Travel agent working to reconnect

Noble Horvath

Mimi Lichtenstein loves to travel, and she doesn’t mind spending lots of time researching her destination. In the summer of 2019, Lichtenstein realized that her hobby was a marketable skill – others wanted to have the same high-end travel experiences that she was enjoying, without spending hours on research. Lichtenstein, who lives in Hanover, launched her business – Truvay Travel – soon after.

“In the good old days I was doing a lot of booking cool adventures around the world,” Lichtenstein said. Most of the trips were to international destinations, including South Africa, Australia and Bora Bora.

When the pandemic hit, it not only undermined Lichtenstein’s business by shutting down global travel, but it also created an additional layer of unpaid work. Normally, clients pay Lichtenstein a $350 advisory fee for planning and booking a trip, but the bulk of her income comes from commissions paid by tours or hotels when her clients stay there. Due to the COVID pandemic, Lichtenstein had the additional task of canceling trips – which also meant she wouldn’t be paid.

“I was just losing money,” she said. “The process of getting canceled takes more time, and I get no money. I was resigned to write off all of my income.”

Knowing that she was part of the global travel industry, all of which was being impacted by the pandemic, made the loss slightly more bearable for Lichtenstein. While most customers got their money back, hotels, airlines and tour operators were all suffering alongside her.

Lichtenstein knew there wasn’t much she could do to drum up business. Instead, she decided to take the year to focus on building her network and reputation within the high-end travel industry.

During the height of the stay-at-home order, she started hosting Zoom cooking classes. The classes brought in people from other countries and cultures to share their favorite dish.

“Half the fun of what I do is connecting with people from other cultures, so I figured I might as well bring it to everyone at home,” she said. Those classes are starting up again this fall, with the first session led by an Argentinian chef.

Lichtenstein also began reaching out to former and prospective clients, talking to them about their bucket-list trips – the once-in-a-lifetime vacations they’d like to take. While those trips might not be possible during the pandemic, Lichtenstein hopes engaging with her clients this way will lead to more business in the future.

“You never know how it will come back, but it’s fun and creative,” Lichtenstein said.

Lichtenstein also launched The Travel Brain Trust with Martha Rhodes, another luxury travel advisor based in Virginia. The Travel Brain Trust will provide information and interviews about, and from, destinations around the world. It will also be positioned as an employee perk that businesses can offer their workers once international travel resumes.

It’s certainly not the year that Lichtenstein would have liked for Truvay Travel, but she’s confident that when safe travel is possible again, she and her customers will be ready.

“It’s just working out,” she said. “I have no clue what’s going to happen, but regardless I’m in.”

 This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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