Anyone frustrated by the challenges of trying to re-enter the workforce after a decade away might want to take a tip from Nancy Yale.
“I started out knowing nothing about business,” she laughed. “It was really trial and error.”
Yale is the owner and president of Cruise and World Travel, a Fairfield company now in its 25th year. Starting from an office in her home, she has built the travel agency into one that books more than $12 million in travel each year, expanding her office at 1875 Post Road six times to encompass two floors and accommodate her and her seven employees.
A former speech and language pathologist, Yale took down her shingle to raise her and husband Abe’s three children. By 1992 she was ready to go back to work — but as what?
“My husband and I always liked to travel, especially back before we had kids,” she said. “So I decided to try being a travel agent. It was just on a whim, really.”
She began by spending weekends at bridal shows, gathering contact information from soon-to-be-wed women looking for help to book their honeymoons.
“This was before the internet really took off,” Yale said, “and they appreciated the personal touch that other travel agencies didn’t necessarily provide. More and more of them wanted to come and see me, and although I had an office in my house, it didn’t really feel all that professional.”
Word of mouth soon turned into referrals and Yale took the plunge on the Fairfield office space. Within a year she joined Virtuoso, a luxury travel consortium.
“I did my research and tried going to entrepreneurial women’s networks and chamber of commerce meetings,” she said. “But those usually wound up being people trying to get business from each other.”
Instead she increased her engagements with prospective customers and under the Virtuoso aegis began concentrating on luxury travel, defining what clients really wanted and setting about making that a reality.
“I had to be quick on my feet,” she said. “More and more people were looking to make their vacations a real travel experience, which they couldn’t really put together themselves.”
Yale began traveling more, familiarizing herself with local guides in locales like Budapest, Prague and India, as well as on Mediterranean cruises and African safaris. “People who just want to shop for a trip on the internet or do an Airbnb — that’s not my market,” she said.
Honeymooners are still a key component of her clientele. “I’ve worked with some people who are on their third or fourth one,” she laughed. “Now I get the husband and his new girlfriend, and the wife and her new boyfriend, looking to book with me. They were fruitful and multiplied!”
The honeymooners are generally waiting until later to get married, Yale has observed. “When they were younger, they might want to go to the Caribbean and stay at a Sandals. But now they’re maybe in their 30s and have saved enough money to go to Africa, Thailand, Vietnam. They want those kinds of travel experiences before they settle down and have kids, and they’ve saved the $15 to 20,000 to make that kind of trip feasible.”
One recent trip arranged by Yale involved a regular 85-year-old client “who’d been all over the world already. She’d seen the Parthenon and been on a lot of cruises and was looking for something different to do with her children.”
When Yale suggested a gorilla trek in Rwanda, “She said, ‘Nancy, do you think I can do it?’ She’s perfectly able to walk, but we arranged for four schleppers to carry her up a mountain on a stretcher to see the gorillas.”
Other custom-made trips that Cruise and World Travel offers include a boat ride down the Nile in Egypt and breakfast at the Tower of London, “before everybody else gets there.”
Her own favorite locale, she said, is Africa. “There are some beautiful lodges in Tanzania with great food and all the amenities. During the day you’re in a Land Rover seeing things that you really can’t see anywhere else.”
Advice for budding entrepreneurs? “You don’t need to think you need to pay a lot of money to set yourself up, hire a PR firm and do this and that,” Yale said. “I never extended myself beyond what I was doing and this has been the result.”