Olga M. Ramudo found her career by going on vacation.
She was a stay-at-home mom in the mid-1980s when she and her sister organized a ski trip with a group of about 30 friends. The next year, the crowd grew to 110.
“The third year, we were chartering two planes and taking them to Vail, Color., over New Year’s week,” she said.
Figuring they might at least try to turn their work into free trips, Ramudo and her sister, Cristina Jacomino, became independent contractors for a small travel agency. They met partner Rosa Maria Delgado, who is now retired, at that agency and the three formed Express Travel in November of 1989.
Delgado has witnessed huge changes in her profession with the rise of online travel sites and do-it-yourself vacation planning. But she said her business has continued to grow, even during the recession. She has some of the same people on staff as she did in 1989, with 21 full-time employees and nine other part-time contractors. While the agency as a whole sells all types of travel, Ramudo said some agents specialize in cruise, corporate, study abroad or group-meeting travel.
The key to staying relevant, she said, is offering value beyond what a traveler could find with a Web search.
“The agent needs to know more than her customer,” she said. “Education is key, being informed is key, because if not, sure, you lose your value.”
Ramudo’s work has won her plenty of recognition: Just last week, she received the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award from Gov. Rick Scott. She earned the 2011 Travel Agent of the Year Award from the American Society of Travel Agents, or ASTA. Hispanic Business Magazine ranked Express Travel No. 192 in its list of largest Hispanic companies in the country.
And her involvement stretches beyond her own company. In January of last year, Ramudo was named to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, a two-year appointment with the option for two-year reappointment. In an interview in her South Miami office, she spoke about her role on the national board, critical issues facing the industry and her favorite vacation.
Q. What do you do as a board member?
As a board member, we meet quarterly, we have different task forces. Tourism is on everybody’s radar because tourism does create jobs. 14.4 million jobs in the United States are related to the travel industry and everybody, from the Department of Commerce, Interior, White House directly, is involved and supports tourism because it creates jobs. It’s jobs that you cannot outsource; it’s steady jobs. And my board does exactly that, we have different task forces, most recently we got the visa waiver approved for Taiwan. We have worked very hard at reducing wait times for Brazil. So that’s the type of thing we are working on supporting very much, additional officers for different airports. Particularly, I for one push MIA very much. The CBP officers, Customs and Border Protection officers, we all know that the wait in immigration is a problem.
Q. With your viewpoint from being in Miami, what are some of the issues that you know about uniquely and can kind of bring to that national table?
The wait at MIA is definitely in the forefront and on the radar and actually we laugh because our chair starts the meetings and says, ‘Olga has promised not to talk about MIA in this meeting.’ I’m passionate and I love my city, I love what I do and I’m a firm believer of what the industry has to offer and what it brings to the table.