Name: Uliana Buxton
Job: Senior Travel Counselor, AAA Travel at 2629 N. Illinois St. in Swansea (618-235-5700)
Outlook: "I love my job. I love what I do."
Travel agent Uliana Buxton has been given AAA's President's Circle Award for 2013. Buxton has been a AAA travel agent since 1998 and has been working in the industry for almost 30 years. She recently talked travel with business writer Will Buss:
Q: What is the President's Circle Award?
A: "The President's Award is the nationwide AAA award. AAA is split in several sections. So AAA-Missouri, which happens to be our main area and about 12 states are involved in that one, and out of those I am the top agent. It's based on sales, client comments and vendor appreciation."
Q: How did you get started in this business?
A: "I started in Canada because I'm from Canada, and I started in a travel agency. Then I went to work for a travel company and lived in Jamaica, so I took care of tourists there. Then I went to work on a cruise ship and did that for many years. And then I came back and settled here because I got married and we came back here. I've been here for 25 years."
Q: What has changed in the industry in that time?
A: "From hand-writing tickets to going all electronic to a lot of computer online booking, but people still come in. Those booking huge trips, if you're going to China, if you're going to Australia, you're not going to do it online. You're going to want somebody to tell you that you're going to want to go here, you're going to want to go there, you want to do this, you need visas, you need shots if you're going to Africa. You want somebody who knows. If you're going to Chicago, you don't need me. But even then, I have nice old people who come in and need a travel agent because they don't have a computer and don't know where they start. We'll plan family outings to Chicago and ballgames with the Cardinals, trips and motor coach tours. We take care of all of their different needs they have."
Q: Do Internet-based travel services present a challenge for you or does it give you an opportunity to provide a better service?
A: "It's both because it's a great tool to learn where you want to go, and then you can come in and say 'Should I be going here or not?' And then others think they can play travel agent and do it myself, and then when they come in and say 'I booked the wrong thing,' I say, 'OK, I can help fix it, but don't ever do it again.' But others have good luck and that's fine. I think if you're booking small trips, it's no big deal. But if you're booking something huge, I think, for even me, I won't go online and just look at cheaptickets.com or cheapvacations.com. I can find just as good a deal and you don't pay any more for my service. The vendors pay us, so why not use somebody? When we had the volcanic ash in Iceland, we had people stranded over there. Who did they call? They called us. We're here for you. If you get stuck somewhere, we're here. I've had people die, I've had people need medical attention and we're here for that, too."
Q: How is business?
A: "You know what? Americans want to travel. We don't want to sit at home. So if you have a credit card with some bounce in it, you will go on a trip, even if it is a drive trip to Florida or a small trip. There are people who are booking huge trips, river cruises in Europe, Mediterranean cruises, African safaris and Australian trips. People are spending it. I think those who plan on it will always go. The newcomers will take kids to Florida and to Disney World and do that kind of stuff. But I think all in all, for me, because I've been here for a long time, I'm never not busy. I have an assistant because I'm so busy. So it's progressing nicely. I think those who get savvy will do a few things on their own, but then they'll call me and say, 'Did I do the right thing?' So I'm OK with advising."
Q: Where do your clients like to travel most?
A: "Florida is huge, cruising is huge, the Caribbean cruises, Mediterranean cruises and then you have some specialty stuff. But usually cruising is huge, Mexico is huge and Jamaica and places where we have non-stop flights. People just like getting on a plane and getting there. They don't want to change planes and they don't want to lose luggage."
Q: What advice do you offer clients?
A: "The biggest thing is travel light and when you're traveling, if it's two people, put yours and his together and swap out so if one bag goes amiss, at least you'll have a couple outfits to tie you over. So it's sharing a bag, even though you want your own bag, but if you're traveling with a mate or somebody, just swap out your clothing and put some in each. That has come in handy for a lot of people because lost bags are a big problem."
Q: Where do you like to travel?
A: "I go back to Europe because I have family in Italy, so I take my family there when I can. I travel back to Canada. I've gone to all of the exotic places, so my biggest bucket list thing now is maybe going to Africa and Australia. I've done the rest."
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?
A: "I love my job. I love what I do. So of course, people come back and know it. Referrals are a big thing and those who love what I do will tell somebody else and tell somebody else. I think it's about loving your job and showing it."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.