Travel Weekly's 2017 Power List

Power List Profile: Small World Vacations

Small World Vacations (No. 59) enters the Power List in 2017 with over $100 million in sales that overwhelmingly come from a single brand: Disney.

Sue Pisaturo, the founder and president, fell in love with all things Disney in 1984 when she went to Disneyland for her honeymoon "on a whim." She didn't return to the park until 1993 when she took her children and came upon the "Unofficial Guide to Disney," a guidebook that, she said, "spoke to my practical side."

Using that book and her own experience, she started teaching a class called "How to Survive Your Disney Vacation" in local schools. After one class, a woman approached her and offered to pay Pisaturo to plan a Disney vacation for her family.

"I am an entrepreneur," said Pisaturo, who had been running a day care business, "and I saw an opportunity.

Pisaturo took a course at a community college in New Jersey to become an outside agent, and she began selling only Disney. She got clients from her continuing classes, which focused on saving money and time in navigating Disney parks.

She launched her business in 1996, trademarking the tagline: "Where the Magic Begins." She stresses to her agents that "the magic should begin with the first call."

With the advent of the Internet, Pisaturo became an active contributor to newsgroups that revolved around Disney, including one called Mousesavers, which featured discounts at Disney parks. She writes for the Mousesavers newsletter to this day.

As her business grew, Pisaturo approached parents in her town who were active in schools and brought them aboard to work with her.

"When I started," recalled Pisaturo, "there were few if any other Disney agents, and now there are many who call themselves that. Early on I went to a Disney event and told a Disney representative I was going to specialize in selling Disney. She said, 'Good luck with that.' But I knew that what I was selling was happiness, so I was confident I would succeed."

Today, Small World's volume is roughly half Disney Cruise Line and half Walt Disney World with a bit of business in Disney Vacations, Disneyland and Royal Caribbean (when clients request it). Every week she gets between 75 and 100 rebookings from clients onboard Disney ships. Her agents are all located in the U.S., but her clients come from all over the world.

Pisaturo visits Disney World monthly to update herself, meet with her representative and see other Disney associates. Last year, she went on four Disney cruises.

In family-friendly Disney style, both her daughter and husband work with her at least part-time, and she has nieces elsewhere in the country who help with hiring outside agents.

"We are looking for people who have a certain attitude and will fit in with our culture," Pisaturo said.

Her business model includes "routing leads to the agent who is best suited for it.

"We have it down to if a client has twins we'll send them to an agent who has twins," she said. "Our agents have to show clients they are providing value. We require that agents have stayed in a different Walt Disney World onsite resort for three or more nights within the last five years. And they must have sailed on a Disney cruise before we send them any cruise leads."

Small World agents, said Pisaturo, have been on more than 400 Disney cruises among them, and each one typically goes to a Disney park once a year.

Pisaturo is grateful to Disney itself.

"When I started they didn't know what to make of me but have always been supportive," she said. "I could not have done it without them. I had no corporate background, and they were there to help. We even take trips to their call centers to meet with those people."

Pisaturo has been on the Disney agent advisory board twice.

She is looking for further growth.

"Our agents help people's dreams come true, and that's the same for our agents," she said. "Many do very well, much better than they could otherwise."

Pisaturo said she believes that "millennials are obsessed with Disney." To reach them she partners with an Instagram influencer called Bucket List Narratives.

The model has worked well: Small World has been on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies for the past six years. 

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