

Because we'll also be discussing how to successfully pull off a complete rebrand, how our guests came to the decision to start charging fees during the pandemic, tips on having a remote team, and building a— building in social responsibility into your business.

So today's guest is not only the CEO of a team of six ladies. She's a mom to a two-year-old and a seven-year-old with a decade of experience under her belt as a travel advisor to musical stars.

The Optimists Travel team

So it's very likely that she's had a hand in bringing some of your favorite musical artists to venues around.

And just a quick note before we dive in the HAR team is busy cooking up our second annual Host Week, which we're very excited about! So mark your calendars for January 23rd through 29th, where we'll be hearing from keynote speakers across the industry, there will be tons of host agency interviews, so you can get to know them a little bit, special discounts from hosts and other industry partners that are exclusive for Host Week, and a lot of other fun stuff! So get your free spot, by going to!

Now without further ado, let's get onto the show!

[00:01:55] Uniworld: Experienced the elegance of a unit, a world luxury river cruise from the stunning ships to the five-star cuisine. Everything is included and every detail is carefully designed to make your journey unforgettable, contact your travel advisor or visit

[00:02:10] Steph: Well, hello. Hello. Happy days everybody. I feel like it has been ages since we last chatted. I miss you because every Friday, we normally get to connect via our Friday 15 podcast, but I've been not feeling so well lately with the vasculitis flare and Maureen has been a huge champ the past few months in heading that up.

So the good news is that I've saved up all my energy for this episode of Travel Agent Chatter. And I'm so excited to pick the brain of Molly Williams. She is the CEO of The Optimists Travel. It's a production travel company located just a few miles here from HAR in Minneapolis. So if you are not sure what production travel or entertainment travel is, do not worry, you are not alone. It's a niche, and it's, um, a smaller niche in the travel industry.

So Molly's agency is one that helps bands like Britney who doesn't really need a last name, then the Black Eyed Peas, Pearl Jam, and Sound Garden. She brings the music to their fans around the world, so- it doesn't really get much cooler than booking music stars and their team around the world except for it does, because Molly has pulled off an enormously successful rebrand of her agency during the pandemic.

And I'm telling you if you're looking for rebranding inspiration, this story is a must-listen. So before I introduce Molly, a really quick reminder that Travel Agent Chatter comes in a variety of formats, so you can listen to it in the podcast, you can watch the video on our YouTube channel or you can read the transcript at and you can also find the show notes there with links to any resources we mentioned.

Let's see now, this is episode 21 as we mentioned earlier. And today's schedule is gonna be broken down into five segments. So the first one is beginnings. we'll talk about how Molly got to where she is. We'll discuss production travel, and then we'll move into her rebrand and talk about tips and resources, and then the last one will be our warm fuzzy segment. So I think I've built up enough suspense already.

Molly, welcome to Travel Agent Chatter.

[00:04:17] Molly: Thank you. Hi, how are you?

[00:04:19] Steph: Oh, good. It's so good to have you on the show. I feel like the last time, well, I guess not the last time we talked, but you know, we got to work together a little bit earlier, maybe last year around this time on ASTA's roadmap to becoming a travel advisor a course, 'cause you did kind of the GDS segment and taught people how to ... what it's like to work in the GDS system.

[00:04:42] Molly: Yeah, book a flight, book a hotel.

[00:04:44] Steph: Yeah. Yeah. So if anyone is interested in seeing Molly, if they just can't get enough of her, um, [laughter] through this podcast, you can also we'll put a link to ASTA's Roadmap to Becoming a Travel Advisor course. It's a great course.

I led it and Molly was one of the people that helped me. And you can get it for, let's see, I think it's half off if you use code HAR, H-A-R 149 so you can get it for $149 bucks.

So, but anyhow, why I bring that up is because while we were doing that kind of tutorial, um, there was this poster of Britney Spears, or I call her Brit because that's what I imagine friends would call her.

[00:05:22] Molly: [laughs]

[00:05:23] Steph: But there's a picture of like Britney Spears World Tour in the background, and that really planted my seed that Molly would be a fantastic guest to talk to about her little nook within the travel industry.

Molly and Brit


[00:05:34] Steph: So here we are. And Molly, you weren't always a travel advisor to music legends. You graduated with a degree in communication. So how did you end up in production travel?

[00:05:46] Molly: Let's see. Yeah, so I graduated from the University of Minnesota, with a degree in Journalism and Public Relations. and thanks to my experience studying abroad the year prior to that, I knew that I did not want a normal desk job and I wanted to travel.

So right after college, I moved to London, bartended there for a year, traveled around Europe, and just kind of nurtured that travel bug of mine that I had in my 20s that was, uh, insatiable. so after I came back from Europe, I started working in event marketing, experiential marketing, like I was the Appletini girl doing apple Pucker promotions downtown Minneapolis

[00:06:35] Steph: I knew you looked familiar. [laughter]

[00:06:38] Molly: ... 10 nights a week, I like to say. So I did that and, started working regularly with a company called GMR marketing out of Milwaukee. and just kinda did those, you know, like project management, tour management over these brand activations. And through that, I ended up on a longer program with major league baseball. We had a hotel per diem, but we drove a van like 11 months a year, sponsoring music, music events, and corporate events and baseball events, with the major league baseball roadshow which was like 250-foot semi-trucks that converted into apparel display, batting cages, pitching cages, video gaming, and that kinda thing. So that's how I got my foot in the door on music touring. So, with major league baseball, we sponsored, Project Revolution, which was Linkin Park's, festival tour. This was like 2003 maybe, 2003-4. So then we were on tour with, you know, 10 bands and several other sponsors, kinda doing the whole country in the summer. And so that's how I got into, uh, music touring. After that, I met my husband on that job. He was a personal security guard for Linkin Park and we would do major league baseball bringing you batting practice with Linkin Park and radio station winners in each city. So we got to know, you know, their whole team. And shortly after that, they were looking for a production coordinator for their next world tour and they asked me.

[00:08:23] Steph: Wow.

[00:08:26] Molly: So that's how I started music touring. So I kinda came into it from the travel side knowing I wanna travel for whatever I do for work has, you know, studied in Europe and studied German language and just really wanted to, you know, continue to see the world in whatever I did.

And then, yeah, so that was an exciting opportunity. And I started touring in 2005 and toured like full-time, year round until 2013. And I started the travel agency in 2012 knowing that I was kinda getting ready to move on from full-time touring and wanted to start a family, and, I was tour managing the Jacksons, the brothers. That's what this plaque, it's a plaque, Steph, it's not a poster, okay?

[00:09:15] Steph: [laughs] I'm so embarrassed. [ laughter]. My naivety is really showing here.

[00:09:19] Molly: Yeah. Here- Here's the Britney one.

[00:09:22] Steph: Oh, hey Brit.

[00:09:22] Molly: This is a good one.

[00:09:23] Steph: Hey, Brit. so good to see you.

[00:09:25] Molly: Yeah, Let's get Brit in the picture there. So yeah, so I was working with the Jackson brothers and, was kind of just getting ready to wrap up a life of being on the road all the time, and did some research and found Travel Quest in Albertville, Minnesota, which is where-

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

[00:09:44] Molly: ... I live in the general metro. And, kind of started putting the pieces together and started the agency in 2012 as Smart and Savvy Travel.

[00:09:54] Steph: Yeah. And that's, you know, that's the year I started mine too. so we're, we're definitely, I feel like both of our degrees, I guess com- well, comes kind of isn't with yours, but mine was an environmental education and liberal studies. So super glad I got that because it's very helpful for what I'm doing today. [ laughter]

[00:10:15] Molly: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.

[00:10:16] Steph: Well, let's dig into things a little bit more.

[00:10:18] Molly: Yeah.


[00:10:18] Steph: So, compared to more traditional leisure agencies, there aren't as many agencies that specialize in production travel or entertainment travel. Would you mind breaking down for us what exactly production travel entails?

[00:10:34] Molly: Yeah. I mean-

[00:10:34] Steph: It can be a tough one. It's gonna be a doozie.

[00:10:35] Molly: In- in my experience, it's, you know, a lot of hotels, group blocks normally, small to large group blocks depending on, you know, what the production is. If it's a theater or an opening act artist who's doing nightclubs or, in my case, we do primarily live music and entertainment. So, I don't know as much about the TV and film side of it as I do about touring.

But if you have a stadium tour, you know, you're gonna have 120+ people on tour moving this thing around. So yeah, we do a lot of, large group hotel room blocks. a lot of flights, a lot of flights. Most of our clients travel primarily on tour, bus, which is, you know, full-size sleeper couch with like nine to 12 sleeper bunks, so not like a sit-up coach bus.

So for domestic tours, they're gonna be on tour buses and have hotels, you know, every other day usually. And then, um, if it's not a bus tour, then it's flight. So a lot of flights, a lot of group flight contracts lot of flights in the GDS, and hotels, and then anything that, you know, supplements that if it's ground transportation from the hotel, you know, airport to hotel in every city if you're not doing a bus, if you're doing, you know, A -level artists, you're doing greeters in every city, private, you know, private planes, depending on needs. So it's logistic, you know, getting everybody from A to B.

[00:12:18] Steph: So you're like essentially the really like hip and sexy version of a TMC is what I'm hearing, is that right?

[00:12:26] Molly: Yes but I don't even really know much about TMC, so I couldn't really, you know, I can't really compare 'cause I don't have experience-

[00:12:34] Steph: Yeah.

[00:12:34] Molly: ... on the corporate, corporate.

[00:12:36] Steph: Yeah. So- it feels like you're doing groups, which is why I think like for any advisor listening to this that it's really ... It's applicable even if they're not doing production or entertainment travel because you're moving around these big groups, you're negotiating things. cause tell- tell us a little bit about like when the groups, 'cause I feel like production travel has some special needs. Like, you know, these people live their lives on the road. It's not like a school band going for a summer trip, somewhere.

[00:13:07] Molly: Right. Right.

[00:13:08] Steph: So it's, it's like they have like things they want for their team members in the lobby and, you do a packet to get ready for everybody when they go to the hotel. So tell us more about that.

[00:13:19] Molly: Yeah. I mean, we, you know, create and submit for all of our groups, the hotel instruction letter or a rider. You know, a lot of times our writers thought of as a dressing room, you know, the green M&Ms thing. Well, it's like, yes that is where, you know, that information would live, but for the most part it's like, you know,...We're going to arrive in this kind of bu- you know, bus. You're gonna ... You know, here's your contact information for arrival. estimated times of arrival, like, please honor the do not disturb because our, you know, our group is not sleeping normal hours. those kinda things.

So you have to kinda, you know, go through these things and, you know, work with each, each hotel to get all the billing details arranged and that kinda thing.

And then yeah, I mean when you get into A-level artists, I mean, there's a lot of you know, you- you might be doing a lot of custom hotel details and you may even have a travel advance person that flies ahead to each city to get the hotels arranged for the group depending on how, how, high the needs are for the group.

[00:14:26] Steph: Yeah, 'cause one of the other things that you mentioned that surprised me is, is the big challenges, the parking for the buses. With the hotels and making sure they understand like it's not just enough to say you have parking for the buses that will actually be available is key. [laughs]

[00:14:41] Molly: Well, where, where is it? How much is the cost? I mean, a lot of times you have to work with the city to bag the meters. So-

[00:14:48] Steph: Hmm.

[00:14:49] Molly: ... there's ge- ... the hotel hopefully, you know, will liaise with us, to liaise with the city and then they'd bag the meters for a certain cost,

like buying out, you know, the meter through a permit through the city every day. I mean, if you're in downtown Minneapolis, you'll see it a lot, you know, all around the Grand Hotel, and the Marquette and you'll have buses on, you know, every different corner if you've got a big tour in town. So yeah, bus parking, that's a very, that's a very important thing.

[00:15:17] Steph: And when you talked about like, entertainment friendly hotels where ... How do you find who these entertainment friendly hotels are in every city? What's the easiest way to do that?

[00:15:30] Molly: Well, we have a little secret resource at our hands-

[00:15:34] Steph: Not a secret anymore, Molly.

[00:15:36] Molly: It's called Tour Connection, which is a company out of Michigan that is a wonderful resource to entertainment, travel agents. But it's like a request for proposal system where entertainment hotels are part of the Tour Connection Network and then entertainment travel agents have, request for proposal system where we can put in our needs and send it out, you know, to a city. So I know it's similar to what people use like Cvent. Um-

[00:16:07] Steph: Yeah, I was gonna say it sounds a lot like Cvent.

[00:16:09] Molly: It's- It's exactly that. I've heard. I haven't used Cvent, because again, we don't do like corporate meetings, but, it's, it's like that. So tour connection is, is what we use for that, which is amazing. And then they also host gatherings or whatever, get-togethers like four, three or four times a year, and we, you know, if we travel to them with a conference, they have a trade show and then we get to meet the sales reps from the hotels that we end up working with, you know, very regularly every year, whatever.

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

[00:16:39] Molly: So of course, it was a tough year during the pandemic, and a lot of big changes were made, in those networks, but yeah, that's our primary resource.

[00:16:49] Steph: Yeah, well, we'll put links to Cvent and Tour Connection in the show notes for if anyone's interested in kind of checking those out. one of the things I noticed on your site, that's one of the services you provide is data and budget management. what exactly does that mean?

What does that entail?

[00:17:11] Molly: Well, for data management like basically personnel, you know? So we have tours that ... Or, or we do some, companies, you know, a lot of like some vendor companies that support touring like a security company where we do ... We handle all the travel for their team wherever they're going, because they do different festivals and, events. So we do their personnel management. So basically creating for them, for their use, you know, with everybody's travel details, and then keeping them updated and alerting them when people's passports are about to expire and, that kind of management of their group data. So when they, you know, when they have somebody that's replaced, we are a central location for them where they know that you know, we've got everything 'cause we've done their travel for the last several years and we're gonna have these people's preferences already on file.

[00:18:04] Steph: We had talked about, and I'm forgetting the name of course, again, even though you've it to me numerous times, but then, the client portal that you have people where they can log in-

[00:18:14] Molly: Oh yeah.

[00:18:14] Steph: ... and see all these, these details and different things?

[00:18:17] Molly: Yeah, Moxtra.

[00:18:19] Steph: Moxtra.

[00:18:19] Molly: Yeah, that's something that we implemented during the rebrand. We were looking for a way to streamline client communication and eliminate like the hunt, the endless hunt for emails and [laughs] attachments like, "Is that the one at the attachment or there are 27 emails in that strain?"

So we've tried out a bunch of different things and researched a bunch of different things and ended up with Moxtra, which is a really cool tool. So yeah, if we have a client we're working with regularly managing their travel, like, uh, reoccurring our retainer clients, we use it for receipt delivery. It's awesome. It's like a, it's like a, basically, it's like a joint Dropbox, Zoom, Skype, Slack, like it's all those things in one 'cause you can communicate with them, create folders, but the things in there that you can ... oh, and, DocuSign as well. Um-

[00:19:14] Steph: Oh, nice.

[00:19:15] Molly: Yeah. It's, it's awesome.

[00:19:17] Steph: So do they have like specific are they focused on travel agencies or do they-

[00:19:22] Molly: No.

[00:19:22] Steph: No? Okay.

[00:19:23] Molly: No. Not at all. No, they're used by like Citi Bank, they're used by a lot of big,

So it's secure. We don't do credit card collection through it. It's not a PCI-compliant tool for that, but it is secure, it's a secure, you know, location for, document signing. It's like the legal DocuSign. It's cool.

Molly and the production crew

[00:19:48] Steph: So it's, it's very clear to me that with production travel, it's very time-consuming to keep up with all the logistics and the moving parts. And, I'm not sure. It sounds like there might be changes frequently with who's going in and out. So let's talk about fees because you had an epiphany when a whole year's worth of work was wiped out in a week during the pandemic. So tell us more about what happened there and what you decided to do.


[00:20:13] Molly: Yeah. So prior to the pandemic, we didn't have planning fees. I mean, the fees that we charged were for flight ticketing. $40 domestic, $80 international that had been our fees since 2012. And then, um, leisure planning. You know, I don't do a lot of leisure, but I would do, okay, a $200 planning fee for like an extensive FIT, you know, that I did for a client.

But other than that, we didn't have a fee structure. So we just, you know, if a client sent a tour, we just launch into it like now it's our stress and, you know, there's, there was no financial exchange between us and our client. It was just understood that our income would come in the form of the commission from the hotel.

So you know, it's been a flawed system for many, many years, I think, you know, on the travel agency side of it, and it's nobody's fault. It's not the client's fault that that's how it was. There was no line item for travel agents, it's just like, "Oh, they get paid by commission from the hotels." And of course, in 2018 I think, '17, '18, we saw Marriott cut group commissions from 10% to 7% across the board and then Hyatt and Hilton followed.

And so there you go. The whole industry basically lost 30% profit income year over year, if you do group hotels. So we just found ourselves totally susceptible to everything that's out of our control, right?

[00:21:53] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:21:54] Molly: We no way had control over our income. We saw it go from 10% to 7% year over year and we can't provide our client's options of Marriotts and Hyatts and Hiltons and Marriott owns everything, so they could do that, you know?

But then with the pandemic, you know, we start booking tours, I'm not saying October or something that might go in March, in six months of, you know, negotiating contracts and getting options, and going back and forth and managing the room block with every city. And we didn't charge anything for that. And so March 8th came and all like 11 tours on our roster, you know-

[00:22:38] Steph: Hmm.

[00:22:38] Molly: ... wiped out in a day. And because I think, you know, we have things well-organized, it wasn't ... It didn't take us very long to go through our list and just cancel everything that we had booked, and realized that we aren't owed anything. We ... That we, in a way, had ourselves protected for the situation where we didn't have cancellation fees in place, and we hadn't charged anything for the upfront planning. So I had paid a team of people for six months, you know, based on a spec of commission that we had anticipated receiving. And as we know, those commissions come in 30 to 180, you know, days if you're lucky after a stay, and that's a whole job in and of itself to find and chase those commissions. So yeah-

[00:23:29] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:23:29] Molly: ... so we're like, "This is ... This isn't gonna work. We're not gonna be able to reopen after the pandemic like this, you know?" So we did a lot of work over the whole rebrand on all levels. One of the biggest things being what's our business model and what's our fee structure? And, we value our work, we value our time. I mean, you know, f- f- I could give you a thousand

[00:23:55] Steph: you guys do a lot of work, yeah.

[00:23:56] Molly: Yeah. Yeah. And a thousand reasons why not the least if I'm a mother of two who pays somebody, you know, my- my hours are not free in the first place. So, and I'm also, you know, I have, an amazing team of agents that have experience running, you know, 30 plus years on the road, or in travel. So it's just figuring out ha- what the value is of our time, how to, you know, put that into words and start charging it and start believing in it. And, and sticking to it.

[00:24:32] Steph: Yeah, I feel like, you had mentioned that one of the things that really helped you like see things in a bigger picture, well, one of the things-

 Steph: Yeah. ... that was interesting is you talked about, how you had worked so hard on your client's behalf to make sure none of them had a cancellation penalty. So they didn't pay anything when, you know, they start to get canceled.

[00:24:53] Molly: Yeah.

[00:24:53] Steph: But it was like, you were looking out so much for your client's interest, but yet then you overlooked your best interest and had nothing.

[00:24:59] Molly: Well, and we did actually ... When it happened in March, we said, "Okay, we- these hotels were ready for check-in." I mean, some of them were for today, you know? Like-

[00:25:08] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:25:09] Molly: And, you know, 20 to 60 rooms every name change. I mean, we've been literally working with these hotels like right up until, you know, so we're like, our client knows how far into this we are. We- we can't have done this for nothing, you know?

[00:25:24] Steph: Yeah.

[00:25:25] Molly: So we created invoices of loss commission and it was very brave of us to like, "Oh well, do we wanna like lay out what we were expected to make?" And it's like, well, it's not like it was zillions of dollars, you know? It was ... But I mean, you know, it's not $1,500 commission from this hotel was in, we've been working on for six months. And so we created those and, you know, we work really closely with our clients, so we just were very transparent and said, "Here's this, you know? I know we're all on the same boat where now we're, we're all just losing money and nobody knows [laughs] when this is gonna come back to life. But, you know, this is what we're, we've lost with this cancellation."

And being that we hadn't had it in terms of conditions, it was kind of this send it in pray thing versus-

[00:26:14] Steph: Yeah.

[00:26:15] Molly: ... "Okay, we need to set this understanding in advance. This is now a written, "Hey, let's have a term and condition." [laughs] Let's, let's have an expectation, you know, that if the work is delivered that if the trip gets canceled, the stay gets canceled, then we will charge that money, you know?

[00:26:33] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:26:33] Molly: So we have a 10% cancellation fee. . .

[00:26:36] Steph: Signature. Yeah.

[00:26:38] Molly: Yeah, and if it's a re-booking, of course, I mean, again, we're always on the side of our client, you know? Like if it's a re-booking, if it's a reschedule, we're changing it, we're moving it. We're not, we're not charging ... We're like not swiping it for 10%, you know? It's like we feel for. But if it goes off the schedule, you know- and we ... Because of our negotiation years of experience and the clauses that we work very hard to get, you know, put in our contract so that we're protecting our clients, we get them out of a hundred percent of the hotel stay then, you know, it's a small price to pay the 10% that they had all-

[00:27:16] Steph: Yeah.

[00:27:16] Molly: ... locked down ready for turnkey arrival, you know?

[00:27:20] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:27:21] Molly: So yeah. So it's cancellation fees, protecting the commission that you're working towards, and then planning fees upfront, which we do, $250 per city for group hotels and a $100 per hotel per, you know, for individual hotels. So couple, you know, two, three band members, somebody going on a leisure trip, a manager going out to see the group and staying in a different city. You know, a lot of times it's four different options.

We wanna know the size of the room, sometimes we need to know the size of the desk in the room or the bathroom, you know? So it's $100 for us to engage in the research, negotiation, using our network to get you, you know, discounts, billing where they're just handing you the key when you walk in the room, and then the folios and the portal. And you know, I think it's worth $100.

[00:28:15] Steph: Yeah, definitely. And you, when you're coming up well like when you were deciding to charge fees, you kind of, you- you took ASTA's VTA program on-

[00:28:26] Molly: Yes.

[00:28:27] Steph: ... fees. And what was your experience with that?

[00:28:30] Molly: It was awesome. I mean, I was like reading quotes from that, you know, to my colleagues after, yeah, I did all VTA, the Verified Travel Advisor program during the pandemic, [laughs]. I was like, "Let's check some things off the list here." while my children were, you know, driving me insane. [laughter] Um, and it was just so enlightening. I mean, I could start telling you all the highlights of it, but basically, it was that travel advisors didn't start out by being free.

[00:29:00] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:29:01] Molly: Because you know, you know what the original name of ASTA was.

[00:29:04] Steph: I know this because when I wrote the Roadmap Course, it was in the timeline in the beginning and now I'm so embarrassed. Tell me. I don't remember.

[00:29:13] Molly: the American-

[00:29:13] Steph: The Steamship!

[00:29:14] Molly: Yeah, yeah. Steam, yeah, I was gonna say steam-

[00:29:17] Steph: Something with the Steamship's association.

[00:29:17] Molly: Steam Travel Association or something, yeah.

[00:29:21] Steph: I'm gonna send this to the ASTA people and they're gonna be so impressed that we are regurgitating kind of this information. [laughs]

[00:29:27] Molly: Well, I am the event ... I am the event planner for the Midwest Regional Chapter of ASTA. It's another thing I joined in [crosstalk 00:30:18].

[00:29:34] Steph: Oh, that's exciting. I didn't know that.

[00:29:37] Molly: Yeah, I'm an officer-

[00:29:38] Steph: Well, we'll put a link in for the like VTA fees course, 'cause I've heard from multiple advisors that it was really eye-opening.

[00:29:45] Molly: Which just gives you that confidence. It's like it, you know, he's great that he does a lot of those courses, I can't remember, whatever. But m- they're like, the commission from the hotel to the agent does not pay for the work the agent does for the client. That's money brought, you know, from the hotel to the agency based on the volume of work that you bring to them, the work you're doing together to like button up the group. It's like a whole project management thing. It's like that's what that's for. You know, why am I relying on all my income to come from a hotel when I'm working on behalf of my client 15 hours a day, you know, around the clock?

[00:30:26] Steph: Yeah.

[00:30:27] Molly: Which just did not make sense. And again, it wasn't ... It's not our client's fault. They weren't-

[00:30:31] Steph: No.

[00:30:32] Molly: That's how it was, how it worked, you know?

[00:30:35] Steph: Well, like yeah, I think a lot of clients don't understand, 'cause I think there's also, you know, even when most advisors weren't charging fees, there was always this perception that travel advisors were more expensive to book with, you know, which isn't the case.

[00:30:50] Molly: Yeah.

[00:30:51] Steph: and, and what's, that's interesting too and we're kind of talking about how it doesn't like commissions only, it's really hard for agents to make ends meet depending on what your niche is and what you're doing, but we just started publishing our annual travel advisor income reports and now-

[00:31:09] Molly: Uh-huh.

[00:31:09] Steph: ... Well, eh- we're publishing it in the next couple of days. But the average income and this is last year of course, but the average income in 2020 for a full-time travel advisor dropped to $11,000. I mean, it just killed, We were decimated-

[00:31:25] Molly: Yeah.

[00:31:25] Steph: ... by the pandemic. So I'll put a link to that if people wanna take a look, but it's, you know, you're essentially ... The success of your business is in the hands of other people when you're relying solely on commissions. There are advisors that don't believe in charging fees and that's totally fine, but I think it's something that people should really examine on if this makes sense for them or not and if it's something you're nervous about, the ASTA VTA course is a great option for them.

[00:31:52] Molly: Yeah.

[00:31:52] Steph: I'll link to ...We have an article series that helps people about charging fees and things to think about and how to implement it that I'll link to too.

[00:32:01] Molly: Yeah. I mean, like you said, it's just taking it in, you know, control back like, what is it gonna take? I mean, it's not free to run this business. Subscriptions, I mean, we're GDS agents, I've got four to, you know?

[00:32:13] Steph: Yeah.

[00:32:13] Molly: We pay subscriptions. We pay for the system. Where- We're a business. We have insurance, we rent-

[00:32:19] Steph: It's time-consuming.

[00:32:19] Molly: ... We ... And I am not willing to do it alone, because, you know, that's how I started and obviously, if you got a smaller book of business, you're alone, but in my industry in ... You know, there's so many fine details that it ... I don't care how small your clientele is or what. It's too many details for one person, you know? You need a second set of eyes on things and stuff. So I'm not willing to like shrink down and do it alone, because I don't think that I can provide the kind of service that I think the client deserves without a team.

[00:32:53] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:32:53] Molly: So for me, it's like, we- we're a team. We have a team available to you, which makes it a more reasonable lifestyle for us, you know, in order to like actually do this as a sustainable job.

[00:33:06] Steph: Yeah.

[00:33:07] Molly: Um, and, so yeah.

[00:33:10] Steph: You- You work with the pricing strategist too, kind of. We'll- We'll talk about the rebrand in just a second, but- when we're talking about the fees, you, you worked with a pricing strategist to try to figure out what makes sense. So what did you learn during that?

[00:33:24] Molly: Yeah. um, they-

[00:33:26] Steph: And I didn't even know there was such a thing as a pricing strategist, so that's really neat.

[00:33:29] Molly: Yeah, it's Jenny, Jenny Niemela from Illume Pricing. It's also, you know, a woman-owned business here in the Minneapolis area.

I met her through an organization that I'm part of called BWC, which is a business women's circle. and she was one of our speakers, her and her partner that started that firm. Jenny is also a copywriter. So she's marketing-minded. So it's basically kind of examining your expenses and what do you need to charge, like what do your hours cost? You know, what does it cost you to run this business? So using all your P&Ls and whatever, if you've got payroll and staff, you know, to- to examine what it is that you need to charge to even be able to like stay open.

And then also kind of like, what is the value of what you're providing? It's complicated. It's not simple, but, what is the value of what you're providing, and what is that value to your clients? You know, it's like, can they do it themselves? Can they not? Like can somebody just book online or like, what are we ... So, the reason I bring up that she has experience in marketing and copywriting is that it- they also then provide you with value messaging, which is like a big part of it, you know? One of the interesting things she kind of teaches is, like getting on the brainwaves that your clients already have. Like what is something else that they associate with this dollar amount and what makes it easier to compute? You know, like so for example, our, our planning fee is $250 a city. Most of our client's budget, you know, maybe, maybe not most, but maybe, you know, $175, $200 if ... And, and it's like ... So our, our planning fee is one room night.

[00:35:20] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:35:21] Molly: You know? And, and it's like, "Oh, one room night?" You know, 'cause our clients are like a rooming list of 60 people for three nights and one room night, you know? Like-

[00:35:31] Steph: Yeah.

[00:35:32] Molly: ... each of those people is three ... this rooming list is a hundred, you know, 180 room nights, one room night is what you're paying for us to manage that project for six months. So it's, it's stuff like that, like getting on the brain- like the brainwaves of what do they already, you know, what do they compare things to? Where, where are they like price-sensitive and where are they not price sensitive? You know, so it's, yeah, so it's, it's interesting.

[00:36:01] Steph: Yeah, and I, I know this is something that we're gonna get like questions on. So I'm gonna ask this and this is, this is assuming we didn't scare people away when we told them that travel advisors made [laughs] $10,000 or $11,000 a year.

[00:36:14] Molly: Oh, God. Yeah, right? But [laughs]- seriously.

[00:36:16] Steph: ... if someone was like, "This is such an awesome career, I'm really interested in this or I wanna switch gears and go into this," you know, I'm assuming you can't just call up the Black Eyed Peas manager and be like, "Hey, I wanna book your travel." So how do people ... What, what advice do you have for people that are interested in getting into this or kind of dipping their toes in?

[00:36:37] Molly: I know. I always think this is a hard one, 'cause it's like in my experience it really is who you know, you know? And do you have some experience in that arena already?

So it's hard for me to imagine just like, "I wanna handle that band's travel" without getting that it's 24 hours a day and it might be 15 phone calls about one car service. [laughs] And before we charge fees, we didn't get any ... You know, like now we charge $25 for a car service, which is still super affordable depending on how many emails it is, you know?

[00:37:16] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:37:17] Molly: Um, so like, like I think I mentioned too, you know, whenever people ask me, "How do you get into touring?" My advice is always, "Get involved wherever you live." You know, I mean, if you wanna tour as a tour manager or production coordinator, work at the local theater like be ... try to be a production runner at the target center, which means you'd be working 20-hour days for, you know, and like possibly humping cases of water for four hours. You know, like the op- like that's how you kinda get around the business at the beginning, you know?

So as far as getting into the travel side of it, if you're already a travel advisor, like I ... You know, the whole thing is ... I mean, the reason it's profitable is because it's groups, you know? The bigger the group, the better.

[00:38:06] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:38:06] Molly: I mean, and so for us, I mean, that's volume is, is key, right? It would be starting by handling your local high school band trips. I mean, that's the same thing. You're gonna be working with a big group of people, going to one city. You know, I find it, it's like, I'd rather make a reservation of 60 rooms than one. That's why I struggle with doing leisure stuff, 'cause it's like, ugh, it just feels... It's just so, uh, so much emotion tied into like one reservation, you know?

If you're a local travel advisor who does leisure travel and you're kind of interested in expanding into that, it would be getting to know the local companies and the lo- you know, and the schools or universities. I know a bunch of travelers that do university, athletics travel, you know, that's a lot of coach bus movements and maybe, you know?

[00:38:59] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And well, another thing Molly that might be helpful and I'm not sure if you'd like to let me know, but you're connecting with a bunch of other like production travel advisors during pademi- uh- during the pandemic and started the eTac? Do you call it eTac?

[00:39:14] Molly: eTac, yup.

[00:39:14] Steph: Yeah. And so since you're the president, I think you'd be a great person to tell us about what eTac is, who should be joining it.

[00:39:21] Molly: Yeah.

[00:39:21] Steph: Like maybe people interested in this type of travel can get some educational stuff. What ... Tell us more about it.

[00:39:28] Molly: Yeah. So eTac is the Entertainment Travel Advisors Coalition, which like 30 of us agents started during the pandemic, just by starting to have zoom calls and communicate and, you know, talk about originally unemployment and the PPP and all these things that I'm thankfully forgetting, erasing them from my brain.

[00:39:52] Steph: Except for the ERC. We're still dealing with that, trying to get it back.

[00:39:56] Molly: The- EIDL, the, you know, um, the PUA, yeah, like all of it. But yeah, so that ... So, I mean- the- eh- we do, we have actually a five-year experience minimum to join eTac. because it is meant for experienced entertainment agents, that work in some realm of entertainment, production, travel.

But yeah, our website is Etac, ETAC.Online. and that, you know, you can read about everybody and who they are and why we started. And we just banded together, like a lot of based on the fee, you know, the cancellation fees and just talking to each other like, "What are you doing? What are we doing?" And we had been talking prior to this like with the Marriott cuts and like what if they go to 5%? What if they go to zero? Like we're, we're just not, you know, in control of us even having like a lasting career. So [crosstalk 00:42:41] do to change that?

So yeah, so that's eTac and it- you know what? It's in the baby, [laughs] baby band developing stages. Of course, especially after we all got thrown back into the fire, like in July and August when touring just went gangbusters this year. So again, another volunteer thing that, you know, we started and it's- it's- it's all on us. So-

[00:41:24] Steph: Yeah.

[00:41:25] Molly: ... it's in the growing stages. We have 30 something members, but yeah, it's, I mean, it's a good idea to like, for me to hear, you know, should we create some sort of like educational component, like a pathway for new people to kind of go into that industry. And that is one of our, one of our goals.

[00:41:46] Steph: Well, we'll put a link in the, in the show notes like I said.

[00:41:48] Molly: Yeah.

[00:41:49] Steph: So people can check it out if they want if they have feedback, It's a great way to get people's foot in the door. [laughs]

[00:41:54] Molly: Yeah, exactly.

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Rebranding The Optimists Travel

[00:42:23] Steph: Okay. So your new agency is pretty unique in that everyone, well, almost everybody that works on your team has worked in production with the different bands. So has that been helpful in helping you find new clients or how do you find new clients?

[00:42:41] Molly: yeah, and then one thing, sorry, I just had a thought back to the last question I want to answer is like, if ... I'm overlooking at it. If you're an experienced GDS agent, you-

[00:42:51] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:42:52] Molly: ... could probably get a job at any entertainment agency [laughs] in the country, you know? Because like if you're an agent who has experience cranking out hotels and flights-

[00:43:01] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:43:02] Molly: ... um, in the GDS, that is a highly sought-after skill- [yeah.]

 ... Uh, from myself and all of my colleagues and peers in entertainment, 'cause it's flights and it- international exchanges, exchanges, you know? So if you, if you're interested in getting into it and you're an experienced agent, even maybe like tapering off in your career but you have that skill, call me. [laughs]

[00:43:27] Steph: Yeah, and, and those of you that don't know the GDS, I'll put a link to what it is. It's, it's a skill like Molly says and it's a highly sought after skill and it's one that's hard to-

[00:43:37] Molly: Yeah, Sabre, Worldspan, Amadeus, Galileo, there's a few, you know, there's several of them, well, a handful of GDSs, but, the Global Distribution System where you can hold in ticket flights and cars, and hotels. Yeah. So anyway, I just wanted to ... I was like overlooking that experienced person who I mean, you would be very valued in an entertainment agency.

So, the new clients, yeah, I mean, yes definitely word of mouth. Social media, you know, we did with the rebrand, relaunched the website, and we started out doing you know, pretty heavy social media, which I found was not sustainable for my own personal-

[00:44:18] Steph: Sanity? [laughs]

[00:44:19] Molly: ... like, yeah, just in my personal interest professionally. I- I just couldn't focus as much time on it. So you'll see from our feed, it tapered off a little bit, which is fine. It's like, it's, it's social media. but, that, you know, that, that would be the way that we like got our new name, our new name out in LinkedIn and, and then I mean, that there's a couple of industry . . . you know, trade shows, conferences. One of them is called, "Live Production Summit," which is, traditionally in Tucson, at the beginning of each year and Polestar is another one in LA that's a big conference. So those would be like in-person kinda networking opportunities. But otherwise, yeah, online, you know, social media groups, and then just conversation.

[00:45:14] Steph: Well, okay. So, the last question for this segment. This is an important question too and I'm, I'm sure other people are curious. So you've worked with lots of big bands. I said, Black Eyed Peas, Brit, Ricky Martin, Janet Jackson, The Jackson Five-

[00:45:29] Molly: I just did their [crosstalk 00:47:32], I- I didn't do all their travel as a travel agent. You know, I toured in various capacities on those [crosstalk 00:47:38].

[00:45:36] Steph: Well, okay, thanks for clarifying. Yeah. Yeah. You're ruining my like vision of you up there dancing with Britney and like, [laughs].

[00:45:43] Molly: Oh I, oh that I was, yeah. I was a backstage coordinator for the Circus Tour in [crosstalk 00:47:50] and then I was the road manager for the dancers in 2016 and 17, band and dancers.

[00:45:54] Steph: So you did dance with them? [laughs]

[00:45:56] Molly: Yes, in the wings, absolutely. Yeah, stage left.

[00:46:00] Steph: So is this what you said we needed to do?

[00:46:03] Molly: I was stage left, just, I was, I'm a like a professional road mom, so.

[00:46:08] Steph: Well, okay, so which of the bands 'cause ... And this is either like I feel like it's for touring and not actually for booking travel, but what was your favorite like the tour that you were on?

[00:46:18] Molly: That's ... It's hard, 'cause you know, every tour was a favorite for a different reason, but I have to say my one standout favorite tour that I ever did was the Glee Live in Concert Tour.

[00:46:31] Steph: Uh-huh.

[00:46:32] Molly: In 2011, I think. And, it's just 'cause it was like just this tiny little ta- capsule and time. It was five weeks during the cast's summer hiatus. They made them go on tour.

[00:46:49] Steph: [laughs] I know. I was like, that's a little sad.

[00:46:51] Molly: Um, they're not happy about it, yeah, 'cause the whole television industry is on hiatus and they're like, "You're getting on a bus." But It was it. was, just, it was so fun. It was fun because I was the road manager for the band, the dancers, and the warblers and if you're a Glee fan, you'll know who the warblers are.

[00:47:09] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah.

[00:47:09] Molly: Uh, and so it was just, it was just like all these, you know, kids that were just so happy to be there. It was so exciting. It was like the Beatles like because the whole cast was on tour. I mean, Lea Michelle, Cory Monteith, uh, like the whole ... They were, they were all on tour. I was the vice principal of the tour, the road manager and then my boss and good friend, Angie Warner was the principal and the tour manager of the cast. So she had the cast on a private plane and I had the band dancers and warblers, um, and glam like ... So it just was fun, 'cause it was like TV, it was pop, it was like ... It was crazy. We just did a handful of weeks in the States and then we went to,

England and Ireland and like we broke all the records at The O2 Arena in London.

[00:47:59] Steph: Oh, wow.

[00:48:00] Molly: Because we were doing, 'cause we were doing matinees.

[00:48:03] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Because it was like, it had such a wide draw, Glee that was kids to, you know?

[00:48:08] Molly: Yeah. So it was . . . it was so fun. And I just made so many great new friends on that tour.

[00:48:15] Steph: Well, lots that's a fun way for you to end kind of your, the touring part of your life 'cause then you started the agency right after, right?

[00:48:22] Molly: No, I did a couple, I did a couple more years that, that was in 2011. And then I did after that I toured with Janet Jackson and then, the Jackson Brothers, and then I did another tour with Alicia Keys.

The Optimists Travel Rebrand

[00:48:36] Steph: Oh man alive. [So.] Well, let's, let's move into, talking about your rebrand, 'cause I'm really excited about that.

[00:48:44] Molly: Okay.

[00:48:45] Steph: 'Cause I love, love, loved when you launched your rebrand. Like my LinkedIn feed was always ... It was always catching my eye and I got like what I loved about it was that it- it- it told me so much about your business, and your values, and your goals through- [Yeah.] ... just rebrand. And, and I'm gonna link to Molly's LinkedIn profile in the show notes in case anyone wants to like go look back at those and how she did it. But what prompted you to do this rebrand from Smart and Savvy travel over to the Optimists Travel? Like where did that name come from and the idea behind it?

[00:49:20] Molly: So it started with just wanting to refresh the logo, and then kind of realized that everything was leading into really elevating the agency and like growing it up like I need better systems and processes, you know, that allow us to take on more clients so that everything is really streamlined. It's not like all just a text to Molly like, "I don't like my seats." You know, like [laughs]-

[00:49:43] Steph: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

[00:49:44] Molly: ... just seems to get it out of my brain and into a place that this company can run it, you know? So through that, I ended up moving into a full rebrand and name change instead of just a logo change, and which then took me another three months, because, You know, it's like n- harder than naming your child. [laughs]

Um, and I just wanted something that stuck, you know, like something that like was meaningful and would give us like something too, you know, like a basis for our company and our values and our ethos and just really wanted something that was like catchy like, who do you ca- you know, who do you wanna call? My son was just a Ghostbusters for Halloween.

You know, who do you need in your corner? Who can help us with this? Let's call the optimists, You know, So I wanted something like that. What happened, I had a phone conversation that kind of just brought me down and I was emptying the dishwasher for the 450th time that week, in 2020, and was like, "Ugh." like, w- what about that conversation just drove me nuts? you know, how can I get that conversation like out of my like life? And, I was like, "Oh, it's the pessimism." Like it was just like, "Oh, that's da-da-da. And oh, Minnesota? Oh, that's cold there. And oh, you should do this." [laughs] and you know, and I was like, "No." Like, so then I'm like, "What's the opposite of pessimism?" Because of course, I'm like brainstorming for three months, you know?

Optimism okay, optimism, opt- okay, it's not horrible. And like I'd been brainstorming with my team and Cindy had, had an O in her mind for some reason. She envisioned an O and so, this could be Cindy's O. And, like, "That's kinda like, that's kinda awesome." Like, you know, and then, of course, there's the optimist club and different stuff.

It was like, yeah, I think that I think that has like staying power. I think I think that's cool.

[00:51:46] Steph: It does.

[00:51:46] Molly: Like I mean, here's my little sign, "Be optimistic," which I got from my friend Cathy Hansen. So you know, there's just, like I wanted something like that where it could be a riff off of things that we found elsewhere or like, you know? So, yeah, so that's how we land. And then I'm like, "We can be CEO," you know, Chief Executive Optimists, or Chief Financial Optimists, like that ... Who doesn't want that in their company? You know, so.

[00:52:10] Steph: Yeah. Well, I- I- I feel like, like when I say rebrand, I feel like it does you an injustice because it's way too soft to this, of a like description. Like you did a complete business overhaul. It wasn't, you know, just the logo and the brand colors and a new website. To me, it- it felt like you deconstructed your business and you really looked at how you wanted to recreate your business like with these 10 years of experience you had into one that was like more efficient, and dialed in that reflected your values and communicated exactly what it was going to be like to work with you. Like that's what ... I mean, I just got all of that from watching, seeing stuff in my feed. So did you, because as another business owner, my mind kind of starts deflating thinking about all the work behind it. [Yes.]

So did you do this on your own or how did you manage such a comprehensive overhaul?

[00:53:04] Molly: No, I did it. I worked with a colleague of mine, Meg Murphy who works with me in the capacity of an integrator. so she kinda helped me take everything out of my brain and put it into a timeline and help everything move forward.

and then my team members, Cindy and Flow like we had a weekly status call with Meg where she kept us moving forward on the to-dos.

So things like researching a client portal, you know, we would have a call on Thursday and then we would assign these different things to each of our team members.

And we would reconvene the next Thursday with notes that we each had done different stuff. So that's kinda how we got through the chunks of the documents process. Like we use Travel Joy, as a CRM, and we used to use it for leisure stuff, but it's like, let's really do it, you know? So we would do training on some of those, status calls.

And then s- a lot of them were then about the branding. We worked with an incredible creative agency here in Minneapolis called Superhuman. And, they gave us like a really amazing opportunity to work with them on kind of a friends and family basis, because of working with, they wanted to, they believed in the project and they, they wanted to work within a niche that they didn't kind of already existing- [Mm-hmm ]... travel, um, and entertainment. So you know, one week we would have a call with them and then that would like, they would present to us and then two weeks later, we would refine with them and you know, that kind of thing. So we like chipped away at this thing, from last, I can't ... You know, Meg came on with me I think, in like October or something. And then we, we were shooting for relaunch in March and then I think we finally like pressed clay on the website like May- [Mm-hmm] So no, I am a big believer of, collaboration and working with a team. And like I said, I'm unwilling to do it alone. So we each kinda ... We just kept chipping away at it.

[00:55:15] Steph: Yeah. Well, we'll link to, superhuman so if people are interested. [Yeah.] If they're ... Especially if they're trying to break into travel. You know, reach out to these people. Let's see. And then I- I'd commented earlier about how your rebrand, like you, we're able to just communicate exactly what you provide and what a client can expect and that was really impressive to me, 'cause it- it was succinct and it was very like clear what you were trying to say. So did this all come the ... Did a lot of this come from your communication background or was this from working with these, these different companies and contractors?

[00:55:54] Molly: I mean, I'd say the root of it is from since I started working or since I joined BWC, the Business Women's Circle, um-[ Mm-hmm].

[00:56:04] Steph: Is that in other cities you know or is it just Minneapolis?

[00:56:06] Molly: They are in Minneapolis Saint Paul now and she is like looking at expanding into other cities.

[00:56:15] Steph: Okay. Well, we'll link to them too then if anyone is interested. [Yeah.] Maybe they'll be in your city.

[00:56:19] Molly: Yeah. Um, and I mean, at this point, we're still meeting virtually so maybe she'll open it up, you know, to other cities or whatever. But, that is, you know, we're in a circle of other business owners, in similar size businesses typically. So we kind of like, it used to be based in Traction if you know that book? [Mm-mm] You know that book, Steph?

 ... It's a c- it's a common, now you'll like see it everywhere, but that's what it's based in. So there's like exercises, you know? So one of the exercises was called, "The VTO," It's the Vision Traction Organizer. And so it's a five-year goal, one-year goal kind of, values. So I've done a lot of work over the years in getting that value statement, getting that elevator pitch, you know, that- [Mm-hmm]... and so it's, it's an f-, an evolution of three, three or four years of that and changing it. And so I had kind of the framework, you know, from Smart and Savvy Travel and knew, you know, for years it's like, I wanna tune-up my accounting, okay? Well then, the pandemic provided this time to like that stuff is the easy stuff. Like, let's get some systems in place, and let's get some terms and conditions and some cancellation fees in place, [laughs]. And kinda streamline our processes. But yeah, I've been working on that kind of stuff for like three years and it's about communicating your values and clarifying, and simplifying and...

[00:57:49] Steph: yeah. And, and you know, speaking of value, so on the other side of that, it felt like with the rebrand you were kind of baking your values into your business. Which is honestly one of the things I love most about being a business owner is you can kind of be the vehicle of change you want to see. You know- [Yeah.]... we've all worked for other people and been like, "I don't ever ... I would never do that at my company like I always wanna value this." So on your ... I think it's on your site, you said and hold on, let me pull this quote up, "We're changing our business model to create sustainable jobs for our team and leaning into what we do best. Not just booking travel but proactively managing it." So what is ... When you talk about sustainable jobs, what does that mean to you and why is that so important?

[00:58:34] Molly: well, we're an experienced team, you know? I mean, I, um [Mm-hmm] ... I, you know, loved college, did well, and knew I wanted to have a career that involved travel. Touring pays well when you're on the road obviously because you're gone 24/7, but you know, you're working hard and you get hopefully, compensated for it. And so I mean, my team, that's, that's the world we come from. We're not like doing this as a part-time hobby, paying out of pocket, [laughs] 'cause we wanna see a concert, you know? Like- [Yeah]... We are ... I'm 42 years old now, you know, had I not gone this direction, I would be an executive at a corporation if I worked at the same place for 20 years. And I'm like, you know, like, "Do I deserve an assistant?" It's like, dude, like, let's, you know, like let's run this like a real business. Like we have experience in moving hundreds of people around the world, every allergy, every middle name. It's high-level details, you know? And so, like I'm looking to find out if this is a sustainable way to continue my career at this point in my life.

Just like you know, everything coming out of the pandemic like what do we wanna leave behind and what do we wanna bring with? You know?

And it, and it is. It can be lucrative, right? Like it's great when business is booming and commissions are getting paid, you know? It- It's- It can be lucrative enough to pay for a team of, you know, very experienced people, to do the work. So that's kinda where we're coming from with that.

[01:00:14] Steph: Yeah, I love- I love the idea of like just saying sustainable wages for the team, because I think like to me if I'm a client that like makes me feel like, "Oh good," like I'm, I'm glad, you know, I don't wanna go support places where the CEO is making millions and millions and then the staff is making $18 an hour- [Yeah.] ... or like $12 an hour. Like I wanna know that people are treated well when I'm giving business to that company.

[01:00:40] Molly: Yeah. And, and also that is what prevents turnover and that is like the biggest frustration of this industry is people go, "Oh, I get a different agent every time I call," or you know like, I'm in the middle of a tour and an agent rolls over and leave, you know, like to different agency or something, or they get taken off of my project and now I'm just like explaining everything from the beginning, you know? We are never ... We don't have that like, it's- [Yeah.] ... it's very, you know, very personal relationship and we've had the same team for, you know, I mean, since I've started added more people, but, um, creating a sustainable wage that we can not have turnover and invest in our team and invest in training and educations and improving, our, our skills and our processes and our systems for our clients is, is important, you know?

Mm-hmm [affirmative]. I ... Yeah, I- I love that it helps, 'cause it sounds like you, in a lot of ways, a lot of people would age out of touring if they wanted to start a family 'cause it's just not sustainable to be on the road almost the whole year- [Yeah.] ... if you're starting a family. So it gives some other options for that.

Molly and family

Social Responsibility

[01:01:53] Steph: One of the other things, I ran across on your site was you were talking about being committed to practicing allyship and improving the community that you exist in both locally and globally. So what are some ways you have or that you have plans to, improve the communities that you're existing in? Like what kind of social responsibility came with this rebrand?

[01:02:15] Molly: yeah, again, it's just something we, you know, wanted to make public to hold ourselves accountable to it. Of course, being in Minneapolis and you know, with the murder of George Floyd and the uprising last year all over the country and whoo, we were in election time last year, hoofta.

[01:02:39] Steph: It's been a year, [laughs].

[01:02:40] Molly: Yeah. Yeah, like we don't want to just leave that in 2020, you know? I'm committed to, furthering my own journey in anti-racism. I'm, you know, I'm committed to improving diversity, equity and inclusion within our own company, within my own family, you know, both my personal and professional network.

That's also one of our goals and values of eTac is to continue like with the education piece, you know, create educational opportunities, create, doorways into this industry, share our knowledge like collaboration over competition.

So yeah, locally, I mean, for my team, we compensate our employees for a certain number of months, hours per month in order for them to, volunteer.

We, provide a certain dollar amount of pro bono travel management services for nonprofits, and it's like, oh, where is it gonna make sense for us to provide pro bono services? Like you know, not a lot of food shelves are booking flights, or you know, it's been like- [Yeah.] And then it's come up several times. I mean, there's an organization called, "Touring Professionals Alliance."

It was also created through the pandemic of roadies, supporting roadies, and touring professionals and they did a big, sort of food drive with local restaurants last year, feeding unemployed event, staff. [Oh, okay.] And we ... They sent a production manager to each city and, and, you know, they'd stay in a hotel and we were able to wave our fees and realize, okay, this, this is helping them, you know? [Mm-hmm] this is a great service.

We- We also were able to do that with the, um, National Museum of African-American Music for a travel project that we manage for them, which was awesome.

[01:04:32] Steph: 'Cause that's not something I've, I've, I think I hear about. Actually, I think this is the first one I've ever heard of an agency, like vocalizing that they do things like this to give back to the communities.

[01:04:45] Molly: Yeah. I mean, it's again, it's like if we're gonna redo this and do this right, like let's, you know, and that's kind of the Optimists, the name of the company is The Optimists, you know? I don't know what the 10-year picture, I have to look at my VTO for you and tell you what it is. But, is, but it's like, you know, it's n- maybe it's not just travel management, you know? Maybe we have an annual, you know, volunteer function that, uh, we're able to organize for local people. Maybe there's an events element to it, you know? We also do travel for festivals and retreats. And we're, we're starting to look at, you know, putting an optimist on, on the retreat where we're actually like managing the travel on the ground.

So it's exciting to think about, you know, where it may go, but we always wanna kinda keep that, keep that ethos as part of, you know, part of what, what we're doing. And like we say, always people first. And so, you know, anything that we commit to is gonna be, focused on people, and also sustainability in travel.

[01:05:49] Steph: Yeah. So, switching gears a little bit, I kinda wanted to talk about you, you have a remote team that you work with. And I think they're all located in the United States, right? [Yes.]

So how do you hire and find people for your team? Like what characteristics are you looking for that's really important for you that, that fit with remote working and kind of ... Yeah, what, what characteristics are important and how do you find them?

[01:06:18] Molly: Well, I mean, at ... Up to this point, I've been, you know, just extremely lucky. Bobby, my first full-time employee came to me through Bonnie Lee, Travel Quest. So Bobby's worked with me since 2016, just a unique situation, you know? Um, and so most of my team has been with me for several years. So I'm actually kind of getting back into the hiring space. One of the main things that we're focusing on is equitable hiring, which actually- [Mm-hmm] ... you know, includes taking off gender from the application, taking off age from the application, because it doesn't matter. so we're getting into like, learning about equitable hiring practices through HR, resources. And for me personally, my next hire is going to be somebody that can work with me in person locally- [Mm-hmm] ... at least two days a week. that-

[01:07:17] Steph: And this is for like the assistant kind of that, the admin assistant you're looking for?

[01:07:21] Molly: Yeah, it's primarily like admin may teach them the GDS, but you know, to work locally. But instead of thinking, "Oh, it's gotta be somebody like just lives within five miles 'cause nobody's gonna wanna come out to where whatever." Like, no, does that mean we need to have, uh, a public transportation stipend in addition to the salary?

Like, you know, we want to have a wide pool of applicants, outside of our specific area, and outside of our specific network. And so those, like, those are kind of logistical details, you know, that we're working, working on in order to create an equitable hiring practice. [Mm-hmm]

And also kind of like fi- or like, we all- we ki- we created an internship, uh, job description as well for the social media part of it. and looking at working with some other industry organizations who, who have like apprentice and internship programs, one of those being diversified the stage, which is another great organization started by Noelle Scaggs of Fitz and the Tantrums. so seeing if we can work with them to create an internship, for one of their upcoming students.

[01:08:36] Steph: So I think one of the hardest things, when people are looking at building a remote team, is w- like one of the challenges is, is like building that sense of community when everybody, and, and keeping everyone on the same page when- [Yeah.]... everyone lives in different areas. So how do you make that happen at the Optimists?

[01:08:55] Molly: Well, I would say the Moxtra portal is, you know, was the biggest move that we did towards that, which is, like creating a virtual office. You know, it shows who's here, you're green or you're red, or you're busy or away. it's linked to our calendar. It's we have like chats, you know, so we have like a whole team chat. Then we have a chat with basically each of our agents between each other, as well as our clients in there. So it's really slick. and to like just, "Hey, are you doing this?" [Yeah.]

Yes, and you can create to-do lists and check them off. You can assign them to each other. You can assign a client to do. So it's like, you know, "Hey, just review the rights from San Francisco and let us know, and they can check off the to-do list." So that, that has leveled the plain field nicely.

I wanted to get things out of text. [Yeah.] I can't ... You know, when I get a t- a work text, I'm like, I'm never gonna read this. I don't know. I'm gonna forget it's here. I'm driving. I have a two-year-old, like, so, yeah. So- so that's been great for us too. And I'm sure people, a lot of teams use Slack and all the various project management stuff.

Molly with her toddler

[01:10:11] Steph: I'll put a link to, um, Sococo, which I, I think I mentioned to you before. [Oh yeah.] it sounds like it's very similar to Sococo with this virtual office okay. [Okay.] So the ... I mean, I think the other thing we chatted on too that has really helped both of us is Like having weekly team meetings [yes] ... like ours, we have Monday, we have it lasts for two hours and then Thursdays, it lasts for about an hour. So we can all like catch up with each other and get on the same page and talk about ideas.

[01:10:40] Molly: Yeah. Yeah, we do that as well myself, I have Meg and I have one on Mondays and then the whole team on Thursdays and then that's where we'll like assign something. And ideally like we have 90-minute status calls and we do on- [Mm-hmm] ... Moxtra as well, which also serves as a meeting platform. And, it's nice to like actually work during those, you know, like, "Hey, we need to talk about commission invoicing. Let's bang out these three commission invoices." Or now there's a whole proposal process in our work-[ mm-hmm] ... because we're charging fees. So it's not just ... We don't just launch into the work immediately. So we'll try to like work on the proposal together during the team status, you know, so that I actually get it done. [laughter] 'cause otherwise, it's just gonna live in that [crosstalk 01:19:39].

[01:11:28] Steph: It's questionable. Yes.

Warm Fuzzy Segment

[01:11:30] Steph: Yeah. Well, I think this is kind of a good time to move into like start wrapping things up, moving to our last segment, which means we need to cue the warm fuzzy segment music. [Yeah.]

And Molly, I don't wanna put pressure on you, but I am so excited for this, because how fun is it that I have an optimist that's giving us a warm fuzzy? [Oh God.]

So like if there's something that someone did that kind of brightened your day or something you did for someone that makes us be like, "This is why we're in this industry even though sometimes it freakin' is very hard and sucks when you only make $11,000 a year." And you're working full-time and canceling all your work from the previous year.

[01:12:07] Molly: I will literally get a job at the Dairy Queen if [crosstalk 01:21:36] left. That was like, I love working at the Dairy Queen. [laughs] um, uh, I mean, honestly, I guess I don't, I don't have any like ... My brain doesn't go back too far. So it's ho- it's just like the little texts I think that's like you are seriously a miracle worker and you're like, "Yes." You know? [Yeah.]

 Um, and it's like, can I screenshot this and like share however they do those sharing things? Like you know, like, so and then which then I think has just led to, in our case, like referrals to other clients and that like, this is your team. They're, they're amazing. Like, you know, so those I think just kind of little, little comments and thank yous back. Because everybody's flying by the seat of their pants out here, you know? [Mm-hmm] and everybody team and industry is still trying to recoup two years of unemployment.

And, so it's like, it's less about the amenities and, and just more about like being available and, you know, an, like a confidant and a reliable source for your client. So I think it's those. We've just had, you know, kind of several little comments back where whether it's you know, you all are the best and, that it's like, yes, that's why we do this. You know? Like we're ... It's thank-yous from clients as of late that you know, remind us why we keep doing it.

[01:13:43] Steph: Keep, keep going. [Yeah.] Yeah. Well, well, thank you for sharing. And it's, it's kind of bittersweet, because I had such a good time in this episode, but it's also time to wrap things up. So, Molly, you're fantabulous for being so open with your expertise and kind of sharing your experience, so thank you.

[01:14:00] Molly: Thank you. It's always nice to-

[01:14:02] Steph: a reminder ... If there's anyone that's a new advisor listening to this, don't forget you can see Molly's Cameo appearance on ASTA's roadmap to becoming a travel advisor course with me and I think it's at

and you can use the HAR149 code to get it 50% off. And then, last but not least, don't forget, we are doing host week coming up in January.

so sign up for host week reminders and save your spot at That is all for now folks. Thank you so much.

 Thank you. Bye.


You can read a transcript, view the show notes with a link to all the resources we mentioned, and watch a video of today's episode all in one place. So head on over to and click on episode 21.

And one last reminder, because I'm really excited about this. So don't forget to grab your free spot for HAR's annual Host Week, which is January 23rd through the 29th, 2022.

And if you happen to be listening to this and Host Week has already passed. Don't worry, you are not going to miss out on the fun. The free sessions are available to you, uh, at your viewing pleasure at, and just click on our Host Week playlist.


About the Author
Steph Lee - Host Agency Reviews

Steph Lee

Steph grew up in the travel industry, helping on and off with her mom's homebased travel agency. She has 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 (her fav) and Pinterest as 'iamstephly'. 🙂 You can also catch her on her Substack, Bumblin' Around, where she writes on things outside the world of HAR.