Editor’s note: This story is part of Women in Business 2011, a special advertising section produced by Wednesday Journal and Forest Park Review. Click here to view the entire Women in Business Section.

Lydia Villanueva-Soto is a Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) and the owner of Oak Park’s own brick and mortar travel agency, Tan Travel. The agency has been around since 1984, and was located on S. Marion St. for 20 years. Once Lydia purchased the business in 2007, it was moved to S. Oak Park Ave. This also made her one of the youngest Latina business owners in the Chicagoland area.

Lydia has been in the travel industry for over 20 years, and began working at Tan Travel in 1994, and within two years was promoted to Office Manager. In recognition of her travel industry experience, Lydia has appeared in several travel-trade magazines. She has sat on many advisory boards for several local and international non-profit organizations, including Membership Chair for the West Suburban Women Entrepreneurs (WSWE) and is the current president of the Southtown Business Association for businesses located on S. Oak Park Ave between Van Buren St and Lexington St.

Due to the civic involvement Lydia and Tan Travel partake in, the agency has been awarded “The Nicholas Award” for significant investment in the Oak Park business community, andthe “OPAL Award” for inspired leadership and commitment to the Oak Park gay and lesbian community. Tan Travel has received the “Top Group Producer” award from American Airlines, the “Magellan 360 Outstanding Sales over $1,000,000 for 2008,” and the “Million Dollar Producer” award from Uniglobe Travel Centerin 2010. Lydia has also been awarded over two dozen certificate of achievements from a plethora of tourist boards and tour operators from around the world. Tan Travel is also listed on Funjet Vacations 500 Club Preferred Travel Agents list as well as part of Apple Vacations’ Golden Apple Travel Agency program.

Due to her dedication to her family, she is also involved with the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at Irving Elementary School and the Huskie Booster Club at Oak Park River Forest High School, where her two sons attend.

What do you enjoy the most within your business?
My clients! That’s what we specialize in—excellent customer service. I help clients fulfill their travel dreams and having the opportunity to hear their feedback once they return is priceless.

Why should people use travel agents?
I am a real person. You can talk to me and I can provide you with expert advice. Thatcannot be matched on the Internet. Also, if something goes wrong on your trip, you’re in another country and there could be a language barrier. The Internet isn’t going to be able to help you in distress, but I can. People think they get better deals online, that’s not always true. We are able to price match most internet rates on vacation packages and we do not charge a fee to book a vacation.

What sets you apart from your competitors?
I have been very fortunate to travel to most of the destinations I sell. From that I provide personal knowledge , experience and expertise. I consider myself kind of a travel therapist . I listen to your needs, budget concerns and expectation. From there I work with you to find the best travel options for you. I’m also a lot easier to talk to then a computer.

What is your business philosophy?
My clients are my niche, and at Tan Travel you will always receive the best customer experience possible. You are number one. We are the vacation whispers and can make your travel dreams come true.

What do you feel has been your greatest success?
Surviving this economy and knowing it can only get better as well as being fortunate to own and operate a successful business in a great community like Oak Park.

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