We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Buena Montero a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Buena, thanks for joining us today. How has Covid changed your business model?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how people travel, live, and do business. We have learned to be a lot more flexible and patient because the situation at home or the travel destination can rapidly change. However, the complexity, uncertainty, and ever-evolving restrictions made travel planning burdensome and joyless, and many travelers – even those accustomed to Online Travel Agencies – look to offload the planning to the professionals. Unfortunately, this also means a lot of extra work, and in the case that the client didn’t travel, many travel advisors were left with no revenue; hence I, and many others, had to change our business model. Some of the changes included: charging a service fee for new clients, focusing on travel that is more resilient to or flexible with changes, and limiting my sales to a few destinations that I am fully knowledgeable on the latest travel updates.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
My family is multi-cultural, a “mini-UN.” I am originally from the Philippines (with mixed ethnicity – Filipino, Spanish and Chinese); my husband, Paul, is from South Africa and of Portuguese descent; and my two kids, Nicholas and Arianna, were born here in the US. We are all proud of our heritage, but we also love to experience the culture of others and make new friends from all over the world.
We love to explore; it might be just at our nearby creek or off on a different continent. We have learned so much from traveling and loved every bit of the experiences we’ve had. I have always loved writing since I was a kid, and I am hopeful that sharing my life’s journey with my readers will help them get inspired to travel more and gives them a better understanding of our world. So, with my love of writing and traveling, “Bon-Bon Voyage” was born! The name was coined from my childhood nickname “BonBon” and the idea of a “Good Journey.” I started blogging about my family’s travels in early 2015 when my kids started school. People began to tell me that my insight was valuable and that I should help others plan their travel, too, and so a few months later, I started my travel agency. You can check our travel experiences and lifestyle through my blog and Instagram.
Have you ever had to pivot?
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the travel industry hard. It brought travel to a complete halt, more severe than 9-11. It caused many travel agencies, big and small, to lose money and even fold. My business was no exception!
I had put so much time and effort into building my agency in the previous years, and it was on the runway, ready to take off. My team was thinking 2020 would be the best year yet. But boy, oh boy, how different things turned out.
The pandemic also delivered a double blow; I was never as busy before, but it wasn’t the kind of busy anyone would want. I had to do right by my clients, so I spent countless hours helping stranded travelers, unwinding canceled reservations, and working with suppliers to get my clients refunded. Each time seeing the commissions I had worked for melt away (most agents don’t charge a fee for their services and only get paid commissions once clients’ travels are completed), it hurts.
I’ve always loved to share my travel experiences and all the fun adventures I’ve had. I knew I would never quit on something that I am passionate about. So, I pivoted from writing and blogging about travel to helping local businesses thrive by simply posting and reposting on Instagram what was happening around locally. The pandemic inflicted wounds on small businesses worldwide, and what I was doing seemed to be a small act of help, but it helped them in so many ways.
I love Instagram because it is cost-effective and allows businesses to reach new and existing market audiences. It doesn’t matter how small or big the company is; the Instagram community of content creators and influencers can do wonders for them!
By being creative and expressing my joy in the things I was doing and the places and establishments I was visiting, I was at the same time building my brand on Instagram. As a result, I gained more local followers, and some of them have become friends and collaborators. The local Instagram community has been very supportive of each other and I love that! New business partnerships have been established, and I feel once again ready to launch to the stratosphere in this post-pandemic era.
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
This is such a great question because I take my reputation seriously. Reputation plays an integral part in any business; your actions, choices, and what others say about you can build or break your business.
With today’s technology, I believe we need to be more than ever wary of the presence, character, and branding we put out there. I am genuine and authentic with all the content I create; I always make sure my clients and followers see that part of me. Likewise, my clients can see that I, personally, am a seasoned traveler. My travel experiences build up my reputation as a trustworthy travel advisor and not just another travel agent trying to peddle their wares.
Travel is also a people business, and I genuinely value and care about people. I love starting new relationships but cultivating old ones is vital; it helped me build my reputation and business. I wouldn’t be successful without all of the relationships I’ve made with my friends, family, followers, clients, and business partners.
Lastly, I make sure I am on time with all my commitments and go above and beyond what is needed.
- Website: https://www.bon-bonvoyage.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bonbonmontero/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bonbonvoyagetravel
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/buena-paz-montero-966774a/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/bonbonmontero
Photos were taken by Paulo Teixeira