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May 16, 1994|JANICE L. JONES

TUSTIN — Sharon McManus, general manager of American Travel in Tustin, says that although the travel industry is constantly changing, the key to success in her field is consistent customer service.

"We have nothing tangible to give our clients except service," said McManus, who began her travel career 15 years ago. "I have a plaque on my office wall that says, 'Follow the Habit of Rendering More and Better Service Than You Are Paid to Render.' It's a great thing to remember because it will win you repeat customers and keep you in business."

McManus got her start in the travel industry while working at Emulex Corp., a Costa Mesa computer firm. As assistant to the president, she was responsible for making business travel arrangements and planning out-of-town meetings. Eventually she formed an in-house corporate travel department at Emulex. Two years ago, she became general manager of an independent travel agency in Tustin, handling both vacation and business travel.

"There are lots of rewards in this field, especially if you enjoy change," said McManus, who likes the excitement and pace of corporate travel as much as the fun of planning vacations. "I get to live out my travel fantasies through my clients. Someone is always heading off someplace fantastic, and I get to help map it all out."

McManus said she has found that the keys to success in keeping clients are consistency and enthusiasm. She makes sure that corporate clients get the same agent when they call the agency for help planning a trip. "That way the agent learns the client's likes and dislikes. We build profiles on people to remind us where they like to sit on a plane, what kind of bed they prefer, what kind of car they like to rent," she said. In going the extra mile for a customer, "the rewards will always come back twofold in some form or another."

OCCUPATION: Travel Agent

* What's involved: Agents plan trips for individuals and groups. They make arrangements for lodgings, tours, meetings and transportation. Some specialize in vacation travel, others in business accounts.

* Qualifications: Most complete a one-year course offered by community colleges or trade schools. Training includes instruction in computers, communication and customer service skills, and airline and cruise ship fare structures.

* Prospects: One of the 10 fastest-growing job fields in Orange County.

* Outlook: By 1998, the number of agents is projected to increase by 15.4%, to 1,720.

* Salary range: Typically $1,200-$1,800 per month plus commissions.

* Pros: Agents are eligible for reduced rates on hotel and resort lodgings, air fare, car rentals, and train tickets in the United States and abroad.

* Cons: Must adapt to a variety of client temperaments and needs.

* Advancement: May become travel agency or corporate travel managers. Many open their own agencies.

* Quote: "Service is what we are all about. I teach my staff to treat every client as though they were about to lose them. That way each client gets the best possible treatment." --Sharon McManus, general manager, American Travel

Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times

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