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Travel By Nelson: travel, personalized

Renee Emerick, owner Sheree Powers, Maurrissa Kern and Bobbie Zerwas make up the Travel By Nelson team of vacation specialists. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)

Woodbury, the internet and the world has changed since Sheree Powers began in the travel industry in 1980.

Travel By Nelson started in 1986, at then-newly christened Seasons Market mall near the intersection of Seasons Parkway and Radio Drive, and in 1998, Powers joined Gary and Sandra Schmidt's team of travel agents. Travel By Nelson occupies the corner spot in the mall.

Powers was in the right place at the right time, she said, because the owners of the travel agency that still bears Sandra Schmidt's maiden name were looking for an employee buyer for their business. After shepherding and grooming Powers to run the business, Powers purchased Travel By Nelson in 1999.

At that time, growth in young Woodbury had just started to boom.

Travel By Nelson's clients were split 50-50 travel for pleasure and travel for business, Powers said.

Businesspeople typically used the travel agency for booking domestic flights and hotel stays.

Catering to you

Then, the internet tried to take over, Powers said, and the Great Recession hit. Small businesses were bought out by larger ones, and hometown travel agencies lost some clients.

Still, Travel By Nelson grew to employ four full-time vacation specialists in Woodbury and three independent contractors.

"We just had to refocus on where our business was going. We focused on the leisure side of it, and that's been a win-win for us," Powers said. "Still our biggest competition is the internet."

Vacation specialists stay on top of the best deals online, and the full-service agency fishes for the best experience within a client's price range, what they like to do, where they've been in the past, where they like to stay, and whether they like to lie on the beach or take an excursion a day, Powers said.

Now, all-inclusive vacations and international travel are two of the business' emphases.

They are specialists in European travel, military travel, cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico, Jamaica, Disney World, and more.

About 10 percent of the trips booked by Travel By Nelson deal with business affairs and the rest are for leisure.

What's hot

While top destinations like Italy, Riviera Maya, Cancun, Costa Rica, Scotland and Ireland remain among just some of the best vacation spots, vacation specialist Renee Emerick said, the agency is arranging an increasing a number of hereditary tours — back to a vacationer's historic homeland.

"It's a wide range," Emerick said. "We really do intricate, personal travel."

Vietnam and Dubai are up-and-coming destinations, Emerick said.

The Caribbean and Mexico have popular cruise ports for the agency, like St. Lucia or those in Jamaica.

River cruises on the Danube or Rhine, as well as on the Mississippi, are gaining in popularity, Emerick said.

A river cruise is on Powers' bucket list — maybe for this fall, she said. "I vacation like my clients do, and I think that's important."

Family spring break trips are big sellers, along with student groups and mission trips, Powers said. "Parents are going with the kids."

Take a load off

What a successful group trip needs is a good leader — a "pied piper," Powers said. "They are pretty well versed before you leave."

Travel By Nelson's agents know how to ask key qualifying questions about what's right for each traveler, Powers said, and then drill down through the information overload on the internet.

Travel By Nelson seeks out the best value, leverages partnerships with vendors, uses a hometown airline when possible, and encourages early booking.

Vacation specialists prove savvy at "being able to sleuth out exactly the right match for our clients," Powers said. "It's all about finding the right fit."

Offering a quality vacation package starts with active listening, and ends with fixing the situation if it goes wrong. The agency offers insurance for its trips.

At times, do-it-yourself travelers face vacations with too many restrictions, a pile of fees, or a red-eye flight they didn't expect.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it is. You make a mistake online? You're stuck," Powers said. "We sometimes look at things as we're traveling ourselves. What would be best? We treat you like we want to be treated."

Someone who might begin as a walk-in client from a salon, gas station or tailor might turn into a seasoned traveler. Powers said the agency offers convenience and assurance to its clients. For regulars, Powers said, "we're definitely that timesaver."