Then & Now: No boring days in travel biz for Mitchell

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 560 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the April 11 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Julie Mitchell, owner of Design Travel by Julie in Rogers, said the most rewarding aspects of her career have been living vicariously through her clients and the opportunity to travel to more than 50 countries.

Mitchell, 60, has worked in the travel industry for nearly 38 years, starting as marketing director of sales for Summit Tours in Englewood, Colo.

“It’s exciting. I love what I do,” she said. “There’s never a boring day.”

She highlighted the trips she’s handling for clients, including ones to Asia, Australia, France, Italy, Jamaica and Scotland. She noted that spring break is one of her biggest weeks of the year, and she spends the week caring for clients.

“Now that the countries are gradually opening and there’s such pent-up travel demand, business is booming again,” Mitchell said. “COVID was disastrous for two years: millions of dollars of cancellations. Some clients I rebooked five times, but thank goodness they are finally going.”

The daughter of an FBI agent, Mitchell was born in Berkeley, Calif., and lived in a dozen states while growing up. Her love of travel started while on a trip to Germany when she was a high school senior.

She said she had family in the area and came here to attend the University of Arkansas. In 1984, Mitchell earned a bachelor’s degree from the UA before joining Summit Tours in Colorado. She returned to Northwest Arkansas two years later, and the area has been home since then. She worked as a manager at Around the World Travel in Springdale before she started at Design Travel in Rogers.

She was manager of the company when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named her to the Forty Under 40 class in 2001.

“Design Travel was in existence for 36 years,” she said. “We just, unfortunately, closed our brick-and-mortar location as of Dec. 31 of last year, primarily due to COVID and staffing. That is when I decided to go out on my own. My owners were very good to me for 32 years.”

Mitchell is the sole owner and employee. Before the pandemic, the company had seven travel advisers. She noted that she continues to use the same email address and phone number and care for her existing clients.

“I tend to do more luxury travel now,” she said. “I’m affiliated with Virtuoso, which is a high-end, luxury affiliation. It’s by invitation only for travel advisers. We have lots of contacts that get additional perks, and I’m proud to be a Virtuoso member.”

A lot of the trips she books are custom designed to meet clients’ preferences, said Mitchell, adding that European trips have been popular. She recently worked on a graduation trip that included travel to car factories, including Porsche and BMW, and mountain roller coasters. She added that another client who loves cats is going to a cat café in Australia.

“There’s nothing out of the norm that I can’t arrange,” she said. “I have some clients who renewed their vows in the Vatican after 25 years. It’s small little things like that are over the top that make my job so rewarding.”

Before the pandemic, the company’s revenue had risen to more than $7 million, from less than $500,000 when she started there. Revenue has been recovering since the onset of the pandemic, and she expects to reach $1 million in revenue this year. She books thousands of trips annually and has hundreds of clients.

“I’ve been very blessed with good clients,” she said. “Ironically, I have one family that I have booked for over 30 years. Now, I’m booking their children’s honeymoons — multigenerational travel. That’s very rewarding to say you have clients that you did their honeymoon, and now you’re doing their children’s honeymoons.”

Some of her personal travel experiences have included Ireland castle stays, a swim with the sharks in Belize, an elephant ride in Thailand and a helicopter flight over the Great Barrier Reef. Her travel goals include trips to Croatia, Kenya, Morocco, New Zealand, South Africa and South America. She has two children, both of whom got married during the pandemic.