A love of cruises and a need to work from home brought Janel Fidalgo to the travel industry eight years ago. Today, she's the owner of the Janel Fidalgo Agency, an independent agency based in her home in Ware, Mass., that is part of the Avoya Travel Network.
Fidalgo broke the $2 million in annual sales mark several years ago and is on track to generate $2.3 million in 2016, her best year ever.
This is despite a concern of travel downturn because of world events, particularly the Zika virus and terrorism attacks that caused some to postpone or cancel vacations. She attributes her strong sales to attentive service and Avoya's Live Leads program, which sends her a steady stream of new customers.
"It's my secret sauce," Fidalgo said of Live Leads. She works weekends and long into the evening to handle customers. "I love it," she said. "I'm passionate about it, and that's why I work so many hours."
Fidalgo said she started "dabbling" in selling travel in 2008 when she found herself as a caregiver for family members at home. She bought a $199 travel agent program but said it was soon clear she wouldn't get the support she needed to build travel sales.
A longtime cruise lover, Fidalgo said her first step after buying the program was to concentrate on what she knew and could sell with confidence: Norwegian Cruise Line. "Because I had cruised with Norwegian already four times as a guest, I knew the process of getting on the ship and what happens at the terminal," she said.
She distributed her business cards all over town and spread the word that she was open for business. The local newspaper ran an article about her and her travel agency. But sales were slow.
On an Norwegian fam cruise, Fidalgo met an Avoya agent and started doing research about the company, attracted by its support service and Live Leads. She joined Avoya and became a top producer for the line. Her sales took off with other cruises lines as she completed all the cruise specialist courses she could find. She then expanded into all-inclusive resorts and land tours and is now moving into river cruises.
Under Live Leads, Fidalgo receives new clients based on her specialties. The clients are then tagged as having previously booked with Fidalgo and they are automatically directed to her when next they contact Avoya.
Fidalgo was one of the first agents to take part in Avoya's effort to encourage its independent agents to operate as corporate entities, such as limited liability companies (LLC), and to have their own errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. There's a big reason to do so: Avoya's Live Leads now are only available to its independent agents who have their own insurance.
Avoya's president, Brad Anderson, said in a statement that there are many benefits that corporate ownership and personal E&O insurance bring to its independent agencies and their customers, such as more business credibility, enhanced reputation and professionalism and reduced business risks.
Fidalgo was enthusiastic about both incorporating her agency as an LLC and getting her own insurance. "It's called peace of mind," she said. "I'm now selling luxury cruise lines, so you're talking $20,000 to $40,000 trips. If I'm sued, wow. And, you know, I'm human, and humans can make mistakes. Insurance is the best way to go."
To home-based agents just starting, Fidalgo has this advice: "It's not going to be all fun in the beginning. You have to start slow and educate yourself. Knowledge is confidence, and the more you know, the more you will sell."