Meet the Board: Jenn Lee

Meet the Board: Jenn Lee

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Jenn Lee, Travel Planners International’s VP of Industry Engagement and Support, isn’t shy about her obsession for guiding and leading today’s entrepreneurial-minded travel advisor community.

So, it was a natural fit for her to join the board of the Family Travel Association and bring her passion and expertise to the community. Lee’s a highly engaged, productive person, involved with multiple travel associations such as the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), but we managed to snag a few minutes of her time to talk about her view on the family travel industry.

First, tell us a bit about your experience in the travel industry.

I joined the industry eight years ago. I came from outside of the industry. I was a small business consultant for about eight years prior to that, and was hired by TPI to come in and help with their branding, messaging, marketing. I quickly fell in love with the industry and understood that the Travel Advisor specifically was being underserved in the way they were being referred to. We called them “ICs” and “home-based” and it was very demeaning to the individual Travel Advisor who owned their own business, right? You own a travel agency, you just happen to do at your home.

So, long story short, TPI hired me as their VP of Sales and Marketing, and I rebranded, remessaged, just reconfigured everything, and then started diving into the industry helping to educate all advisors on how to be smart business owners from a marketing standpoint, a sales standpoint, setting boundaries, processes—really all about how to build a robust business that has an opportunity for a legacy.

I am now launching a new company for TPI called Vacation Planners, which is a franchise division. So I’ll be the president of that organization here in a few weeks!

Tell us about TPI.

TPI is what the industry refers to as a host agency. We support travel independent travel advisors with their sales, marketing and back office support. We have 5,200 advisors across the country, part-time and full-time. We are known for culture and community and collaboration. We’re family owned, we’ve been in business for 36 years. So it’s very warm, inviting. Our advisors choose us because they feel like there’s a really robust and caring community.

What led you to join the FTA board?

I was approached by Ken Shapiro as well as Ron Gulaskey. They said they need some really fresh perspective, in your face, tell-you-what-to-do type advice on the board, which is what I’m known for. And I’m shocked that not every advisor who’s in the family travel space is part of the FTA. It’s astounding to me, because advisors and agency owners want to be part of associations that speak their language, that support the type of business that they are running or wish to run. And the FTA has a prime opportunity to not just provide a little bit of education, but also to really level up the professionalism of the advisor and agency that’s focusing on family travel.

What’s sort of your personal experience with family travel?

I will tell you, I’m the perfect example of somebody who had the time, the resources and the opportunity to go on a real vacation, but never had a Travel Advisor in my life. So, we never went on them. I have a son, he’s now 35, but we never went on vacation. I think I took them to New York one time and we’d go to the beach, because I didn’t know what to do. And I think that is a challenge that most families have, is having the time. They’re busy coordinating their daily lives and schedules. They don’t have time to create and curate a killer family vacation. So they need travel advisors to be in their face, to say, “Have you ever wanted to go on a great family vacation, but you’re just not sure where to start, where to go and how to make it happen?” You know, as a Travel Advisor who focuses on families, my job is to help ask the right questions to curate an experience so that you guys can finally go on a great family vacation.

Why is family travel important, in your view?

I think it’s important because especially Americans we are go go go, go go go. We want to achieve, achieve, achieve. So not only are the parents going, they’re trying to be the best they can be within their community, and then you have kids that get to a certain age, where they’re, go go go. They want to have extracurricular activities, want to be the best in school. So, we’re not giving ourselves an opportunity to create connections through quiet, through escaping. So you want to have a strong Family Travel Advisor-curated experience that ensures the trip is meeting multiple needs, the parents being able to have some downtime during that vacation because the advisor has set them up in a resort that has babysitters or a place for the kids—one might be super active, one might be a bookworm, they’re getting their alone time and together time, and then all the family together. It’s important that all those facets are met, otherwise it’s not a real family vacation, and it’s about capturing the stories and the memories from the family vacation so that they can look back on it like we used to with slide projectors. When you just do one thing and you don’t know how to capture those memories and then do something with them and build on them for the following year, that’s because you’re just doing a one-off, and I think family travel advisors have an opportunity to guide families through their vacation and story capturing experience.

How are you feeling about travel in 2024 and the years ahead?

People want to travel. They’ve gotten a taste of not traveling, and now they’ve gotten a taste of traveling and traveling right. So it’s only going to get bigger and more. Part of the family dynamic is to travel together. We’re at a crossroads where if we don’t nurture the current advisors in the right way to go for it, to do it, and not to take this as like some sort of side gig that they do every so often, if we do that and we also attract business-minded individuals to open agencies, if we get both of those right, we’re going to be seeing five times the amount of travel that we’re currently experiencing. Easy peasy.

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