Dianne Hardison remembers her first big trip – from North Carolina to Florida – by car, a convertible. It was 1972, just after Disney World opened. It was also Hardison’s honeymoon, which included a four-day cruise to Nassau before getting back in the convertible and driving home.
Since then Hardison has traveled thousands of times to all points of the globe.
Thousands of trips? All over the globe?
Yes, if you count all the people Hardison has served over 30 years as a self-employed travel consultant. She treats each trip as if it were her own.
Her business name sums up her effort and expectations: Results! Travel.
Hardison started her business 30 years ago this month, responding to a magazine advertisement. She wanted to own her own business.
Over three decades she has tried to make each trip as stress-free and relaxing as possible. “I know how important a vacation is. I want it to be as special as it can be at the best value,” she said at her office on Oakland Avenue in Rock Hill.
Some of her travelers are honeymooners. The preferred honeymoon destinations are the Caribbean, Mexico and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, she said.
Many honeymooners prefer an all-inclusive trip, where they pay one charge that covers their airfare, all transfers and the resort or hotel fees including service, food and drinks.
Some of her honeymooners are coming back for anniversary cruises with their children, Hardison said.
Much of her business comes via the Internet, which is a great source of customers – and frustration for Hardison.
Access to immediate information has drastically changed her business. People can search – and book – flights, hotel reservations, dinner reservations and tours with a few keystrokes.
While the Internet has given travelers more information, Hardison finds many still want the comfort that comes from dealing with a travel agent. You can’t get her personal touch and attention to detail from a computer.
With clients, Hardison goes through a “qualifying” ritual. She listens to them, asking them their preferences, their expectations and their desires.
She then searches for the travel experience that best meets their needs.
But Hardison’s service doesn’t end with just booking travel.
She makes sure each of her clients understand the ins and outs of travel, particularly if they are traveling overseas or making multiple stops and using a variety of transit modes.
Hardison goes over when to get to the airport, seating assignments and luggage rules.
Most important is she wants people to have the right documents to travel, be it passports or birth certificates.
According to the U.S. Department of State, most foreign countries require a valid passport to enter and leave. While some countries may allow U.S. residents to enter with only a birth certificate, or with a birth certificate and a driver’s license, all persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air, must present a valid passport to re-enter the United States.
Most cruise ships require passengers to have passports for trips to Canada and the Caribbean. A passport is even needed for an Alaskan cruise as the ships often stop in Canada.
Hardison has seen many changes in cruise-ship travel. When she first started booking cruises, the ships carried about 900 passengers. Now it’s four times that number. The new Royal Caribbean’s “Anthem of the Seas” holds 4,100 guests, and Norwegian Cruise Lines’ “Norwegian Escape” carries 4,200 passengers.
For those traveling by cruise ship, Hardison tells them what to expect from the on-board shops to specialty restaurants to details such as the requirement that you buy the unlimited soda card on the first day of most cruises.
Dining has changed much over the years, with many cruise ships offering freestyle cruising, letting you dine when and where you want.
Hardison, however, prefers the cruises where you have assigned seating and where getting dressed up is part of the cruise experience.
Hardison’s last cruise was from Boston to Nova Scotia. Her favorite places to travel are in Europe because of the history and cuisine.
Whether it’s a trip to Europe, the Caribbean, Ireland or just a quick excursion to the Big Apple, no trip is complete until Hardison makes a follow-up phone call.
She wants to know if the accommodations were OK, did they like the food, how was the service and transportation? And, of course, she also wants to hear everyone’s story. After all, listening is the most important part of her job.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066 • firstname.lastname@example.org