Allen Mitchem didn’t start out wanting to be a travel agent. His intention was to become a teacher, but while working at a hotel during his time at San Francisco State, he fell in love with the hospitality industry.
“Every day was different and you get to meet people from all around the world,” said Mitchem, who is with Travel Experts. “I had the opportunity to work in some very upscale establishments and make truly memorable stays for our guests. For example, we had an opera singer was allergic to flowers, so we took out the normal bouquet in her suite and replaced it with chocolate roses.”
Mitchem moved to the agency side of the business 20 years ago when he moved to North Carolina. He was unable to find a hotel job when an agency job opened up. “It required good negotiation skills for getting the best arrangements for bands and for their other clients,” he said. “Since I had hotel experience I knew who to talk to and what we could request. I still use that to this day and I make sure my clients have outstanding, memorable experiences when they are traveling.”
He decided to focus on Adventure Travel, safari in particular after he visited Kenya on a fam trip years ago. “I fell in love with the places, the people and the wildlife,” he said. “Many manmade things on this earth are wonderful, but safari does not need the hand of man at all. It is an emotional awakening, a cultural experience, and you are going to meet friends that you will have for the rest of your life.”
Mitchem said that the skills that he developed while on the hospitality side, especially talking and listening to hotel guests, helped him to prepare to work with his clients when he became a travel advisor.
“I work to find out what the client’s vision is and how we bring our experience to help them realize their vision,” he said. “One other critical skill is attention to detail, if one digit is off on a confirmation code or contact number, there can be problems. Little details, such as what the local time is that they arrive, or how long it will take to clear customs in Rome, is all critical. I work out these details to ensure my clients do not have any worries.”
His busy day begins at 5 a.m. with, he said, ‘getting emails out to the other side of the world so that I can get an answer back the same day,” he said. “Then I head into my real office and spend the day seeing clients, working on new itineraries and managing the many details that keep my clients coming back for more. I only book three client meetings a day at most, because I want to give them my full attention and not rush them. My day wraps about 5pm.
To do his job well, Mitchem said that he continually updates his research skills. “Things change quickly,” he said. “I know I am well versed, but I continue to ask questions and verify what the current situation is and what the new needs might be. The only surprises I want for my clients are the good surprises that I plan for them.”
To others entering the industry, Mitchem advises them to be personable. “It will serve you well,” he said. “You will be able to build a bond with your clients if you look them in the eye and listen attentively to what they are saying. They might not even know what they want, but if you listen you can figure out the right answer. Adaptability to new technology is helpful as well.”
He describes his business as ‘helping my travelers book lifelong memories,’ a responsibility he takes very seriously. “You can lose your home, or other belongings, but you will always have the travel memory,” he said.