ST. LOUIS -- Maritz Travel books itineraries for thousands of
business travelers every year. However, any of them would be
hard-pressed to match the battle-hardened status of an army of
travelers employed by Maritz.
They are travel directors, employees who provide on-site
customer service for corporate meetings and incentive trips.
Officially, travel directors are employed by Maritz's group
travel division, which provides staff for 1,100 to 1,300 events per
year, accounting for approximately $520 million in annual sales
volume, said Tim Cole, vice president of operations for the travel
Cole said many travel management companies employ travel
director staffs, but he said he believes Maritz's is unique because
of its sheer size.
Currently, Maritz employs 140 full-time travel directors and 135
part-timers. Most of the full-timers are based in St. Louis but
live out of a suitcase.
"Our full-timers travel between 240 and 255 days per year," said
Part-time travel directors are scattered throughout the country
and work a more flexible schedule.
Ann Smith, director of program operations, said travel directors
generally arrive at a destination two to seven days before a
meeting or incentive trip. When the meeting or trip ends, full-time
travel directors fly home, report to the home office and turn in
billing information. Within a few days, they'll likely be hitting
the road again.
Apparently, a full-time travel director won't be investing in
season tickets for the St. Louis Cardinals or spending much time
grocery shopping. Who is doing this kind of work? The typical
full-timer, said Cole, is college-educated, single, 26 years old
and does not necessarily have a background in travel
"A lot of travel directors live with their parents or live
modestly," added Cole. The typical part-timer is 50 to 55 years old
with job experience in the travel industry -- perhaps with
airlines, cruise lines and destination management companies, said
The youthfulness of the full-time travel director makes sense:
Professionals looking to settle down and start a family wouldn't
want to live in hotels 250 days per year. However, recent college
graduates who want the opportunity to see the world might find the
position of full-time travel director appealing, said Cole. He
should know. He was hired as a Maritz travel director 21 years ago
at age 21.
Of course, working as a travel director is a far cry from
vacationing at Club Med. There's considerable pressure involved in
the job, Cole said.
"People know Maritz from the travel staff they encounter on
site," he said. "Clients have traveled with us for years. We must
meet certain service levels and expectations."
Among the tasks that travel directors perform, Cole said, are
the basics like managing hotel room blocks, greetings at the
airport, overseeing banquet service, arranging transportation,
organizing tours, packaging meetings materials and ensuring that
clients' expenditures don't exceed their budgets.
However, travel directors are regularly asked to go the extra
mile, said Cole -- handling attendees' flight changes or
re-stuffing meeting packets at the last minute, for example.
Last year, during an incentive trip in Egypt, a client asked
travel directors to organize an evacuation and complete itinerary
change after the U.S. government issued a travel warning for that
region when the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in Yemen.
"It's their job to head off problems and come up with other
options," said Cole. "They're expected to do everything and
anything on site that's legal and ethical."
As no one will be looking over their shoulders when on the road,
travel directors are expected to have specific "intangible
qualities," said Cole.
"We look for people who show leadership, are decision-makers and
are creative problem solvers," said Cole. "Those are difficult
qualities to ascertain in a 90-minute interview."
Maritz usually has to sift through about 2,500 to 3,000 resumes
per year, said Cole. From that pool, Maritz must hire between 40
and 55 full-timers per year.
The high turnover rate, not surprisingly, is attributed to the
stress of constantly traveling. A full-time travel director usually
stays on the job an average of three years, said Cole, who added
that the average part-timer has nine years' experience at
"Sometimes, they're gone for stretches of 45 days at a time
without coming back to St. Louis," said Cole. "They do burn out
over a period of time."
Cole said about 45% of full-time travel directors eventually
work for Maritz in another capacity, especially in
Full-timers usually start at a salary of $22,500, said Cole.
Their uniforms, accommodations, dry cleaning and meals are paid for
by Maritz. Part-timers are paid on a per diem basis, said Cole.
Their experience level is taken into account in determining their
wages. New full-time hires are required to attend a four-week
classroom training session, said Smith.
Activities include role playing, in which someone acts as a
demanding customer, and the trainee is asked to respond as he or
she would on the road. Trainees also learn how to manage room
blocks and expenditures on a laptop.
Full-time: Fun for the young
ST. LOUIS -- After six years of undergraduate and graduate
studies at Central Missouri State University, Shannon Schneider was
ready for something different and exciting.
One day, a friend who worked as a full-time travel director at
Maritz Travel gave her a call and asked her to join her.
"She said, 'I'm in Paris on my balcony,' " recalled Schneider,
28. "It sounded like fun."
Schneider pursued it, and today, after two-plus years on the
job, her initial assessment was right. It's been fun.
"Best travel I've ever had," she said.
Her job has taken her to memorable venues like the 2000 Summer
Olympics in Sydney and exotic locations like game camp reserves in
Tanzania and Kenya. It's not all glamorous though. Clients who go
on expensive corporate incentive trips expect a high level of
"In Sydney, a group asked us if we could get them additional
gymnastics tickets," said Schneider. "We had to figure out how to
Gymnastics is one of the most popular sports in the Summer
Olympics. Tickets aren't easy to come by at the last minute. But
Schneider and fellow travel directors came through.
"This job teaches you that you can make things happen," she
said. "You never know until you ask."
In Africa, some attendees wanted to call home and touch base
with loved ones. However, Schneider said some area codes in the
U.S. couldn't be reached from the hotel in which they were
"We had to call people in area codes that worked and have them
relay messages," she said. "We often have to come up with creative
solutions. Some requests that we get are outrageous and
time-consuming," Schneider added. "But we always have a lot of
Schneider relishes the camaraderie among travel directors. They
arrive at a destination a few days in advance in order to prepare
for the task at hand, but the travel directors also have some time
to see the sights.
"We're all in this together," said Schneider. "You meet great
friends in this job. A friend of mine back home got sick of me
telling all the stories. She decided she wanted to have fun,
Despite the great times, Schneider envisions that she'll stop
working as a travel director soon. It's hard to have a personal
life when you're on the road all the time.
Schneider likes working at Maritz, though, and said she may stay
with the company in another capacity.
"I'm getting to the point where I can go into some of the
aspects in planning these trips."
Director finds her profession 'hardest job I've ever
ST. LOUIS -- During a port stop on a cruise vacation, Diane
Schwarz spotted Maritz travel directors conducting a corporate
incentive program in Curacao.
She approached the Maritz employees and asked them questions
about their profession. When she arrived home, Schwarz, who is
coincidentally from St. Louis, applied for a part-time job.
She was hired. That was 24 years ago. What keeps her interested
in remaining a travel director?
"I always say that there are no two destinations alike, no two
assignments alike and no two clients alike," Schwarz said. "Every
job, every program is a new opportunity. I tell people it's the
hardest job I've ever loved."
When Schwarz first started, she had daughters in the seventh and
eighth grades and was on the road about 14 days out of each
"You have to have the gypsy in your soul and help from your
family to do the job successfully," she said.