Sometimes starting a business right before a pandemic is considered good timing.
“I actually started it in February, and then Covid came in March,” said Amanda Tidwell, the owner of Tidwell + Co Travel Advisors. “It was a blessing, because it gave me so much time to research and study. It was five months of research preparation and testing, and I did so many online courses.”
Her new business technically opened in February, but because of the pandemic, didn’t really pick up steam until July or August, she said. She started the agency because as an experienced traveler she knows a lot of the ins and outs and enjoys handling them for other people, especially when it’s for big trips, like a bucket-list vacation or a honeymoon.
“It sounds so much fun, but at the same time the fun job is serious,” Tidwell said. “It’s someone’s savings they are spending.”
All of the work on the backend for the first months of the pandemic allowed her to build a lot of connections and set up a network for her clients to optimize wherever they want to go.
The example Tidwell used was a 12-person beach stay in Florida. With the contacts she’s made and certifications she acquired, she can recommend different accommodations to fit all budgets. When a client first walks in the door, she has them fill out a questionnaire.
“It’s called qualifying your clients,” Tidwell said. The questions not only cover basic stuff like budgets and number of people, but also what kind of experience the vacation-goer wants to have. Do they want to try a lot of different kinds of food? Maybe a place near a downtown food district. Do they want fresh-caught crab? Why not a house right by the fishing docks. The questions pinpoint how Tidwell can best help the client and save them hours of research.
“If you go to Google and search for a beach house in Destin, Florida, you’re going to get a million results,” she said. “I have toured the properties. I know those people. I’ve stood in that place. Unless you’ve been there and seen it, you wouldn’t know. It’s like having a friend who loves to travel.”
Her business model runs on commission, but not from the client, from the property owners. All of the certifications she has garnered over the past year have been to familiarize herself with different destinations, resorts and properties. The only time she charges a client a fee is if they decide not to use her services but do want her research, which is then charged on an hourly consultation fee.
The certifications also allow her to get clients deals that aren’t readily available on the website.
“You have to know what you are willing to sell,” Tidwell said, adding a client questioning about one resort once led her to get two other certifications she didn’t know about.
One certification she said she’ll never seek is Disney travel. It’s too complicated, and there are too many requirements.
“There are agents that specialize in Disney,” Tidwell said. “I make it a point to leave Disney alone. I focus on beach and luxury travel, to foreign places that are exotic and beautiful.”
She’s planned vacations anywhere from Scotland to Mexico to Jamaica, she said.
And all of this is her side job, Tidwell said. Her day job is as the principal at Detroit Elementary School.
“I love what I do in education,” Tidwell said. “I know what I do matters.”
She said right before Covid-19 hit the U.S., she and her husband, Wes, had planned a trip to Jamaica, but they had to cancel at the last minute. It took a lot of patience and experience to get everything cancelled. As far as she’s aware, there are no physical, in-person travel agents in Lamar County.
“It was a resource that was needed,” Tidwell said. “If someone hasn’t done this, it is going to be very hard.”
As an agent, she said she has access to back door portals that help her “make things happen.” Lost luggage? Call the travel agent, and she can track it down.
“I can be the one worrying about that,” she said. “Travel should be fun. It should not be a hassle.”
For the record, she does sell travel insurance, something she knows people are split on. Travel insurance is about protecting the money sunk into a vacation, she said.
“Usually, a $75 fee is enough,” she said. “But what if it’s a bucket-list trip? It is a huge investment you can’t afford to lose. You just have to consider what you’re willing to spend.”
She said for a big trip, not purchasing the insurance is “like leaving your car unlocked.”
“What if I get there and get sick?” she said. “How am I going to get home? You know what your investment is in the vacation and what your finances can handle.”
Now that things are opening up, she said her business has taken off. People are starting to plan for the summer, for graduation trips, for honeymoons and more.
“It’s crazy busy right now,” Tidwell said. “It has definitely gotten busier, and I am so thankful for that.”
Tidwell + Co Travel Advisors LLC is available at 1700 FM195, Suite 113 or by calling on the phone at (903) 272-6956. The business is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TidwellTravelAdvisors.