Customarily, family businesses are established by a parent and built as the children become involved. In the case of Ambassador Travel, sisters Christine Katz and Jessilyn Terrebonne had been working in the industry when their mother, Sandra Katz, purchased the business from her daughters’ employer in 1997.
During the past 15 years, the trio, along with travel agent Mary Bordelon, have built the business into an award-winning operation.
Sandra was originally a cosmetologist. A successful battle against cancer prompted her to quit that profession while convalescing. Once back on her feet, an opportunity came to purchase Ambassador Travel from Dan Webb and join her daughters in their established career.
“My first job was at a travel agency,” Christine, the primary family spokesperson, said. “I went to vo-tech for business and accounting and, after I graduated from high school in 1979, I started working [with a separate travel agency] as an accountant. After a year I was asked to be a travel agent.”
Jessilyn was a student at Nicholls State University, but in 1987 opted to join her sister in the travel business. They moved together from their first agency to Ambassador Travel.
Ambassador Travel has a focused market in the Tri-parish region, but often receives referrals that spread business opportunities beyond the immediate region.
Experience is their key to success for the family behind Ambassador Travel. “We keep pushing ourselves to remain educated in all the new things that go on,” Christine said.
The travel family specializes in vacation packages to Disney Parks and Sandals Resorts. Being able to sell those products requires the agents to undergo special training and has even led to their being the top sales resource for Sandals packages in Louisiana during 2011.
Ambassador Travel not only works with vacations; these experts offer assistance with international travel and specialties, including destination weddings.
Travel agents do not have to be licensed, but the Houma firm’s staff has successfully earned multiple certifications and is bonded.
“Through the years we have gone to different cities and taken courses,” Christine said. “We also belong to the International Association of Travel Agents.”
Travel costs vary and these agents work with clients to fulfill specific needs and desires by customizing packages that fit individual budgets.
“We don’t just hand out brochures,” Christine said. “We take time with people when they come in and ask them what they are looking for. They might have one thing in mind that might not be in their budget, so we have to fix it. Or they might discover they can afford a trip they thought they could not.”
Travel agencies might not work together across miles, but they do with tour companies, ranging from escorted tours to independent travel.”We’re very picky about the tour companies we use,” Christine said. “We want to make sure they are going to be there for our clients and give them what we say they will give them.”
Christine said that an advantage Ambassador Travel provides is personalized attention. “We search all the lowest air fares and look for hotels that run a promotion or offers sight-seeing that [the public] might not know about,” she said.
The Houma-based agents cautioned against using online travel services for major trips. They claim there are occasions when changes take place and users of those services are left stranded. In contrast, they contend having a real person call can help in making rapid fixes or alternative plans.
“You could punch in somebody that is a fly-by-night because anybody can put up a website,” Christine said. “You come to us trusting that you will have a reputable tour company or package.”
“We book directly through the airlines,” Jessilyn added. “We send people away, but people from here are so friendly that they entice people from other places to come here to visit.”
Ambassador Travel has regular commercial accounts as well as individual customers. The greatest challenge for these travel agents is related to constant changes in airline services. They deal with it by keeping up-to-date and constantly reviewing what is taking place in the market.
“We have to keep up with world events to know what is safe and unsafe in terms of destination,” Christine said in terms of the most challenging part of this work.
“The most rewarding part is when people come back and say they had the vacation of a lifetime,” Jessilyn said.
Travel agents are commonly thought of in terms of vacations, but corporate trips and crew changes are also projects for these Houma-based specialists.
“I don’t know that all people understand how hard we work to find the best deal to fit their needs,” Christine said. “It doesn’t cost them to come through us because we don’t charge a service fee, and it is a lot fewer headaches than looking at the computer and not knowing what is the best for them.”
The travel industry has mushroomed, according to the International Air Travel Association. Much of its growth is due to Internet and home operators. The IATA said in an online message that it encourages multiple resources to increase travel options. On the other hand, it warned that without association with a regulatory body or real people in a real office, clients could be subjected to being overcharged or under-serviced in certain situations.
The established agents said travelers have an advantage making use of reputable local services. Being a family business helps those behind Ambassador Travel know how to apply their knowledge for custom-made experiences.
Discovering the travel business is the only way to go for Sandra Katz and her daughters, Jessilyn Terrebonne, left, and Christine Katz. The owner and agents behind Ambassador Travel in Houma offer a variety of opportunities for clients, which has helped make Ambassador Travel Sandals’ resort’s top firm scheduling vacation packages originating from Louisiana.