Lori Speers serves Travel Advisor Support tools at the Levarté Travel conference.

Tools, Challenges, and the Future of Travel Advisors with Lori Speers of Levarté Travel

Episode Overview

Episode Topic:
In this captivating episode of TravelPreneur, we engage in the dynamic world of travel entrepreneurship with Lori Speers, the owner and CEO of Levarté Travel. The episode unfolds as Megha, our host, explores the unique offerings of Levarté Travel and uncovers Lori’s journey in the travel industry. This episode is particularly focused on how Levarté Travel enhances Travel Advisors’ Support, empowering advisors with innovative tools and strategies to navigate the complexities of the evolving travel landscape.

Lessons You’ll Learn:
Throughout the episode, Lori emphasizes the critical role of technology in augmenting Travel Advisors Support and how Levarté Travel remains at the cutting edge of these solutions. Aspiring entrepreneurs in the travel industry will benefit from Lori’s wealth of experience as she provides advice on building a successful career. The episode also explores the challenges in the travel business and how Levarté Travel adapts to ensure continuous support, even in critical situations. Listeners can expect to glean invaluable insights into the tools and support mechanisms that elevate travel advisors’ abilities.

About Our Guest:
Lori Speers, the dynamic force behind Levarté Travel, brings over 40 years of passion and experience to the travel industry. Her dedication to enhancing Travel Advisors Support has positioned Levarté Travel as a standout boutique host agency in a competitive landscape. Lori’s unique background, straddling corporate travel and boutique agency management, lends a rich perspective to the conversation, showcasing how Levarté Travel uniquely supports its advisors.

Topics Covered:
Covering a broad spectrum of topics, this episode sheds light on the essential tools and support mechanisms that are crucial for travel advisors today. From discussing the importance of Travel Advisors Support in overcoming industry challenges to sharing Lori’s vision for the future of Levarté Travel with a focus on AI and technology, listeners are treated to a comprehensive guide. Insights into the trends shaping the travel business in 2024 and strategies for leveraging Travel Advisors Support to navigate these trends are also explored, making this episode a must-listen for professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs in the travel entrepreneurship realm.

Our Guest: Lori Speers- A Boutique Brilliance for Travel Advisors Support

Lori Speers, the visionary owner and CEO of Levarté Travel, is a seasoned professional with an impressive 40-year journey in the travel industry. Her deep-rooted passion for making travel dreams come true has been the driving force behind Levarté Travel’s success. Lori’s expertise extends beyond merely organizing travel; she is dedicated to empowering travel advisors to curate diverse and unforgettable experiences for their clients. The name “Levarté” itself, derived from “e-travel” spelled backward, encapsulates the agency’s mission – lifting travel advisors in the travel industry. 

With a background in corporate travel and boutique agencies, Lori brings a wealth of experience to the table. Her unique approach involves blending the best of both worlds, creating a boutique host agency that stands out in the competitive landscape. As the episode unfolds, listeners gain insights into Lori’s role in shaping Levarté Travel into a hub of innovation and support. The agency, despite hosting 450 travel advisors, maintains a boutique feel through in-person training, Zoom sessions, and a robust mentor network, ensuring personalized travel advisors support.

Lori’s commitment to staying ahead in the industry is evident in her embrace of technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI). She envisions the future of Levarté Travel in an AI-driven landscape, emphasizing its role not as a job-taker but as a powerful tool for enhancing the travel experience. With an industry that never sleeps, Lori imparts lessons on setting boundaries and providing continuous support. Her journey is a testament to the transformative power of passion, dedication, and a forward-thinking approach in the dynamic realm of travel entrepreneurship.

Episode Transcript

Lori Speers: You might love to travel, but do you love booking travel for others? Sometimes you’ll do that way before you actually experience the destination. It was years of me booking other people before I actually went to some of the places, but I had true love for that. Now the other thing is to think of it as a business. It’s not a hobby. It’s not something you’re just going to do because you think it’s fun and it’s a really cool industry to get into. It is cool. I’ve been in it for years. I could have went to a lot of different things. I love it, it gets in your blood, but you have to know it’s a lot of work and you have to have a passion and understanding that you’re here to make their travel dreams come true.

Megha McSwain: Welcome to TravelPreneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist, Megha McSwain. Each episode, we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel businesses. If it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on TravelPreneur. Hello fellow travelers, welcome to TravelPreneur. I’m your host, Megan McSwain. Today we’re joined with Lori Spears, the owner and CEO of Levarté Travel. Buckle up as we explore Lori’s journey and the unique offerings of Levarté Travel. Welcome to the show, Lori.

Lori Speers: Thank you for having me.

Megha McSwain: For sure. Levarté Travel provides a wide range of tools for travel advisors. How do these tools enhance the advisor’s ability to curate diverse travel experiences, from cruises to different retreats?

Lori Speers: I want to just explain that Levarté Travel is a host agency. In Levarté, you see it back, there is actually e-travel spelled backward. So that’s how you configure how to say your name or spell it anyway.

Megha McSwain: Yeah, I like that.

Lori Speers: And it means to lift up. So our mission statement is lifting advisors in the travel industry. I myself have been in the industry for 40 years. I hate to say that 40 years, seriously. That’s how much passion and love I have for it. But to answer your question, one of the things we do as a host for our advisors, and they’re all their own individual business owners or their own travel agency, is give them the right tools to not only make those experiences for their clients but also tools that help them market their business and get the passengers out there, travelers out there to book with them as well. Some of the tools that we offer the advisor is a really good competitive good CRM, and the CRM also gives them the capability for a website. Their websites are a little different because this is how it’s going to help them really qualify their client. To give them the kind of trip they’re looking for is they go on the website, their storefront, and actually create a client profile there. So they create a profile that builds everything. They like their bucket list trips, and what they’re looking for. In order to really give your clients the trip with the experiences they want, you have to listen to them, listen to what they want, don’t think you already know it, and qualify that client to give them experiences and not just a ready-made vacation.

Megha McSwain: Right. Like a one-size-fits-all vacation type.

Lori Speers: Yeah, not a one-size-fits-all, but really make them experience. Like when they go into Portugal they actually go to someone’s house in Porto and have dinner there at the house or make cheese. So when you qualify your client and find out and more and more people are looking for experiences and not just a vacation when they go to create these profiles on the individual advisor’s pages, they get to really dig deeper into their client and find out what their qualifications are. They put little marketing things in there. So when we have a supplier or somebody that does a trip, like maybe they want to go to Iceland, that gives the experience that they want, it’ll match them and market to them the trips they’ve already said that they wanted.

Megha McSwain: So I feel like support is crucial in this situation where you’ve got these travel advisors. Can you share how the Levarté Travel support team and mentor network contribute to the success and growth of these advisors?

Lori Speers: Yes, I’d love to. We do a lot of areas. One, we have a mentor desk. For the quick, I want to make an appointment. Maybe it’s my first Iceland trip. Maybe it’s my first Europe trip. first group. And then you can make an appointment at a mentor desk for 30, 45, or 60 minutes, of one-on-one training with one of our staff. We have a staff of eight experienced agents that help our 450 independent advisors that we have today. They can make those appointments, but that isn’t where it stops. Those are very one-on-one. They’re not limited. They can do as much as they want to. But we also offer in live Zoom training every Tuesday, we do a call for the new to the industry, a two-hour training. We also do lift up for profits for that agent that wants to just lift up into the next profit range. We also do straight talk with Lori. That’s with me. We do individual training and then every Thursday, we have product training where the vendors actually come on our suppliers and do their product training. On top of that, we have three-day, live, in-person, what we call our wave camps, you see our little wave here, so instead of camp, it’s called wave camp. And we have training there in person three times a year, in January, July, and November. So we try to give them a lot of coaching.

Lori Speers: The last program that we offer is a coaching program. It’s called Love Coach, and that isn’t given a mentorship on how to book a group, but how to achieve their goals and we help them set goals. We check in with them quarterly and we say, have you done this? Have you reached out to this many people? What are you doing on your marketing? And guide them and coach them to be getting the 50% increase that we’re helping them try to get every year.

Megha McSwain: In your experience, what role does technology play in empowering travel advisors? Beyond that, how does Levarté Travel stay ahead in providing cutting-edge solutions?

Lori Speers: Yes, that’s a good one and especially today, I just left the two-hour Premier Summit in Palm Springs, California, where we talked about this a lot, the use of AI, and I heard a really good phrase, and this was from Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity, actually, and he said, “It’s not AI that’s going to take your job, it’s the competitor that’s learned how to use it best. That’s going to take your business.” So one of the things we’re really working on right now in AI is new and fresh, but it’s moving fast. It’s the fastest. Like when the internet came to people and you remember the people that were like, “Oh, I don’t know if this is going to hang on.” AI is not going anywhere. And it’s fast and it’s moving quick, and learning how to implement it in your business is the best thing. So we do a lot of training, and there’s several ways it’s bigger than what people think. There’s the training on how to use it as a tool, and we do a lot of teaching, and we’re part of a program that our agents can subscribe to at additional cost that they can use, our AI Toby, is what he’s called. So you can go on there and you can say, create an itinerary for me, for my 14-year-old granddaughter going to Paris. She likes Harry Potter and Art, and it’ll put it together for you. It’s amazing. So use that as a tool. That’s one way.

Lori Speers: And I did that trip with the 14-year-old to Paris, and after I booked it all, I asked the AI and it gave me everything I’d already booked. How to do the Lou for a 14-year-old with a scavenger hunt. That is amazing and everyone should embrace this and use it to definitely better. Every company should have that in their program for their advisors. Now we have that. But another thing is using it for your company, a chat between the company, and customer service. It’ll put in the policies that we do like, you know, there’s a lot of things how to claim your commission, how to get a refund, how to do multiple commissions if you’re sharing with another agent, how nice if you don’t have to get somebody on the phone or look for it but just ask your AI chat box and have that developed for your company. That’s another way that’s going to make your company stand apart and maybe even like we have Facebook groups right now that we all ask each other questions. Also asking the AI with the other agents altogether, where should I book a 14 and a ten-year-old that they want to have a lot of entertainment in Cancun, and it gives you some choices.

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Lori Speers: The biggest obstacle, challenge, I should say, not really an obstacle, is still fact-checking anything that it tells you. Don’t lean on it 100%, and that’s really hard for a new to the industry agent they want to. But it’s all new technology and don’t let it completely write. It’ll write your marketing. It writes the best emails. I throw it on my phone, I pop it up here. It’s telling me instantly. I hardly write anything without the help of it. But here’s the trick because it’s challenging, don’t copy it word for word. Put your own spin on it. Use it as a reference and fact check to make sure it’s correct because some of the data that comes from some of the AI platforms, and there are lots of different ones now are dated, they only go so far. So you do have to watch that and make it your own. But that’s why I say use it as a tool. I have one of my advisors that writes blogs for her website, and she’ll whip out about 1015 blogs in like 20 minutes.

Megha McSwain: So with your background in corporate travel and boutique agencies, how do you blend the best of both worlds to create a host agency that is able to solve the diverse needs of travel advisors?

Lori Speers: We, at Levarté, don’t really do a lot of air travel, and the air is kind of changing right now because of new rules that are coming in from the GDS to the new platform we do air in conjunction with tours. We really focus on leisure, but how do we keep it boutique? I know 450 advisors sounds like a lot, but it’s really not in the world of host agencies today. There’s some that have 5 to 10,000, so we consider ourselves a boutique host agency even. And the way we stay that way is the in-person training, the zooms every week, and the one-on-one customer service and support, keeping that support and not a bunch of recordings that you watch or making you as the advisor business owner. Actually, they’re all their own business owners, feeling individual and like they matter and on a personal level. We also do about 7 to 10 family trips that are exclusive at Levarté, and we do a lift retreat annually where we actually get to spend time together then, building that relationship, and discovering new destinations or different products.

Megha McSwain: But in an industry known to be basically 24/7 and it’s never off, how does Levarté Travel ensure continuous support for travel advisors, especially during a critical situation?

Lori Speers: That’s one of the things we teach our agents, and we’ve done some actual with host agency review some interviews with our agents on panels is how do you set hours? Can you set hours? But as far as a host with them, we have 24/7 support and a ticket system. Okay? Not phones is during the day, but on a ticket system, we have a rotating schedule where we have somebody looking at those 24/7. Even throughout the holidays, like we’re getting ready to be closed, they’ll have that. So part of our support, if it’s urgent because in travel you’re always going to have urgent, we also teach the advisor because they’re also business owners how to set that up for their own clients as well and have that 24/7. And I think anyone that gets in the business part of the training is learning that you’re 24/7, and a lot of the tour operators and cruise lines that we book offer a 24/7 number as well. So when the client gets their documents, they not only have access to their advisor but also to a 24/7 number. And honestly, after going through what we went through with the pandemic, given that personal touch and being available for your clients is really what sets us apart from people booking online. So it’s very important that you do that.

Megha McSwain: So what is your vision for the future of Levarté Travel? How do you envision the agency’s role in shaping the future of travel entrepreneurship?

Lori Speers: I really see the future moving into this AI world, and it’s really hard sometimes to envision it because I think we can’t even see that, and it’s going to happen so fast in the next five years. There’s going to be so many changes. I’ve been in the host industry for the last 15 years, but there are a lot of people entering into that since the pandemic. It’s really surprised me. Levarté opened actually in 2021, but before that, I managed a host agency before I started my own. So I have experience with it. But it’s really interesting to me, the people that are getting into it. I think you’re going to see more people being individual business owners under a host, and I think you’re going to see more AI. And I think the trends I see for 2024 are more technology in AI world, definitely and definitely, trips that are experiences, not just the trip that you can book online, but that offers uniqueness. Also more of a giving some type of a humanitarian component to it. And I think those are going to also be popular. And still what’s been popular and still going to go into 24 are anything with foodie, because we all still book our travel around the food. A new trend is “Pleasure” or “Bleisure”. It’s called “Bleisure”, mixing your business with a leisure trip. That’s another trend of 2024.

Megha McSwain: Interesting. Okay, that’s the first time I’ve heard of that. I’ll be looking out for that. So for individuals considering a career in travel entrepreneurship or wanting to get into this industry, what key advice or insights would you share based on your wealth of experience?

Lori Speers: I’m going to tell you if you want in this industry, you got to have the passion, for not just travel, but that passion for making other people’s travel dreams come true. I get more excited about booking someone else’s trip and them getting ready to experience it. Then I even do my own trips and I can see that in people when they interview with us, I’m like, do you already like to be the organizer and do that? Because you might love to travel, but do you love booking travel for others? Sometimes you’ll do that way before you actually experience a destination. It was years of me booking other people before I actually went to some of the places I went to, but I had true love for that. Now, the other thing is to think of it as a business. Think of yourself in your small little business. It’s not a hobby. It’s not something you’re just going to do because you think it’s fun and it’s a really cool industry to get into. It is cool. I’ve been in it for three years. I could have went to a lot of different things. I love it, it gets in your blood, but you have to think of it as a business. You have to know it’s a lot of work and you have to have a passion, a servant’s heart, and understanding that you’re here to make their travel dreams come true and you’re a travel designer. That’s what you do.

Lori Speers: You want to be a travel designer, not an order taker. You want to take the next step to make sure they have the experience and design a really good trip for them. And that involves a lot of collaboration with your client, especially, in today’s world, where they can find out everything they want on the internet almost. Okay, take that, collaborate with them, and then take it that next step further and contact all the contacts you’ve made in the industry to take that trip to the next level.

Megha McSwain: Lori, this has been so insightful. I love hearing about this, especially with how much experience you have. Let our listeners know where they can learn more about Levarté Travel and where they can reach you and learn more about you.

Lori Speers: Absolutely. You see it back here. I’m sure you all see my background, Levarté. You just go to Levarté Travel and on that page, you’ll see a lot of information about us and you’ll see, if you want more information, how to contact us there, send in a request for more information or even join. Once a month, we do learn, love, Levarté where you can learn more about us.

Megha McSwain: Great! Thank you so much for joining us today. I love hearing about this stuff. I’m passionate about travel as well, so it’s always fun to hear what everyone is doing. To our listeners, please, follow and subscribe for future episodes and leave us reviews. Thank you so much, Lori.

Lori Speers: Thank you so much for having me.

Megha McSwain: You’ve been listening to TravelPreneur by travelpayments.com make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on TravelPreneur.