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Meet Donna Alkarmi of Lone Star Travel in McKinney

Today we’d like to introduce you to Donna Alkarmi.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My eagerness to please was rooted back to my youth, but I had to find my purpose. After many customer-oriented service jobs from working as a mall Elf during Christmas (yes full costume) to bartending, waitressing, (which I feel EVERY person needs to do once in their life to understand Joe & Jane Public) retail stints which included Store Manager of Victoria’s Secret and a few other higher end retailers, then the job that dictated my future, working for the airlines. You can not get better training or truly understand your clients until you are face to face with them at the airport, during a snow storm and their flight has been canceled. How you handle the next few moments determines what kind of person you are and if you can deal with an extreme crisis. I guess I did well, I was promoted to Assistant Station Manager, training new hires.

I have loved and learned so much from each and every job I held that no college could have possibly prepared me for where I am today. I am not dissing higher education by any means (my husband and two sons all have degrees) it was just not my disposition.

Fast forward 1998, I was asked if I was interested to work in a brick and mortar travel agency in McKinney. I knew Sabre (airline booking engine) and could easily book their corporate clients airfare, hotels, and car rentals. This was a mechanical job and to be honest, I was getting bored. I started to study Mexico and the Caribbean through the eyes of a client, even though working for the airlines previously did take me too many destinations. I visited resorts on FAM’s (familiarization trips) to learn about their differences, both family friendly and adult only to start a portfolio and to match the perfect destination and resort to my client. THAT is key to success, listen to your client and not be clouded by your own wants and desires.

Now, a business owner for over 11 years with 6 independent contractors under me (I am considered a Host Agency) whom I mentor and run training sessions bi-weekly to help them attain success and support them which could be taking them on FAM trips or connecting them to my suppliers or hoteliers.

I have been fortunate to be selected and recognized for my success with GTM (Global Travel Marketplace) as one of 8 travel consultants throughout the US to be chosen to serve a two-year term on an Advisory Board with Travel Age West Magazine from 2015-2017. This prestigious position I took seriously as we were responsible to convey what travel agents and owners needed from our suppliers to keep us relevant in the industry. They also wanted to learn what made us successful and to share that information in their magazines to new or seasoned travel agents. Currently, I am on another Advisory Board with Travel Age West Magazine and meet in Los Angeles with other board members to help with their content and to be a voice on the Wave Awards which is an industry awards ceremony help once a year based on agent feedback. I am also a speaker at Cruise World in Florida to talk about my success to help agents reach their goals.

Today, I hold Awards as Top Producer for a few hotel chains in Mexico and the Caribbean as well as Top Producer for two suppliers, TMTC (Funjet Vacations) and Apple Vacations. I even received Top Producer for Playa Resorts in the US for room nights as well as destination weddings, that was crazy for little ole me beating out .com sites!

I am proud of my accomplishments but I never got into this industry for the money, again, it was rooted back to my purpose, customer service and making sure my clients are WELL taken care of and that they are happy. I love what I do and the moment I don’t have a passion for it anymore, I will close shop. If you love what you do, the money will come, trust me.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I did not have a plan, I reference my success to an out of control dog on a leash dragging me along for a run. It had a mind of its own and I had to adapt, and quickly. I was working 14 hour days and even when I tried to sleep, my mind as racing wondering if I remember to request this, or take payment on that, etc…

I never paid for advertising, my clients referred me like crazy and reviews online drove so many new clients the way that I was not prepared for the amount of business I was making. I knew I needed help, but because I am a little OCD with my business, it was hard to trust anyone with my clients, but I learned of someone I knew via phone for 10 years who was a support person for one of the tour operators I sold had left. I tracked her down, called her and asked if she would like to be my assistant, she said yes immediately but I had no plan. Just as my back up and to occasionally deal with my clients on payments or revisions. Well, that was a huge load off of my mind and she is now invaluable to me.

I had to keep up with technology and social media, so I did hire a person to redo my website and get me hooked up to AdWords. I beefed up a little on my Lone Star Travel Facebook page and Instagram, again, to be relevant.

Lone Star Travel – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I listen to my clients on their wants and desires to create beautiful memories with their family or friends. I personally travel a lot to keep up with trends and to make sure resorts are keeping up appearances and that my connections with those resorts are up to date, that is key.

I specialize in Mexico, Caribbean, Europe, Costa Rica and S Pacific. I sell what I know and won’t go out of my comfort zone. Destination Weddings and Honeymoons is my passion, but only about 40% of my business. Independent travel to Europe is BIG business this year and keeping me on my toes.

I have independent contractors that specialize in Caribbean Cruises and Disney so that my company can be well rounded. If I get a request for something that I am not a specialist it, I will refer that client to one of my IC’s that I have vetted and worked closely with.

What sets me apart from others is that I won’t jeopardize my reputation in the industry for monetary perks.

Also, my prices are not higher than you find online as certain .com sites want you to believe. Plus you get me, someone in the industry that cares about you and actually knows first hand about the destination and the resorts.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Being recognized with tour operators and hoteliers as a viable player in the travel industry. Being asked to be on Advisory Boards in the travel industry to help with the direction of our industry.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Colin Cowie

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