Becky Tilson was nominated as one of the 2018 Groups Today Top 10 Next Gens by readers for making a difference in the industry. She's the owner of, and works as a travel consultant for, Tilson Travel, a travel agency that works with groups, companies, families, couples and individuals to create memorable and exceptional travel experiences.
You founded Tilson Travel in 2013. What inspired your love for travel planning, and why did you want to start your own company?
I grew up in a suburb of Indianapolis, which is known for many great things but not so much its exciting geography. As a young girl, I remember going to the local travel agency with my mom to plan a family vacation. When we got home, I studied the brochures cover to cover, poring over the images of the resort hotel rooms and memorizing the resort layouts and amenities. Since that age, there was always something intriguing about this industry that pulled me in—the opportunity to visit far-off places and see landscapes that certainly didn't exist in Indiana. From that point forward, I always had a hand in planning our family vacations!
I graduated from college with a degree in Hospitality & Tourism, and Small Business Management. After holding a few positions in and out of the hospitality industry after college, it was my dad who suggested I look into pursuing travel planning—perhaps recognizing that I was always drawn to encouraging others to see the world and assisting them with their travels, whenever and however I could. I was very lucky to have a few key mentors during this time to support and encourage me to pursue this dream. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so when the opportunity came along to open my own agency, I didn't hesitate to jump into business and pursue my passion.
It's been nearly five years since I started my own agency. In the beginning, I worked in marketing by day and my travel agency by night—but last year, I was able to quit my "day job" and go full time with Tilson Travel. It's been a very exciting journey, and I haven't looked back!
How do you stay on the edge of modern travel?
Personally, I consider a couple of elements when staying on top of modern travel.
First: How to use technology while being able to deliver personal and unique experiences. I consider how I can take advantage of what resources and tools are available to assist my clients as they prepare for their trip—and how can I make it an easy transition as they depart for their trip. Rather than providing a folder full of documents including an itinerary, confirmation documents and sightseeing suggestions, I provide them with an app they can download on their phone that keeps all of those pieces together in one easy-to-use application. No more paper, no more mess.
Another aspect of modern travel: The personal, unique experiences you can deliver to make your client's journey much more meaningful to them. What's something different that really connects with your client's interests and passions? For example, I started offering tours that highlight literary destinations, like the filming sites and locations that inspired J.K. Rowling as she wrote Harry Potter. I consider what other destinations are popular right now, due to their appearance in major television series and movies, and how I can build that into a tour that would appeal to my clients and my community. For some, the only travel they've done is "armchair travel" through the pages of Harry Potter or various Jane Austen novels. So why not use that as a bridge to connect them with the real places? Or the real inspirations, at least!
Some of your programs have been designed to offer promotion and donations to wineries, museums and social clubs. Can you tell us more about this?
I work with local organizations to encourage a unique way to fundraise for their foundation and engage with their patrons and the community.
The idea came to me while attending the Travel Industry Exchange conference a few years ago. One of the seminars challenged me to think about ways I could differentiate myself in the market. This particular strategy struck a chord with me, as I love seeing local businesses succeed. I am a member of the board of directors for my local chamber of commerce. And realizing I could combine my two passions steered my business in a new and exciting direction.
I first put this program into action by talking with my local library, asking what they thought of organizing a literary tour of England. They loved it. They invited the community and their patrons, and a portion of the proceeds went back to their foundation. We've done that now with a few other organizations and they are seeing great success. A local winery is going to Italy this fall. It's exciting to see how travel brings the community together.
That's what encouraged me to continue moving forward with group travel. Knowing that I can assist local organizations with meeting their financial goals while allowing their members to explore the world is extremely meaningful to me. It drives me to continue matching local organizations with travel destinations.
What is your most prized accomplishment in your career, so far?
My most prized accomplishment so far would be that very first group trip. I had personally never done anything like it before. It was a unique partnership—this library took a chance on me delivering this service and itinerary before I had any experience working with groups. It was a launching point.
As we were traveling around England visiting these beautiful destinations known for their rich literary history, I was pinching myself. Seeing the smiles and connections with the patrons and library staff throughout the entire trip was just as wonderful. It was a dream come true to be able to create this experience for the library, while additionally creating a fundraiser to further its impact on the local community.
How do you hope to make a difference in the travel industry?
I want to continue building my business on a foundation of integrity, honesty and respect. It's through my service to my community that I want to make a difference. I want to encourage travel. If I can help people see the world and pursue their dreams of adventure, then I've done my job.
Courtesy of Groups Today.