Client Spotlight: Emma Schroeder, Major Traveler
Emma Schroeder of Major Traveler took a chance early on to live her passion of helping people to experience luxury travel and take the trips of their lifetimes. Emma learned to turn her business on a dime when the pandemic struck and how to live her core value of providing stellar customer service for her clients. She has some great advice about taking the leap of faith to start your business and knowing when you need help and how to get it.
Major Traveler and how it started
I own Major Traveler, and we started about five years ago. I had a passion for travel and a business mindset. I kept wondering how to join the two and create this ideal career for myself. Then, I found out that there’s this whole world of travel agents and this whole profession that I had never been exposed to before. That is when I decided to start my own company. We’ve grown into a team of seven over the last two years, which is really exciting. We’re growing a lot. In our company, that passion for travel and business is still combined into one.
We imagine the pandemic had an impact on your business. Can you tell us a little bit about what you went through and what you learned from that?
In the pandemic, we pivoted a little bit in terms of what we were going to promote and be able to offer. Being in the South with some looser COVID requirements compared to other states actually really benefited. We saw a dip, of course, in international travel, but we pivoted to promote places that our clients could drive to, places they could get to just for a breath of fresh air, to get out of the house.
During that time, we definitely saw a dip in our sales numbers and international destinations, but we were really able to push for our clients to explore some really cool options in the States. I think we all learned quite a bit about being out West, Florida options and the east coast of Georgia. Looking back, it was great to learn more about the U.S. and really explore those destinations because we don’t typically get to do that. The pandemic was hard, but we are thankful to be on the up and up.
How do you emphasize customer service in your business?
Customer service is one of those pillars that I really wanted to build our company on. We probably put the client first to a fault, at this point. I really wanted us to be very high touch, very high service level. When our clients travel, they have access to our cell phone numbers and to on-the-ground contacts. We’re able to do and recover from anything they need. We’re quick to fix our mistakes. Putting the client first and letting them know that they’re well taken care of in our hands and the hands of our partners and suppliers—that’s one of the key components that we put above all else.
How do you build relationships with your clients?
We pay a lot of attention to our referrals. Knowing who our clients are affiliated with and what circles they run in gives us a baseline of who they are. Knowing where they live helps. Are they in New York and travel frequently? Are they in the middle of nowhere in Georgia and haven’t been anywhere? We pay attention to those unspoken things about our clients.
We also send out a preference sheet. We get to know their favorite foods. We ask if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions and if they prefer king beds or double beds. We ask all those little things that we can get ahead of and let the hotels know.
One big thing we ask for from clients is their priorities. Is the priority a good view, or is it a big room? Is it being walking distance to a beach or walking distance to a city? Knowing where their priorities lie is one of the biggest things that helps with the details. We always say that luxury is in the details. Understanding those little things and little quirks about clients makes them feel like they’re having a luxury experience regardless of where they are.
What do you love about what you do?
One of my favorite parts about what I do is getting to make clients feel really special. Before clients even arrive, we reach out to a hotel or even a transfer company or any place along their route, and we’ll say, “They’re celebrating their honeymoon. Can you refer to them as Mr. and Mrs. Smith?” or “They just got married this weekend. Can you leave champagne in their room?” We had a client recently who really loved Aperol Spritzes, so they left Aperol Spritzes in their room. Giving those little welcome notes—so our clients know that someone has gone before them to help prepare their stay and has thought about what would make them really happy—is one of my favorite things to do.
We also send a little box of destination-specific treats before they go. It has luggage tags and some branded things. I recently sent a family a little travel coloring book for their young ones and a pasta-making kit, so they could make pasta together and get excited to go to Italy. Those little things where you can make someone’s day or make them feel special is probably one of my favorite parts of what I get to do.
What do you find challenging about what you do?
The details can be a challenge—which is where my assistants come in and have been so key. There are so many little things that have to work together in order to make an experience seamless. If one flight gets canceled, we have to make sure everything is booked properly from that point on and rearranged.
Making sure all of the details line up perfectly is definitely challenging. We need to make sure our clients have the right hotel address, the right transfer for the right destination, at the exact right time. All of that is very challenging to manage and not something I necessarily enjoy spending time on.
Because you’re the middleman, you always take the blame for everything. That’s something that I’m not very good at is accepting fault and moving on. I can dwell on things that weren’t successful for a while.
What’s one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been to?
Probably a safari in Africa. A sunset in Africa. It just doesn’t get much better than that. And then the stars. We just don’t get that level of stars over here.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
My biggest piece of advice would be to take a chance. I remember that I knew I had to quit what I was doing. I was working at a marketing agency at the time. I built this idea and the foundation of this company—the branding, the process—for about seven months while I had this other job. I knew that, in order to start a company, I couldn’t be two things at once. I had gotten myself this far. I had to make the leap and quit my job.
When you start in the travel industry, it’s all commission-based. You don’t make a salary until your clients travel. I knew I was quitting a job with no idea how much I would make starting out. I had a marketing plan. I had everything. I just had to quit my job. I was going to take a chance on myself. If it failed, I would figure it out. I am such a planner, and that was a moment of, “You just have to do this and leap off the mountain and see where you go.”
I think that would be my piece of advice. Don’t try to stretch yourself too thin to start a business. You really have to take a leap, and if you fall, you’ll figure it out.
What do you wish you had known in the beginning?
I wish I had taken something like a back-end business class. Starting a business comes with a lot of questions: How do I start an LLC? Where do I begin with accounting? What insurance do I need as a business owner? What types of lawyers? If all of that had been outlined for me before, it would have made the transition a lot easier. I probably could have set some of those things up beforehand.
That was a really big challenge starting out. There were months where I was not protected with proper lawyers or insurance. I wish I had known some of that prior to starting and had some advice there.
How is it working with VaVa?
It’s phenomenal. I knew I needed help. I had 50 things on a piece of paper that someone could help me with. I had no idea where to start. I had assistants in the past who did great work for me, but at some point, they wanted to leave and do something different. At some point, they weren’t serving my business well, or a life change happened. VaVa felt very stable to me. Something that I could really rely on. If I had any trouble—if someone were to leave—I knew that my Account Success Manager with VaVa would jump in and help me.
It’s been really interesting because my assistant has taken those 50 things and sorted them out into what’s most important. After looking at all those things that I had on paper, one of the first things my VA said was, “There’s a form that could capture all of this information a lot quicker.” It’s been this cool, mutual partnership. I thought it was just going to be someone helping me with tasks, but it’s really been someone helping me get things in order and get things in line. Someone to come along and help me grow, figure out how to grow the business, and get my time back in order to do that.
If a business owner were thinking about hiring a Virtual Assistant from VaVa, what would be the first thing you would tell them?
This is one of the things that my assistant had to press me to do that I could have been more prepared for. Make a list of the five things you need help with the most. Your VaVa assistant can do that on day one. I trained my VA for maybe a day or two and explained how I wanted things done, but once I outlined those five things, she got them done so quickly and really alleviated that time. I was a little nervous throwing things her way. But she did everything I threw her way on day one, and it was amazing—instant help.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I’ve cage-dived with great white sharks before. A travel fun fact. I was in South Africa about five or six years ago. I jumped in the water in a cage, which is relatively safe, with some large great white sharks and another 10-foot kind of shark. It was a really neat experience. I would never skydive or bungee jump, but I would get in a cage with great whites. That is about as far as my adrenaline will go.
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