Local travel business offers best of online and 'real' worlds

Deb Schmitt’s skydiving adventure wouldn’t have occurred without her side job as an online travel agent. - Charlie Bermant
Deb Schmitt’s skydiving adventure wouldn’t have occurred without her side job as an online travel agent.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

Consumers are bombarded with contradictions, hearing about fantastic Internet deals while learning that supporting local merchants helps the regional economy. But the owner and operator of an online travel business doesn’t think the two ideas are mutually exclusive.

“In order to succeed in today’s economy, every business needs to have an Internet presence,” said Deb Schmitt, who runs the local YTB (Your Travel Biz) franchise. “But you can back it up with personal service.”

Schmitt, 55, hooked up with YTB (inXXX) as a means to prepare for her retirement.

A veteran SKHS teacher, she realized the need for extra income for this purpose and knew that home-based operations are one of the few opportunities to make money and not be forced to pay high taxes in order to maintain the business.

Customers log on to the Web site in order to book flights, cars, hotels, cruises or vacations.

The interface is familiar to most, starting with dates and destinations and working through the various options.

Once the process begins, Schmitt handles the booking for anyone within her sales area.

“About 85 percent of people who travel prefer to book their trips online,” Schmitt said. “And if they book through my site, I get the referral fee instead of a big company located out of the area.”

Many people are getting wise to the “buy local” idea, that hiring your neighbor is better for the community than shopping outside the area.

The decider is usually cost, since people who are willing to buy local will not do so if it costs them 25 percent more.

Schmitt said that her customers don’t need to pay a premium to shop local, that in all cases she can match or beat any other online price.

Further, she hears of special deals that may not be widely advertised on Expedia or Orbitz.

“If I know where you want to go on vacation, I can keep my eye out for good deals,” she said. “For instance, I just heard of a Mexican vacation, three days and four nights, that cost $187 including airfare.”

Schmitt said that a lot of people like to do their own research, but appreciate the personal touch she provides.

She is always available for phone support, and often meets her customers at their homes to provide travel advice.

Even as the economy suffers people are still traveling, according to Schmitt.

“People are still taking trips and they are looking for good deals,” she said. “And if they are going to a specific destination on a business trip we can find them things to do during their spare time.”

This includes concert tickets and local attractions that may no be well known, according to Schmitt.

While Schmitt embraces technological tools, she is conducting business the old fashioned way.

She has joined the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce, and says she is the only travel agent to do so. This has helped her to develop new contacts and stay in touch with the community, so if a chamber member needs help booking a trip they will call her first.

“The Internet is a tool,” Schmitt said. “Some people will find it easy to understand, while others have a mental block and won’t be able to run an online business. But you don’t need to understand how it works in order to use it.”

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