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Hidden Gems: Meet Marci Jennings of Design Your Vacation

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marci Jennings.

Marci, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I fell in love with traveling on my first international trip to Grand Cayman in 2000 and vowed to make it a priority in my life going forward. At that time, my travel budget was limited so in order to be able to travel each year; it required careful planning and lots of research to get creative in order to make it work. Soon my friends and family all knew me as the travel guru in my network as I would share what I found, where I went, and the best deals out there. At the time, I was a physical therapist and loved treating my patients and never saw a change in careers on the horizon. After I had kids, I found myself counting my PTO hours and trying to juggle how to make everything work as a full-time working parent and I started to get the itch to find something more flexible. I tried my hand at sales, marketing health and wellness products very part-time alongside my physical therapy career and I discovered my love of entrepreneurship!

I continued on that journey for several years alongside physical therapy when I met a client that told me that she was a Disney travel agent. I was so intrigued and asked more about what she did and she shared with me that she always worked to find the best deal for her clients, provided tips to enhance their vacation, and all of this was at no extra cost to them. I recall asking her right away, “Does your company plan beach vacations because I would do that for free?” Months later, I ran into the same client and she told me the company she was affiliated with had branched out to provide worldwide vacation planning and she asked if I wanted to look into it. I jumped at the opportunity to use my entrepreneurial skills in travel! I started alongside my physical therapy career and my book of business grew rapidly to the point where I made travel my full-time career. I started as an independent travel agent affiliated with a local agency in Kansas City and met and learned from many amazing colleagues during that time.

In November 2019, I decided it was time for me to launch my own travel agency so I could continue to book my own clients but also share my knowledge to teach and train other agents as well! Little did we know that Covid-19 was right around the corner and would completely change the travel landscape. As travel agents, most of us in the industry work completely on commission and we only get paid once our clients actually travel… little/no travel meant little/no income for the foreseeable future and it was a scary time. Many of us had to navigate paths we never expected, like unemployment, PPP loans, and leaning on family to allow us to continue to do what we love. One of the most challenging things during that time was the fact that most of us were working more than 40 hours a week making changes/assisting with cancellations/and fighting for our client’s refunds while we received no income since the trips were not actually happening. It was very different from being out of work; it was working full time with no pay for the foreseeable future!

The good news during that time is that we were able to secure many deals for clients in hopes that they would be able to finally travel in 2021 and once the vaccine rollout happened this spring, travel demand was at an all-time high! I am so glad I stayed the course and seeing clients travel again now and make memories has never felt sweeter! My agency just celebrated our largest month ever for new bookings and our largest month ever for traveled bookings as well and I couldn’t be more proud of all of my agents for also staying the course and staying positive even though our jobs are so much more complex than they used to be as we continue to navigate the effects of the pandemic on travel.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Other than my struggles already discussed surrounding the pandemic and its impact on our business, at the beginning of my career in travel, the most difficult part was juggling it alongside my other job. Since we don’t get paid until clients travel, we often work months ahead with clients and don’t see any income from it until much later. I wasn’t in a financial place to walk away from my steady income in physical therapy and when my business grew rapidly, it was difficult to figure out the best time to make the move to full time in travel. Once I moved my focus to travel only, another thing I struggled with was creating boundaries and finding good work/life balance. I think this is a common issue with entrepreneurs! I work from home (or from anywhere) and love the flexibility it provides, but that also makes it difficult to know when to shut off work and just be present for my loved ones! I am definitely still a work in progress on this, but I am proud of the progress I have made with this, especially since the pandemic.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
We provide complimentary trip planning services to worldwide destinations! I strive to meet or beat any price a client would find online and save the client all the time of planning. I use my expertise to customize the trip based on the individual client’s desires so they can just focus on creating memories! My personal specialty is beach vacations and pre-pandemic I would typically visit about 50 resorts annually so I could stay up to date on what’s new, how they compare, and what type of client would most enjoy each one. I love the process of matching the right vacation with the right client and I also love getting to know my clients over the course of time and booking them year after year on new adventures! We book leisure, luxury, and family travel to all destinations… from solo travelers to couples, destination wedding groups, friend/family small group travel, and most everything in between!

How do you think about luck?
As an entrepreneur, I think often you create your own luck. I was at a personal development conference lead by Keith Kochner years ago and he repeated the phrase, “Little step, little step, little step, look for the opportunity,” over and over again and it stuck with me! Building a successful business doesn’t happen overnight and it requires a lot of work when no one is watching. The last three years have been challenging for me both personally and professionally, but I also can see the growth I have had during that same time period and I am thankful for the journey!

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