Justyna Smith built up a modest Instagram following, and she's used that, plus word of mouth, to run a four-woman luxury travel agency that's making money. Many businesses decide to market wherever the customers are; in Smith's case, the customers came to her and the business followed.
Justyna Smith, 34, and her boutique travel agency, Two Nights In, are among a new breed of travel advisors who are redefining the concept of turning lookers into bookers.
The idea initially revolved around convincing consumers browsing a website to stop just playing around and buy something.
But Smith, a luxury travel advisor, has literally taken viewers of her Instagram pics of hotels, food, and destinations, and converted them into bookers of luxury vacations, including everything from romantic weekend getaways to honeymoons.
Smith’s transition from film production supervisor and avid traveler into a Protravel home-based agent in Los Angeles with three other independent contractors under her wing began toward the end of 2015. Smith and her husband loved to travel and posted photos on Instagram of places they had been, and also destinations on their bucket lists.
They got married late that year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and honeymooned in France and Italy, documenting their trips there and elsewhere with photos and videos. Along the way, they attracted a modest social media following.
“I was getting random inquiries about trip planning,” Smith said. She had used an Altour travel agency to plan her own honeymoon, and mused, “I thought this could actually become something.”
It didn’t hurt, too, that Smith didn’t have a particular passion for the film work she was doing, so was open to something new.
Smith became an independent contractor with Protravel International Beverly Hills in California, and took a training class in how to book flights and other trip elements in the global distribution system. She learned the Sabre commands, and was off to the races as a travel agent within a few months.
Like most other agents, Smith opts to use the Sabre commands to search and book in the global distribution system because of their efficiency rather than point-and-click options, which aren’t as fast and comprehensive.
Smith said she gets about 40 percent of her leads from Instagram; a majority of her clients are younger than 50. Her clients come from all over the world, and the trips she plans are global. Many clients are interested in weddings and honeymoons, and other bookings likewise involve couples looking for romantic getaways.
The average room rate for the stays Smith books are around $500 per night, but sometimes clients spend $2,500 per night. At times, Smith works with a wedding planner in Honolulu.
On Instagram, Two Nights In, which has more than 5,600 followers, displays saved stories about destinations including Thailand, Hong Kong, Santa Barbara, Sumba, Bali, and Los Angeles. Users can select the Thailand story, for example, and view videos with a sound track about Trisara Resort and the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. Within all of the stories, users can message Two Nights In.
The agency name comes from the fact that Smith believes it takes at least a two-night stay to adequately get a feel for a new destination.
The Two Nights In Instagram also has options for clients to phone or email the agency.
Smith said she usually starts new client relationships with a phone call to understand their preferences, and then most follow-up communications take place through emails.
Three years in operation, Two Nights In now has three independent contractors, all women, affiliated with it, along with Smith, who owns the operation.
It is tied into Protravel, which is part of Travel Leaders and is affiliated with Virtuoso. Smith said she gets compensated by Protravel, which takes a cut when she works with its clients, but has her own client base, boosted by Instagram and word-of mouth, too.
Don Jones, senior vice president of West Coast operations for Protravel, said Smith is showing that Instagram can be a fruitful platform for travel advisors, even though some struggle to turn followers into paying customers.
“Justyna is doing everything right,” said Jones. “She has created a strong following on her social media channels and converted that following to buying customers. She has added to her team individuals who have a sphere of influence but require mentoring and training in the travel space. It turns out she is a great teacher and all of this is paying off.”
Jones said that Smith has doubled her revenue over the past 12 months.
Smith said becoming a travel advisor is an attractive field for younger, as well as older professionals.
“It can be tough, but it’s not cutthroat,” Smith said. “Anyone who likes to travel and is interested in it can do it.”
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Photo credit: Luxury travel advisor Justyna Smith of Two Nights In on Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay July 9, 2018. Justyna Smith