B Yourself Sofia Markovich


Name: Sofia Markovich

Owner: Sofia’s Travel, LLC

Age: 42

Hometown: Cologne, Germany before moving to San Diego, California 16 years ago and now I reside in beautiful Birmingham, Alabama

How did you start Sofia’s Travel, LLC and when did you start working as a travel agent?

My passion has always been to travel since I was very young. I have been blessed in my life to have been able to visit all seven continents, over 100 countries, and far too many cities to list.  An interesting footnote is that only 0.02 percent of the total world population ever visits all seven continents. I am well on my way to visiting all continents for the second go around to different locations. The beauty of travel is there is a never-ending adventure always waiting.  It was just natural that one day I would turn my passion into my business. I realized early on there was a very real need for specialized attention to be given to clients because one size does not fit all when it comes to vacations. That  was the inspiration and foundation for starting my own company. Sofia’s Travel, LLC is celebrating its fifth year in business.

What does that entail?

Becoming a Travel Professional does require certifications, licenses, product training and continuing education to maintain your expertise and status.  At Sofia’s Travel, LLC we are Travel Insiders, which is a level only a few Travel Professionals in the industry achieve. This means that we are destination experts and offer our clients exceptional insider knowledge.  All of us at Sofia’s Travel LLC are from different parts of the world and are native to the continents in which we specialize, in addition to speaking the language. We are well traveled, which has become our standard and one our clients appreciate.  What sets our boutique agency apart from the rest is that each of us is committed, consistent and persistent on behalf of our clients and passionate to make sure they always have a once in a lifetime experience.

What are the biggest benefits of using a travel agent?

The simple answer is to provide personalized services so the client can enjoy every aspect of their vacation worry free.  The benefit of using Sofia’s Travel LLC is that we take the time to build a relationship with our clients so we know what they like and exactly what they are looking for in their vacation. Our business is built on providing highly specialized services and the best part is it is free.

How have you adapted to the rise of online booking?

There will always be people that will book on line and simply take what is offered not knowing there is something better. We separate ourselves from the very first time you call, because we know you are unique. We immediately start to get to know you and what you are looking for in a vacation. Our services are for travelers that want the specialized attention their vacation investment deserves.  The interesting thing is most times utilizing our service doesn’t cost more than what it would  by booking on line through a travel engine or directly with a provider. As a matter of fact I would say we provide more bang for the buck because we have the advantage of industry affiliations and direct access to exclusive benefits that provide additional offers not available on line. In addition, you get our insider knowledge and services that you would be missing because you are limited to the one product. We believe your vacation is more than just a few clicks!

It seems that using a travel agent can help people feel less frustrated in stressful travel situations. Do you get a lot of clients calling who are stressed and looking to you to solve their problems?

Absolutely! Chaos reigns with all of the details and issues that are out of people’s control that can go wrong. Can you imagine booking on line and not having a resource to fall back on especially if you have spent thousands of dollars on your vacation? Circumstances can impact both the new and seasoned traveler which is why I always say just let us handle every aspect of your vacation so all you have to do is show up and start enjoying yourself. Why do you want to wear yourself out before you even leave with unexpected changes and updates to plans.

Tell us one of your most valuable/rewarding experiences as a travel agent…

The single most rewarding experience is when a client comes back and tells you about their trip like they were the first people to ever have had that experience. It is simple but that’s when we know we have done our job. Of course, the ultimate compliment is their repeat business and eventual referral of friends and family. I may be a little old school but I believe word of mouth is still the best way to advertise and I can honestly say our clients are our biggest fans.

 Do you use a travel agent? Or do you use your expertise to book travel for yourself?

Today I handle all of my personal travel because I am the one sampling the product to make sure our client’s needs are always met and exceeded. Before I always used a travel agency to book my vacations. Of course in Europe and other parts of the world, there are agencies on every corner and everyone takes full advantage of this free service!

What’s the hardest thing about your job?

When you are passionate about what you do and simply love every aspect of the business, it isn’t really a job and there isn’t anything hard about it. I love what I do and I do it with people I love and feel blessed every day that I get to share the adventure.

If I did have to choose the hardest thing about my job I would say winning someone’s trust after they have had a bad experience booking their own vacation or problems with larger agencies or clubs that are simply turning numbers. There always seems to be a level of doubt in the beginning that what we offer is different. Then they go on their trip and come back saying they will never go without our services again.

That’s why it is important for us to build a relationships with our clients based on mutual respect, trust and honesty.  This is our objective from the very first contact and once they have experienced our services we have won their trust for life.

 Can you share what a day in the life of a travel agent is like?

I would say there really isn’t a typical day as the best part of my business is that it can be done anywhere in the world. I have negotiated agency takeovers while I was in Antarctica and have booked a client’s anniversary trip while on a river cruise in Europe. Technology allows me to stay connected no matter where I am in the world, so my day can be sitting in my home office or meeting with my team via video call a half a world away.

Relationship building is the key and the lifeline of my business so my day can be meeting clients for coffee, lunch, their office, their home, my office or maybe we are traveling together planning their next vacation.

Everything I do each day has some connection with my business and with the international community through my work and long term commitment to the United Nations, Sister Cities International and other international organizations. Giving back and being effective in my spheres of influence is a large part of my daily life.

 Most desperate vacation-seekers, take the knee jerk reaction of heading online to make their reservations. The lure of internet convenience and control quickly turns into confusion, indecisiveness and anxiety not to mention a huge time suck. Do you receive emails pleading for help from these exact problems from would-be vacationers?

I have found this to be more of a cultural challenge and what you may be used to doing. For example, in Europe the majority of people book through an agency because they are so prevalent. Here, most people have been conditioned to believe they are getting the better deal on line and are in control if they do it themselves which is just not factual. Most times they are not comparing the same things which leads them to panic and call at the least minute for relief.

Do travel agents cost or save travelers?

Without question we save our client’s time and money, as we are able to consult and advise, saving them from the overwhelming task of handling every small detail. Also, keep in mind suppliers are very supportive of us and are always encouraging clients to use a Travel Professional.

Beyond pricing, as a travel agent, do you have the buying power to get extra amenities like ship board credits or insider tours that can also enhance a traveler’s vacation?

Absolutely! Our clients enjoy exclusive benefits and offers from our network affiliation and long term relationship with suppliers to give us a buying advantage power. The exclusive benefits and rates we provide our clients most times are not published therefore they would never have access to these benefits on line or see them publically advertised.

How many hours (on average) do you save travelers?

Our effort is to turn your vacation into a journey. That effort should take time and not be rushed. We are not a call center and handle each client’s request with exceptional care to the very smallest detail. We recognize the value of your time and ensure every meeting and/or phone call with our client is scheduled to make sure we cover every detail needed to create a vacation they are looking for, one better than anything they have previously experienced.  Once we have completed this part of our service, we take it from there putting it altogether in a finished dream vacation package. After that, it is simply a matter of reviewing via the phone or email for the client’s final confirmation and approval. To book an average two week vacation with transfers, tours, sailings, etc. I would say takes weeks. It literally takes that much time to create a specialized vacation versus getting a vacation in a box with a couple of clicks. If you are going to spend thousands of dollars on a vacation, which process would you rather experience to ensure your desires are met?

How can you help navigate and protect travelers and their investment?

Travel protection is a necessary part of your vacation budget.  Personally, I purchase my travel protection annually so I never worry about it before or during my travel. Ninety-nine percent of our clients understand this, but there is always that one percent that feels it isn’t necessary and worth the risk. There are far too many factors out of anyone’s control not to protect an investment like a vacation.

How does having contacts and connections help your travelers?

It gets them the little extras they otherwise would never know exist.  Sometimes these can be memorable experiences that last a lifetime.

What are your specialized areas of expertise?

We specialize in all seven continents and every mode of travel imaginable, from ocean and river cruises to private and guided vacations to unique all-inclusive resorts to some of the most exotic destinations in the world. We are only limited by the adventurous side of our clients as there is nothing we cannot do to create your dream vacation. Travel agents prevent hassles.  Most DIY travel people don’t realize if there is a HUGE difference between great value and the cheapest price. For example, you may pay a really low price for your family’s flight but that doesn’t mean you’ll make your connecting flight. This could result in an unexpected camp out at the airport terminal and the out of pocket loss for the vacation days you’re missing. A good travel agent knows certain airports require longer connection times than others to prevent problems. This is just one of many examples that “trips” up online travelers.

Can you share what airports this is most likely to happen and how you become a hero in the process?

Air travel at best is a roll of the dice. Weather can effect travel at one airport impacting the flight at your airport as you may be waiting for a plane or even the crew assigned to your flight.  We have all experienced this at one time or another. If an airport is under runway construction, which is very common today as domestic airports upgrade, then ground delays occur potentially causing you to miss connections. The only thing I advise is to always leave enough time between connections and pack patience.

 Is it true that travel agents can babysit reservations and have lower prices or sales applied to your reservation, even after your initial deposit has been made?

We always advise our clients to plan ahead and book early for the best options, promotions and rates.  Most bookings are open two years in advance and that’s usually when you get the best deals eliminating most of the price fluctuations. That being said we are always monitoring on our clients behalf and should there be any change for the better then we will work to get the price adjustment before final payment is due dependent on the product policy. That is another reason why you should use a travel expert because this will not happen when booking directly.

Do travel agents offer affordable payment plans?

Most people don’t know that you can secure your vacation and rate well in advance with a low deposit. Final payments are usually due, dependent on your vacation package, approximately 60-120 days prior to departure. This means you can save and/or pay as you go prior to your final payment due date.  Early booking is the key so it is better to plan ahead and to allow the best options and lowest rates. Another big trend today is giving the gift of travel like honeymoon vacations, milestone anniversaries, multi-generational family travel, etc.  This is usually paid in full by the person and / or group gifting which also, if booked early enough, can be paid over time.

Do travel agents work as your troubleshooter?

Our close relationship with our industry networks, suppliers and vendors both domestically and in the country where you are vacationing is very important. We work to handle all details prior so a lot of work goes in behind the scenes to prevent the need for troubleshooting.   However, we are here for our clients during their entire journey to make sure they are having an exceptional travel experience no matter where they are in the world.  I would say the need for troubleshooting may exist more for on line bookings and good luck calling one of the booking engines for help. I don’t believe there is a button for you to click for that …

The number one reason why travelers hire you?

Expertise

Favorite Travel Quote:

“Travel – it leaves you speechless, then turns you in to a story teller”

How can readers find you?

Visit our website at SofiasTravel.com to meet your personal travel insider and learn more about their experience and expertise.  

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