Finding a niche can help a business break through the clutter of industry choices. In a business that relies on customers’ disposable income, that’s especially true with so many people among the unemployed ranks.
Celia Gardner, owner and president of Travelfaire of Dunwoody, has found her travel industry specialty and it’s helped her agency stay afloat during the last few economically down years.
“We’ve held on very well,” said Gardner, who credits her staying power to the types of travel arrangements in which she specializes. “Honeymoons, groups and meetings never stopped,” she said.
Gardner also has a roster of loyal individual clients who have stayed the course with her, too, booking cruises, tours and other travel.
“People are still traveling. Some (Travelfaire) clients have cut down on the number of trips per year, but not the quality. We have been consistently busy.”
She said she hasn’t felt much of a pinch from business lost to the Internet, either. By offering competitive pricing, and adjusting prices for a client if a better deal comes along, Travelfaire has maintained and grown its client base in the electronic age.
She attributes that to the personal touch she and her staff offer.
“We treat people like they’re the most important thing,” Gardner said.
That extends to helping a client who encounters a problem during travel, something Internet travel booking sites don’t offer.
“If a client calls in the middle of a trip with a problem, we fix it. We can make it happen,” Gardner said. By offering travel insurance, she added, “We make sure people know what their options are.”
Jim and Melanie Williams have been Travelfaire clients for more than 10 years and have booked about a dozen trips using the services of the agency’s manager, Kathy Casey. Melanie, an interior designer, met Gardner through community involvement. “Why not do business with someone local, who you see at church or out shopping?” said Jim, who is retired from the insurance industry. “They’re not going to treat you bad.”
The Williamses continue booking trips with Kasey because “she gives us good advice,” Jim added.
The Travelfaire staff also includes Edith Ivey Johnson, biblical education group and London theatre group tours; bookkeeper Judy Kotlar; Jan Gardner, Celia’s husband, sales and marketing director; and travel consultant Leslie Shahan.
Gardner has been in the travel business for almost 40 years. Before moving to metro Atlanta in 1979, she owned a travel agency in Florida. She opened Travelfaire in Dunwoody in June 1984 and has been a Dunwoody resident for 14 years.
On the surface, the travel agency business may seem glamorous. Gardner does get to check out destinations she will ultimately recommend to customers and she escorts many groups to vacation spots and on cruises. But in order to take those working vacations, she has to do her homework. Gardner is a Certified Travel Counselor, a designation of the Travel Institute, a non-profit organization that provides education programs and professional certifications. She is also a Designation Specialist and a Master Cruise Counselor.
Travelfaire is a member of several industry associations and was selected by the Small Business Commerce Association as 2009 Best Business in the travel agency category.
Gardner has her favorite travel destinations.
“Anywhere in Europe is phenomenal. River cruises are one of the nicest (vacations). The Canadian Rockies are one of the most beautiful places on the earth. Everything is a new experience,” she said.
She’s also a big supporter of her hometown. She stays involved in the community through the Dunwoody Woman’s Club and the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, and helps local organizations, churches and agency clients with fundraising projects, all “in the name of Travelfaire,” she said. “Dunwoody is now a city. We need to keep business in Dunwoody. We’re a community - we’ve got to stick together.”