This week Laura and Heather are joined by Steven Sanchez and Giselle LaBorde Sanchez of Mena Tours and Travel. Established in 1965, Mena Tours and Travel wants to share the world and bring you the best cruises, vacations and packages. Their friendly, knowledgeable agents will work hard to bring you the best at 5209 N Clark now on the 2nd floor.
Listen to Episode 93 with Giselle Laborde and Steven Sanchez!
- Giselle Laborde has been in the travel business her whole life, and before her, her father was in the travel business in 1965 in Lincoln Park. She has memories of helping put together travel brochures at 5 years old. Later in high school, she worked in her family’s agency in the summers and during school vacations. Giselle’s husband, George, was originally an accountant, and her father brought him in to the travel business. With his accounting background, George brought new ideas, and helped Mena Travel expand into multiple locations.
- Steven (Giselle and George’s son), has been involved in the business his entire life. From an early age, Steven has always helped out in the office, whether it was answering the phone, helping with collateral, and general office upkeep. After college, and after compelling conversations with family and a realization that the industry was changing in the digital age, Steven decided to go into the family business.
- At one point, Mena travel 17 agencies in the Chicago-land area, with nearly 300 sub-agents buying tickets from them. That was the business model in the 80’s and 90’s, the more locations you had with ticketing, the better. Steven often asks George if he has any regrets about the business, and he replies that he regrets not opening more locations during that time. It was a volume-driven industry, pre-online sales. The more airline tickets you sold, the more commission you received as well as better positioning within the airlines. Now, their business model is completely different.
- While many travel agencies have not been able to adapt in the digital age, Mena Travel has found ways to evolve and find new avenues for revenue. Giselle shares that many of Mena’s “Most of our agents in the office right now have been with us for over 15 (some 20) years. They are true travel agents. They really love what they do, they’ve traveled. We’ve become specialized, evolving from mostly ticketing to providing travel services and a complete product…like a concierge travel service.” In addition to ticketing, hotel, and transportation planning, Mena makes complete experience plans. They often make dinner and spa reservations, as well as finding points of interest for clients.
- What drove Giselle’s father to open the business and what brought them to Andersonville?
George Laborde immigrated to the US right after WWII, from Cuba. He loved to travel through his editing job at Popular Mechanics, in small PanAm DC-3’s, in an age when air travel was just beginning. Later, he worked for the railroads, and then got into the airline industry selling tickets, opening a branch of an agency in Miami called “Mena Travel,” hence the name of their agency of the same name today. At the time, getting on an airplane was special and a privilege, and George loved the idea of commercializing that experience, and grew it to what is now a general family business. “We are the little engine that could,” says Giselle.
- In 1988, Mena Travel opened in Andersonville to be close to Hispanic neighborhoods, as well as be a part of a community with lots of small businesses and walking traffic. Originally located on the first floor of 5209 N Clark in a very large space, Mena employed over 30 agents. Since then, Mena Travel recently moved upstairs, with Chicatolia transforming the ground floor “in the best way possible,” says Steven. Giselle adds that she loves their new upstairs space, and even though most of their clients are now online, they always welcome people to come and visit.
- In this extremely digital age, we ask, “What is the benefit of working with a travel agent?” “Knowledge. Online, without a doubt, you can get some good deals. However, when you work with a travel agent, you benefit from the knowledge that they can give you,” explains Giselle. Also, Mena travel does the research for you, which saves you time. Steven adds that “The consumer is never going to pay more by using a travel adviser. The true value is with the consultation. All these products and packages that are promoted and listed online, we (Mena) have the same access to, but the difference is a one-on-one consultation, and that is our value-add to the consumer. If anything goes wrong, or if they have any questions about where they’re going, they can pick up the phone. If they miss a flight, they have their consultant dedicated to them and making sure their travel experience goes smoothly.” Giselle asks, “How many times have you booked something online, and then need some assistance? Maybe you want to upgrade to a king size bed or make special arrangements upon your arrival at your destination.” Those are things that can’t be done online, and require a call, and are frustrating! “It’s a lot easier to call your travel adviser and say, ‘Can you get this done? You don’t know how I get it done, but it’s done. That is the value. We can make your experience happen, without a lot of time on your part. You know what you want, have somebody get it done for you.”
- Consultations begin with defining location, the purpose for travel, who they might travel with, and what kind of property they would like to stay in. Style of travel and budget are also very important factors in planning a client’s travel. Mena Travel is proud to have many repeat clients, which reaffirms their value. “We do not charge more than you’re going to find online, that is a misconception,” reminds Giselle. Consumers want to know how they make their money – the same way online wholesalers get commission, is the same way Mena Travel does. However, Mena offers more than just posting a product online, they consult with you through the entire process. And whether you meet in-person, or just online through Mena Travel, consulting is always there for you.
- We ask, “What’s the biggest mistake people make when booking travel on their own?” Giselle replies, “Clicking too soon!” Even on simpler travel arrangements and small trips, Giselle still has clients who prefer to work with her or another travel adviser. As an example, Giselle and Mena Travel can help you make sure you have tickets available when you need them, and they will pay attention to the fine print and highlight important pros and cons for you. Mena connects post travel with clients, and takes notes and keeps track of experiences and feedback for future planning.
- Travel recommendations for 2020 are new exciting destinations. Usually occurring non-stop from Chicago on Saturdays and Sundays are new locations in the Caribbean, geared for the one-week traveler. If you’re planning for Summer 2020, American Airlines will begin flying into Prague. We are lucky to be Centrally located in the US for travel. February travel recommendations are anywhere in the Caribbean, Mexico, the Dominican Republic. Giselle shares that warm-weather direct flights from Chicago are: Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Punta Cana, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands (Giselle’s personal favorite,) St. Martin, and St. Lucia, San Juan, Cabo San Lucas. And, why not consider Hawaii? Non-stop in to Maui and Honolulu.
- Giselle is a Spain specialist, and shares that you can go to the Canary Islands. In addition to herself, Mena Travel’s advisor, Juan, has visited several resorts and towns there, and is very well-versed in traveling there. It is highly recommended!
- A non-beach-town recommendations for the winter months is Madrid and Lisbon. Europe in general, is very affordable. Mena Travel knows where to stay, what to see, what to eat, and what music to listen to when you’re there! It’s not possible to capture everything here!
- An overrated destination might be Barcelona. Worth it, but there are so many more places! If you want the Iberian Peninsula, consider underrated Lisbon. “The food is yummy, the wine is delicious, and the beer is inexpensive!” Also trendy and bang for buck are Croatia (specifically Dubrovnik) which will have non-stop flights soon.
- Mena also specializes in South America, their original specialty. Giselle recommends Buenos Aires, Peru and its Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu in Peru is a trip that you want to use an advisor, someone who has walked that path. Be sure to go there outside the rainy season! Juan Carlos and Giselle have been there often, and at Mena can book that for you!
- What would you recommend to someone interested in becoming a travel agent?
Giselle share that some schools offer travel program in their curriculum. Also there is an organization called ASTA – the American Society of Travel Advisors, who offer a course for those interested in pursuing a career in travel advising. Both Giselle and Steve share that it’s the perfect career for someone who is passionate about travel and share their experience with their clients and colleagues, work with people, and work in a sales environment.
- If they could swap places with another Andersonville business, Steven would select 2 places, Vincent and Hopleaf. Aside from travel, Steven is passionate about culinary experiences. Giselle would like to be a bartender for a day at Scotty’s bar, Simon’s. Giselle and Steven and their family has been a long-time part of Andersonville, a gem, a great place to dine, shop, and book travel.