By Ronald Fisher
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Former teacher Cynthia Watters said that she actually started travel planning while teaching at Richland Elementary School. At the time, her passion was more of a hobby as she coordinated just one tour a year.
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
What started as a hobby for Johnstown native Cynthia Watters, soon became a career sparked by her passion for travel and customer service.
In 2002, Watters launched Epic Journeys, a full-service travel agency located within her Richland Township residence.
“I sell dreams for a living,” Watters said during an interview held in her home.
Watters said that she is constantly amazed at how appreciative people are of what she does for them.
“I think that kind of surprises me the most,” she said, “that people are so grateful for the experience.”
Watters’ interests in traveling began as a child when she first learned about Europe while in school.
“I don’t know why,” Watters said. “It just fascinated me — I think because it was different.”
Watters eventually made her way to Europe in 1990. That trip opened her eyes to the wonderment of traveling.
“It’s the differences in culture and talking to the people who live there about their ideas — it broadens your mind,” Watters said. “I’m a different person because I travel.”
Watters said the “travel bug” was handed down to her from her parents.
“My parents sold their home when my dad took early retirement,” she said.
“They had lived in a motor home for nine years and traveled the country and Mexico. We didn’t know where they were,” she said. “They would call home once a week to let us know that they were still alive.
“My dad was happiest behind the wheel.”
Before starting her own business, Watters held a career in teaching for more than 20 years. She spent five years teaching at Conemaugh Township Area School District. After a few years as a stay-at-home mom, she taught for 17 years at Richland Elementary School.
Watters said what she loved the most about teaching was the children and “seeing their eyes light up when they learned something new.”
The former educator said she had plenty of takeaways from her many years of teaching, some of which she still refers to for her own business.
“This is not a job to me, this is a passion,” Watters said. “That’s one thing that entrepreneurs share — it’s the passion for what they do.
“It’s not all sweetness and light,” she said. “There’s a lot of problems that go with it, but when you love what you do there are really no problems. It’s just something that comes along with it.
“I don’t care if I’ve been somewhere a hundred times, to watch that person who is seeing it for the first time, that is what really inspires me to keep doing it,” Watters said. “I love to see people learning and experiencing new things, and that’s why I was a teacher in the first place.”
Watters said that she actually started travel planning while teaching at Richland Elementary. At the time, her passion was more of a hobby as she coordinated just one tour a year.
Watters left teaching in 2006 to aid her husband, who had become ill. With more time on her hands, Watters said, she was able to focus more on her small business.
“My business just slowly grew over the years as people learned to trust me and enjoyed traveling with me,” she said.
In 2010, Cynthia’s husband passed away.
“That’s when I really started traveling with the business,” she said.
A big part of Watters’ business is her ability to offer group tours, which she said is done a little differently than most travel agencies.
What makes Epic Journeys stand out is the fact that Watters escorts each group tour.
“I escort people all over the world and back,” she said. “I’m overseas seven or eight times a year.
“Most travel agents sell travel, but I sell an experience,” Watters said.
“I get them from Johnstown all over the world and back to Johnstown, and they don’t have to worry about anything,” she said. “They don’t worry because they know that I have been in about every travel situation there is.”
Cynthia Watters opens up about her epic journey as an entrepreneur:
Question: Why did you choose to become an entrepreneur?
Answer: I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, and sometimes I think that’s something that you’re born with.
Question: What do you credit your business’ success to?
Answer: Great customer service.
Question: What advice would you give to new or burgeoning entrepreneurs?
Answer: Find your passion, then find a way to integrate that into making a living, because when you do, you’ll never work another day in your life.
Question: How do you define success?
Answer: Success to me is being able to enrich people’s lives in a way that maybe they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t crossed my path.It gives me the greatest pleasure to open doors to people that they might not have wanted to do themselves.
Question: What was the most significant turning point in the success of your business?
Answer: Taking on Pieter (Reynolds) as a business partner. That has changed it the most.
Question: Which individuals were the most influential in your success and why?
Answer: My business partner, Pieter. He brings a lot to the table. The business has seen a lot more growth since he has come aboard. My father. Watching him in his business and how much he cared about the customers — that was what was important. He had an oil distributorship, where he would get a call and get up in the middle of the night and take oil to someone who was out of oil during the winter. I watched that … and that was inspiring to me that he cared about his customers so much.
Question: What is your legacy that you want to leave behind?
Answer: That I can help people fulfill some of their lifelong dreams. That, to me, is awesome.
Watters noted that her record for countries visited during a calendar year is 17.
“I think the thing that sets us apart is probably the hands-on approach that we take,” she said. “My clients are very important to me, and they become friends.”
Aside from her group tours, Watters also offers options for individual travel needs that include all-inclusive resorts, cruises, and vacations with preferred partners such as Disney and Universal Studios.
“Every tour is different, even if I am going to the same place,” Watters said. “The people are different, the experience is different, and there are always different things that happen.
“I mean, how could you get tired of going to Vienna or Rome or Paris?
“It just never gets old,” she said.
Building the business
Like many entrepreneurs, Watters typically finds herself alone, knee-deep in work, but she said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
She employs three part-time employees and two outside sales representatives to help mitigate the workload.
“When you have your own business, you’re never off-duty. It’s constantly with you,” Watters said. “You’re constantly thinking about ways of improving or something you would want to change. You can become a workaholic quite easily.
“When you love it, it’s hard to stop.”
Watters said that one of the biggest challenges that she faces is delegating work to her employees.
“That’s the hardest thing about growth,” she said. “I’ve had to learn how to do that.
“Most entrepreneurs are hands-on, and you just want to make sure that everything is just right.”
The Greater Johnstown graduate said what has really helped her business take off was the addition of her business partner, Pieter Reynolds.
Reynolds, a Dublin, Ireland, native and resident, has been a European tour guide for nearly 25 years.
Watters met Reynolds in 2010 while escorting a group through Germany. Reynolds served as the group’s tour director and the two immediately hit it off.
“We saw that we both had the same passion for travel and for customer service,” Watters said.
“We became friends and decided that we would probably work well together.”
Reynolds, who spoke by phone from Ireland, said that he truly enjoys what he does for a living.
“What I do for fun has become my job,” he said. “It then became my life.”
Similar to Watters, Reynolds can attest to the hard work and long hours involved in making Epic Journeys a success.
“People don’t realize how much organization goes into one of these trips,” he said. “We do weeks and months of work beforehand.
“In fact, if I do my job perfectly, it looks like I sit on the bus and do absolutely nothing,” Reynolds said.
Watters added, “Pieter does a great job. He really knows his history. When I first met him I thought he was the best.”
In the years since first meeting, the duo has taken groups all throughout Europe and beyond.
Past tours include visits to China, Costa Rica, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, France, South Africa and more.
The business partners said upcoming group tours for 2018 will consist of visits to India, Norway, Israel, Sicily and Southern England. There also is a tour scheduled for several of the area’s Chamber of Commerce organization’s to vacation in Canyon Country. The tour is an eight-day adventure from Scottsdale, Arizona to Las Vegas.
Tim Burns, an attorney based in Ebensburg, has used Watters’ services for the past five years.
He said that Watters has built a strong relationship with local business leaders and the Cambria Regional Chamber.
“Because of Cynthia Watters and Epic Journeys, I’ve been able to have an amazing number of internal experiences,” Burns said, “including safaris in South Africa and Zimbabwe, Octoberfest in Munich, St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin and just recently touring Cuba.
“These travels have enriched me personally, and I look forward to many more through Epic Journeys.”
Watters prides herself in Customer care. She calls it the hallmark of a good business.
“People know when you truly care about them,” Watters said.