Owner, Ridgefield Travel and Cruise Planners
Travel has been both a sensitive and desirous topic since the pandemic began in 2020. Having constant wanderlust, we sat down and talked to travel expert (& team) Peggy Honore, a local Mom Owner of Ridgefield Travel and Cruise Planners. Peggy explained that last year she joined forces with two incredibly talented women, Jeanette Campo and Hyla Giordano, both whom are moms in Ridgefield and completely understand the nuances of family travel. “Collaborating with this team is such a joy and it’s exciting to watch our business grow. I feel very blessed to have Hyla, a travel consultant who extremely well versed in all things related to American Express, and Jeanette, who is our Disney Expert, on my team.” Naturally we wanted to take a deeper dive into the travel industry..read our interview on Peggy below. Happy Traveling!
Where are you originally from and how long have you been in town
I’m a Jersey girl! I grew up in NJ and lived there with my husband for the first part of our marriage. We purchased a house in Ridgefield in 2003 because my husband took a new job in Armonk. At first we looked at Westchester and other parts of Fairfield County. One day we visited a Realtor’s office in Ridgefield. When we came outside it happened to be the Halloween walk. There were families everywhere and a few people said “Welcome to Ridgefield!”. At that moment we knew Ridgefield was home and the place we wanted to raise a family.
How many children do you have? Ages?
We have two children – Evan (will turn 16 in May) and Emily (will turn 13 in July)
Tell us about your travel business and how covid has affected it in the last year
Prior to having children, I had a career in Human Resource Management at Fortune 500 companies for about 15 years. After my son was born and we moved to Ridgefield, I decided not to return to corporate America. I focused on being a mom and participating/volunteering for organizations like Mom’s Club and Newcomers. I was involved in many fundraisers throughout town. In 2012 my husband’s company asked him to run a project in Zurich, Switzerland. We jumped at the opportunity and had an amazing time. While there we traveled extensively. I planned our trips as well as those of our visitors. After we returned to the US, I knew I wanted to start working but I had no idea what to do. I attended a workshop at the Wilton Y called “Work Like A Mother” which was designed to help women figure out what they wanted to do and how to re-enter the workforce. I realized I wanted to own a business and that it made sense to marry that with what I loved most – travel! After much research I decided to purchase a franchise from Cruise Planners because they’re the top travel franchise due to their outstanding technology, marketing, network and home office support. In January 2015 I opened my doors and ever since it’s been an invigorating journey. I have been so grateful for the outpouring of support from the community. Ridgefield is amazing when it comes to supporting and uplifting small businesses.
As you can imagine Covid hit my industry like a tidal wave. In January 2020 I was so excited because it was looking like our best year ever. I brought three associates on board and business was thriving. We were aware of a “flu” in China but it seemed so far away and wasn’t impacting business. By February it was starting to get closer to home and some people were beginning to cancel their plans. When the borders were closed in March we had no idea how long lasting and impactful it would be on the business. We were certain people would be traveling again by the summer. As the weeks went on we spent hours upon hours canceling trip after trip. This often meant unbearable hold times – I think the longest I waited on hold was 8 hours…at that point we changed focus from trying to salvage business to fully committing to doing the best we could to protect our clients in terms of getting them refunds or future travel credit. I’m proud to say that no one lost money because of our efforts.
When things began to open in the summer we started booking people again in dribs and drabs – mostly to places within drivable distance. The pace of that has steadily increased and now that people feel emboldened because of the vaccine they are super excited to travel so we’re really busy! As a travel advisor my goal is for people to have seamless and safe vacations. Vacation time is more precious than ever. I take pride in doing the work so people can relax and enjoy themselves.
By booking through your agency what benefits do people gain VS booking on their own?
Vacation time is precious. People have a limited amount of time they can take and travel can be expensive so they want to get it right in order to maximize the return on their investment. I help them do that. First of all, I have expertise, resources and experience. Researching trips can take hours upon hours and is often a rabbit hole. Most of my clients do not have the time or find the process overwhelming. For example an entailed trip to Europe has many moving parts and pieces. After interviewing a client to assess their wants/needs, I recommend an itinerary and then build the trip by putting all the pieces together. Many clients comment on how easy the process was and how stress free the vacation felt. In addition I can find promotions and amenities, as well as make recommendations for excursions, activities and dining. Usually this is from personal experience and quite often I have my favorite guides, restaurants, etc in different locations. This also benefits even seasoned travelers or people who like to do their own research. My business is part of the American Express consortium so our clients benefit from that partnership in terms of the perks we can get them through Amex.
There is often confusion because people think we charge a fee or that booking through a travel advisor is more expensive. On the contrary we do not charge a fee. Travel agents make commission from the vendors (resorts, tour operators, cruises, etc). The commission is baked into all things related to travel so you pay it whether you use a TA or not. My clients get my expertise, knowledge and resources at no extra cost and I get paid commission when they book through me. So it’s a win-win!
Have you traveled with your children recently? Please tell us about your experience and what to expect
Yes! Actually we began to travel again in the beginning of July when we went to our lake house in the Adirondacks. At first we started with short trips like Lake George, Lake Placid and Niagara Falls. Next, we took our first flight and travelled to Wyoming as well as South Dakota. In August we drove to Maine, visiting Portland, Bar Harbor and Kennebunkport. We vacationed in Aruba between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Most recently we spent Spring Break at the South Seas Island Resort (fabulous for families) in Captiva, Florida.
Our experience have varied. In states like New York and Maine everyone wears masks and follows protocols. However in places like Wyoming, South Dakota and Florida the rules are loosely followed. Traveling outside the country to Aruba was similar to traveling in the North East and New England. One thing that has been consistent is the number of people traveling. Airports are busy and planes are full. Resorts are busy as well – although not all run at full capacity.
That said I have a mantra which is “Travel Defensively and Return Responsibly”. Traveling defensively means to knowing the protocols of your destination prior to arriving, taking a covid test prior to departure, wearing your mask, washing your hands and socially distancing. We actually made proactive efforts to stay away from groups, especially if we saw people not wearing masks. In some cases it was tempting to break our rule but we stayed strong. For example, in Yellowstone we chose not to go up close to Old Faithful because it was just too crowded. We also chose private guides and tours vs larger groups even though it cost extra money. Returning responsibly means to follow the CDC and state health guidelines. In our case that meant waiting at least three days to take a covid test and quarantining until we received the results. Of course I may eat my words but I feel we have been able to travel safely and successfully because of this mantra. Planning and safely taking trips throughout the pandemic uplifted our spirits through an otherwise dismal time.
How has the community been instrumental in developing your business and supporting your mission?
The community has meant everything to my business. Ridgefielders, in general, are so supportive of small businesses. The women in the community are extremely supportive of female owned businesses. People have supported me by bringing their business to me and referring others. I have been able to partner with other businesses in the community as well as non profit organizations and fundraisers. Being an integral part of the community and supporting these organizations has always been one of the reasons I started my business. I believe in what I do and derive so much pleasure when I see other people having amazing travel experiences. I think that comes across and people appreciate it when they work with me. How can people support your business? If you haven’t already, give me a chance! I plan vacations to all destinations and in every shape & size. I’ve traveled with my kids from when they were wee tots to now that their taller than me so I really truly get family travel. I know what works and what doesn’t work. Reach out to me when you’re ready to travel again and refer your friends. I’ve got your back!