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Hidden Gems: Meet Kendra Konitzer of Konitzer Family Travel DBA Cruise Planners of Valrico

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kendra Konitzer.  

Hi Kendra, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?

I worked in the IT department of a local family-owned National business for over 10 years as a Business Analyst. Just before my 11-year anniversary, in March of 2018, I was laid off just a week after returning from my first European vacation. I was devastated and was uncertain with where I was going to go next. However, I had faith in myself to find another job quickly, because as a single mom, I had to make sure that my kids would be provided for. So, I took my severance package and my 401k and set out to find another Business Analyst job. My family started suggesting that I go into business for myself. I had no idea where to start or even if I was cut out to be a business owner as I had always worked for someone else. After many interviews, I ran into a franchise consultant at a job fair, and I thought this was God telling me that what my family was saying was my path. I had a free consultation, but it didn’t seem like I was a good fit for this guy as I didn’t have $500,000 in assets. However, after a few discussions, the consultant gave me an idea of buying a turnkey franchise for around $10,000. So, I set out to do some research and found several viable options.

Then I ran across a travel agency franchise and I thought this was fate for sure! I could turn my passion for travel into my livelihood?! I was sold! I cashed in my 401k from the prior company, bought my franchise in May 2018, and started working hard to build my business in the local community. However, what I didn’t know at the time, is that as a travel advisor, you only receive commission once your clients have departed on vacation, and even then, sometimes not until 30-60 days afterward. Therefore, I found another Business Analyst job to work while I grew my business. I was just gaining momentum in the business when the pandemic hit in 2020 and just about shut down everything in the travel industry. However, I used this time to continue nurturing relationships in the community, networking with other local businesses, traveling via road trips around the US, investing in learning more about the travel industry, and equipping myself for the reopening of the world. While working full-time in software, I continued to grow my company as the world slowly started to return to normal. So much that I was working both jobs full time throughout 2021 and I even hired an assistant to keep up with the demand. This time and dedication led me to be the local Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year for 2021 and I was able to go full time in my Travel Agency in Feb 2022. We continue to grow and I am looking to add more help to my staff soon! However, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t by the Grace of God and the love and support of my friends and family!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?

Not at all! The biggest struggle by far has been the pandemic! From everything being shut down to the ever-changing travel requirements by country, it continues to be a struggle, but we persevere!

One of the other struggles has been learning how to balance life as a single mom with two daughters in high school & college while working two jobs. It has not been easy, there have been meltdowns, stress on how much work I was doing, and self-doubt in both business and motherhood while I struggled to do it all. There were days that I didn’t know how I did it all. There were days that I wanted to give up. There were times of reflection where I had to take several hours or days to do a deep dive into who I am both in life and business, who I want to be, and how to get there. Being a business owner is hard normally but I think even more so for the travel agency owners during a pandemic!

I feel I have hit roadblocks along the way, but with a great network of individuals, small business owners, friends, and family, I feel that I have continued to bring a positive spin to my business and to those around me. I strive every day to overcome the adversities out there and keep pushing forward. I feel my biggest critic and obstacle in my way is myself.

As you know, we’re big fans of Konitzer Family Travel DBA Cruise Planners of Valrico. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?

Cruise Planners of Valrico is celebrating 4 years in business this year and were awarded the Small Business of the Year award for the Valrico Fishhawk Chamber for 2021 by Score!

We specialize in family and group travel around the world, allowing our clients to have fun in new destinations every year. We help give our clients back time and help them experience travel without having to research each destination themselves. We are starting up our Travel Advisor led tours both as Cruises and Land Travel. Recently, we also introduced a trip for our adventurous clients called “Blind Envelope Travel” where they fill out a questionnaire or have an interview as to their travel habits and we plan the entire vacation without them knowing where they are going or what activities they are doing. We book everything and they receive a sealed envelope that is opened on departure day to find out where they are headed. We can make these trips to domestic locations, international locations, and even cruises depending on their choices, passports, and vaccination statuses.

Did you know that on average it takes an individual 40+ hours to research a location that they have never been to?? That can be stressful! There are several dot coms out there that claim they make things easier for travelers, but you still have to research the reviews of the hotels, research if you are getting the best deals, do your own price comparisons and so much more. However, they do not advise what they think is best. They do not have someone that knows your entire trip inside and out. Every time the customer has a question, they must sit on hold and reach a random customer service representative that does not know their travel arrangements. They cannot reach them outside of working hours while traveling. They cannot reach the same person repeatedly. That is what we offer at Cruise Planners of Valrico. We know our clients’ itineraries. On any given day you can reach the same person who you have spoken with, who quoted your vacation, who booked your vacation, who gave you advice on where to travel, to answer questions when you are not sure if something is included in your itinerary. While we may not answer every question when it is sent (like on our days off) if you are not traveling, we do when you are traveling. We are on call to help calm your nerves if something goes wrong. We are there to assist when there are issues that arise and can help to rectify your situations. We are your advocates. We are here to offer you peace of mind.

Many people are conscientious of price in this day and age. Those people are not necessarily who are using a travel advisor as they feel it costs more to use one. When booking with a travel agency, it does not always mean that you are going to get the best deal as far as price point goes, but you are going to get the best value for the services provided before, during, and after travel. We have been those busy individuals working a full-time job, coaching little leagues, running kids to/from practices, etc. We know how it is to juggle life and why should going on vacation add more stress to that? We pride ourselves in being able to offer busy families a chance to have life experiences without the stress of planning! We continue to get trained in different destinations, we travel to see where the best locations are, we are trained on different Vendors and what products they offer. Would you use an electrician to find a water leak in your wall? No? Then why would you use a dot com filled with customer service reps that have never been to your destinations to book your vacations? That is how we are different from our competitors. We understand our clients lead busy lives and we can help relieve that and allow them to relax on vacation as the destination experts. We treat our clients like family. They work hard for their money, and we work hard for them!

If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?

Man, that is a loaded question!! Growing up, I was the shy, introverted, bookworm nerd who wrote tons of poetry and short stories. I loved playing outside with neighborhood kids, sitting in my room reading a good book, or even playing the old Nintendo games like Tetris, Mario Brothers, and Duck Hunt! I loved going “home” to Wisconsin where I was born so I could spend time with my family. These road trips started my fascination with travel. I was the type to stay in touch with family as pen pals. I wrote to Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, and Friends.

It may all sound great, but my childhood wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies, I was made fun of, bullied, pushed around, and grew up in an abusive household. I tried to escape as often as possible by spending time at my best friend’s house. I grew into an awkward teenager who didn’t believe in herself and had mental health issues with always having suicidal thoughts. I even attempted suicide twice, once in high school and once after my divorce. I started trying to “fit in” more in High School but was still a nerd and didn’t come into my own until later in life. I am now more of an extroverted introvert. Is that a thing? I push myself to be extroverted, but it is sometimes exhausting.

Now my “nerdiness” is reserved for family and close friends that I am comfortable with only and everything outer shell-wise is nothing but business. My upbringing helped me to see what I didn’t want my kids to be subjected to, how I didn’t want my life to be, and how I was the only one who could change me. I have learned that everyone is fighting something. Life is hard on its own, we don’t have to make it harder by being mean to others. I am always the optimistic one seeing the glass half full. Kindness is not mandatory in life but it is the best gift you can give!

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Image Credits
Misty Jones Photography
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines
Kendra Konitzer

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