Local travel agency focuses on client needs through community-based model

Jan. 8, 2020

Tyson Wharton owns a travel company that treats its clients as though they have never traveled before.

“We plan all of that step by step — almost like we take into account that you may know nothing about travel — right from the beginning so that you’re comfortable traveling,” said Wharton, who founded Sioux Empire Travel in 2017.

With a focus on figuring out the small details while cutting down on confusion, his company has found a niche and is entering a new phase of growth.

Wharton previously had been the director of a child care center for 13 years before he started Sioux Empire Travel out of his home.

In addition to his love of travel, he also was drawn into the industry by his wife, Stacey, who had been a travel agent for five years. The couple wanted to start their own agency together, but Wharton said his wife had signed a noncompete clause and couldn’t work with him until that ended. So Wharton initially took the helm of Sioux Empire Travel on his own. 

His goal was to create what he calls the first “community-based” travel agency in Sioux Falls.  

“I wanted to be community-based where we do that one-on-one customer service that you don’t get, especially from some travel agents here in town,” he said. “So I do work out of my house … but it’s all concierge service. We either go to our client’s houses or we meet up for beers and coffee, and get what they want out of their trip.”

He also has a background in nonprofit work, serving on the board of comic-con SiouxperCon, which he said has informed how he runs his business, putting a focus on the community and personal interactions with his clients.

Wharton’s business has expanded over the past two years, as he has added subagents who work under him. His wife has also joined him now that her noncompete clause expired. Wharton said the agency doubled its sales from 2018 to 2019, a feat he would like to again accomplish this year.

The Whartons and the subagents each specialize in booking a specific region of the world or type of vacation. Wharton books a lot of all-inclusive resorts and domestic vacations, while Stacey Wharton has the beat on European trips. Wharton hopes to continue adding agents to specialize in as many varieties of vacations as possible.

“We divvy up what we’re not experts at because the world’s a big place, and so if I can have an agent that’s trusted in every single field under me and we can just divvy up leads and make sure that everybody gets that really, really good vacation.”

Wharton prides himself in his business’ customer service. he said. While his clients are away on their trips, he and his agents are always on call to answer any questions or fix any problems they may have. 

Wharton also said staying up to date on global affairs is a key part of his job to make sure clients are safe while traveling.

“We watch the news, and we kind of make sure — like in France, there was a huge strike, and it was hard to get around France for a while,” he said. “Well, if you book a trip on Expedia, nobody’s going to tell you that, but people who actually watch the news and are up to date  and they make this their profession (like we do), they take it seriously.”

As he continues to develop his business, Wharton said he hopes to increase his agent pool while maintaining the same level of “Midwestern hospitality” that is the foundation of his model.

“If I can have people in the area and beyond that are trusted that I can give my clients to, that’s the end goal. And so then I can do the business development and get out, reach people and do community events and community service and just grow from there. That’s our plan.”

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Local travel agency focuses on client needs through community-based model

A local travel agency with a unique business model is taking off.

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