Ellen Paderson was a pioneer 20 years ago. She opened a home-based travel agency during a time the business model wasn’t recognized or respected much. Today, the travel industry landscape is vastly different. ellen_wedding_headshot_tight_reverse_800

Paderson and her agency, Smiles and Miles Travel of Easton, Mass., have repeatedly been recognized for their success, most recently with the Golden Egg Award from the American Marketing Group’s Network of Entrepreneurs Selling Travel (NEST).

NEST, a marketing organization with 500 independent agencies, honored Paderson with the award as one of the group’s top 15 home-based entrepreneurs based on sales.

Twenty years ago, Paderson saw an ad for a travel course and had a vision. “I was in a sales and marketing job for a food broker and thought that travel would be fun. I thought I could work out of my home. When you’re in sales and marketing, you can sell anything, and I had a passion for traveling.”

At the time, learning a GDS (in her case, Sabre) was essential, and most client communication was over the telephone. “It was a lot of hard work. I took people’s calls every minute of every day. I promoted myself everywhere. I had young children, and I’d be at their ballgames and I’d be talking travel with the other mothers. It’s different from a brick-and-mortar agency where people walk in. I couldn’t rely on that.”

Paderson was with the now-defunct Joystar host agency for a time and then joined NEST. She also served as the Massachusetts director for the Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN), the home-based association of independent agents. Paderson said she believes OSSN helped boost the visibility and promote the professionalism of home-based agents in the early years of growth for the new business model.

“Like in other professions, you’re going to get people who are hobbyists. And it took a while for people in the industry to realize that there are home-based agents who are big sellers,” she said. “I believe that OSSN was a great contributor to that. There are home-based agents today who are producing more than brick-and-mortar agencies.”

Paderson attributes her success to focusing on lucrative specialties: destination weddings, honeymoons and bar mitzvahs. 

Paderson, who believes she’s the only travel agent offering destination bar mitzvahs, partnered with a Florida-based cantor who flies to destinations to conduct the ceremonies. Typically, family groups are 20 to 30 people; her largest has been a group of 80. Because so many Americans families are spread out geographically, the trips are used as reunions and combined with vacations, bringing far-flung family members together for a special occasion. 

“Every year, it’s grown and grown. It’s at least 50% of my business now. Families work with the cantor to scale it to whatever the family’s needs are. We do a lot in Italy. I’ve done one in a villa in Puerto Rico. I’ve arranged some on St. Thomas, where there is a temple with a lot of history and meaning. We’ve done them in a rain forest in Costa Rica, on cruise ships and at all-inclusive resorts on a beach or conference room.”

For Paderson, her business is a calling. “I don’t really see any downside. The only pitfall is sometimes I can never stop working. I get up every morning and can’t wait to get to work.”

Republished from Travel Weekly by Laura Del Rosso on August 24, 2014