Switching careers can be daunting, a feeling Stephanie Cavazuti knows well. The former commercial real estate agent was close to joining another established travel agency in 2022 until she discovered Fora. She was attracted to the flexibility Fora offered, as well as our clear training and commission roadmap. As a new mom, she sought to dip her toe into the world of travel, and do so on her schedule.
A little over a year later, Stephanie is a member of Fora X, a boutique agency reserved for our top sellers. Plus, she’s officially decided to take travel advising full time. We recently chatted with Stephanie about her background, how she got into the business, how she grew her business and, of course, her favorite destinations and must-have travel accessories.
What is your professional background? How did travel advising fit into your life?
I was in commercial real estate for over eight years. I had been with the company I was with previously for about four years. I wasn't really ready to give that up. All the while I was also pregnant and about to start this new venture as a mom, so I was a little hesitant for that reason, too. I basically wanted to test the waters with travel advising before going full time. I did both for 2023, but coming into 2024 I’ve decided I will be doing it full time.
How did you find Fora?
I actually love telling this story. Back in 2018/2019, I had started this little side business called Four Day Weekend Travel, which is now my travel advising business — I was making itineraries for people. I was on my honeymoon in 2021 and I ran into this woman at the Four Seasons in Nevis, and she’d just started with Brownell. We got to talking about it, and she said, “You know, you can actually make money booking the whole trip for people. You don't just have to do the itineraries after the fact.” My mind was blown and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
In 2022, I started researching other agencies and I was pretty far down the road with one. I almost joined until my husband said, “You're pregnant and you have a good job and you're not quitting your full-time job to try this thing you have no idea is going to work.” I said, “You're right. There's got to be another way. There's got to be another host agency out there that will let me test the waters.”
“Fora was going to meet me where I was, and I was going to be able to keep my job, have a baby and still live my life, but also have all the resources to make a go at this new thing.”
Lo and behold, I found Fora. I got connected with Ali Duvaras, then Fora’s Head of Membership, through some friends she went to college with. I quickly said, “Sign me up.” This is exactly what I was looking for: to do it part time, at least for the timing being. Fora was going to meet me where I was, and I was going to be able to keep my job, have a baby and still live my life, but also have all the resources to make a go at this new thing.
What was it about Fora that initially attracted you?
Back when I was originally looking — and this is definitely a testament to Ali and her team — it was very clear what the commission structure was going to be and how I was going to get trained. There weren't a lot of questions. I mean, of course I had questions, but I didn't feel like I was taking a blind leap of faith. With other agencies, the commission structure felt vague and I wasn't really sure what my onboarding and training was going to look like. I was able to put together a pseudo business plan, using a lot of the information that Fora gave me even before I officially joined. That really attracted me.
What are your favorite aspects of Fora?
The thing that jumps out the most is how much Fora is evolving with the advisors. As I've grown as an advisor, as other advisors have grown, Fora is evolving with us through the creation of Fora X, breaking up the training into segments, connecting us to the travel partners. That has really stuck out to me. They are listening and recognizing the growth and the needs of their community.
I love how accessible Evan and Henley (Fora’s co-founders) are. Everyone's always willing to get on the phone with you or send you an email and help out. I think that's really unique. I've never been a part of another host agency, but just in my corporate career, it's not always the case where senior people or founders are so accessible. I have found that to be very, very cool, and also very helpful and encouraging.
“Fora has evolved with us. That has really stuck out to me. They are listening and recognizing the growth and the needs of their community.”
I went to a couple of events with other advisors outside of Fora who've been doing this for 30-plus years. I felt like such a newbie compared to these people, but with Henley and Evan and other Fora members, no one ever makes me feel like a newbie. I never had that feeling until I went to some of these other events and I thought, “Oh yeah, people have been doing this a lot longer than I have.” I never feel that way with Fora.
What did travel advising look like when you were on maternity leave?
I was on maternity leave from my then full-time job in commercial real estate for the summer of 2023. I used that time to really ramp up my travel business. I, of course, enjoyed time with my son and did all that new mom stuff, but I definitely was working and used the summer to build my book of business. September ended up being my best month of client travel for the whole year; a lot of clients were booking with me starting in April, May and June for September (i.e., end-of-summer) trips. I went back to my then full-time job in mid-September and was doing it all: working two jobs (finding time for travel advising in the mornings, nights and on weekends) and being a new mom. So, at the end of 2023 I decided it was time to make the jump.
What are some of the milestones you’re most proud of?
The decision to go full time was another big one. I grappled with this for a while. I wanted to spend more time with my son — that was a big pull — and I wanted to really take a bet on myself, and on my business. Being a travel advisor was going to allow me this flexibility.
Then there was a moment right around the time I hit $300,000 in sales. I thought, “You know what? I'm gonna do it. I have to give myself the opportunity. I have to bet on myself. I'm never going to be able to see this through to its full potential if I don't give it a go.”
How did you build your travel-advising business? What strategies have been the most successful?
Word of mouth has been huge. I just started telling everyone about it. I'd be at a dinner party and tell people. I'd be sitting on the beach and tell people. We'd be at a wedding and I’d ask, “Have you planned your honeymoon?” I was pretty shameless about telling everyone I was doing this. That really got the word out.
From there, I needed people to start trusting me. Everyone says, “Oh, that's awesome. Good for you. But I have someone else that I work with.” And I don't blame them. They wanted someone who had a proven track record of doing this.
"I wanted to spend more time with my son — that was a big pull — and I wanted to really take a bet on myself, on my business. Being a travel advisor was going to allow me this flexibility."
I started posting a lot on Instagram and put a lot of effort into my social as well as my newsletter. I've been sending it usually once a month, maybe once every two months, so it's not overly voluminous. I would post other people's trips and feature those trips, or if clients were tagging me, I'd be posting that and I'd make a point to explain what the trip was and where they went. That way, people could see I had just sent clients to Italy. It started giving me a sense of credibility. It was a combination of word of mouth and marketing in general — my social media and my newsletter.
From there, there's been a steady stream of referrals. That’s honestly where a lot of business has started to come from in the last two months, which has been great. I knew that was going to start happening: everyone had told me how once your clients start taking trips, they’ll come back and, if you did a good job, they're going to start telling other people. But you have to be patient and you have to give them an amazing experience.
Have there been any instances where tapping into Fora’s community proved especially helpful?
Yes. I had a call with Megan Smith, and she came up huge on a Disney trip. I don't book Disney often, or ever. But a client whom I've worked with a bunch before is going to Disney in February with her family. I figured out that piece of it, but she needed my help figuring out where to go, what Character Breakfast to go to, etc. I told her, “That's not really my expertise, but let me talk to a couple people and I'll see what I can do.”
I posted in Forum (Fora's community app), seeking a Disney expert. Megan wrote to me. We'd been following each other on Instagram for a little while, but we never really connected. She offered to get on the phone two days before Christmas, while she was also planning her daughter's birthday. We talked for half an hour and she gave me the full rundown. I would not have been able to do that without Megan. That's a quintessential story of being able to go to another advisor in the community and be able to look like much more of an expert than I would have without her. Shout out to her for answering my post.
How many trips do you plan at a time? What client trips do you have coming up?
I'm typically planning between 10 and 15 trips at a time. This summer, it was more than that, since, like I said, August and September were really, really busy, and spring break really ramped up recently too. Right now I have six proposals I have to get out next week, and then there are three or four others out there I'm waiting for responses on.
What was the first booking you made as a Fora Advisor?
The Shore Club in Turks and Caicos, for a friend who was going on her babymoon.
What is your favorite travel memory?
My family and I took a bike trip through the Loire Valley several years ago. We biked through a massive field of sunflowers and landed at a tiny little restaurant that doubled as the owners’ home. They served us an unforgettable lunch complete with fresh cheeses and wines.
What is your favorite hotel? Are there any you repeatedly return to?
I have two — Palazzo Avino in Ravello and the Four Seasons Vail. I spend a lot of time in Vail.
What, in your eyes, distinguishes a good trip from a great one?
Service and hospitality. Clients spend a lot of money to take these vacations, and when I get emails like, "I feel like a celebrity!" or texts like, "We are being treated like royalty, thank you!!!!", that's when you know it's great, not just good.
"Everyone had told me how once your clients start taking trips, they’ll come back and, if you did a good job, they're going to start telling other people. But you have to be patient and you have to give them an amazing experience."
What are your must-have travel accessories?
My Kindle and my water bottle. Plus, since having my son, I got suckered into the travel blow-up bed for the airplane and now I won't travel without it — ha!
Where are you heading to next?
On the docket for Q1 is Palm Beach and Miami, then Vail, then Turks & Caicos and finally a FAM to London and Paris.