Ashley Morris has a serious business with a funny name.
The St. Joseph native launched Alpaca Your Bags Travel four years ago while living in New York. The company has since moved back to the Midwest and has been named Best of Weddings 2018 by The Knot, a popular wedding planning website.
“I wanted something that was memorable and eye-catching,” she said.
Morris, who now lives in Warrensburg, Missouri, includes an alpaca with every booking. Once a customer has booked a trip, she sends them a stuffed animal to take with them so they can post pictures to social media. Travelers are then entered into a drawing to get a discount on an upcoming trip.
“It’s been a fun little twist on the name,” she said. “It’s served me well. There’s been alpacas on the plane, in weddings and on the beach.”
The decision to become a travel agent didn’t happen overnight. In fact, Morris was introduced to the industry while planning her own destination wedding.
After graduating from Bishop LeBlond High School in 1998, Ashley Swymeler, now Ashley Morris, studied journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia and chose the advertising track. That took her down a 15-year stretch of a career in advertising working for companies like Target and Kohl’s and also working at advertising agencies with clients like Spotify.
“I worked my way around the corporate ladder and I loved it,” she said. “I got to learn so much and participate in some big things (with the companies).”
The job took her to New York, but she admits she needed a new challenge. She started looking at a Plan B, a second career that aligned with her passion for travel.
“I wanted to do something to keep using those skills I had developed,” Morris said. “That’s what I was really good at.”
In the meantime, she got engaged to another St. Joseph native.
“Never thought that would happen,” she said. “We always joke that it took 30 years to get together.”
Morris and her husband, Matthew, had gone to school together since their elementary years and graduated in the same high school class. The pair had always been good friends.
While planning their wedding in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, she started looking into travel agent school.
“I thought this is one of those old careers that we took a test for in high school and it doesn’t really exist,” she said.
She took the 12-week class and started Alpaca Your Bags Travel in 2015.
“I was still working my advertising job during the day and at night doing travel,” she said.
In 2016, Morris moved to Warrensburg. Her husband is an emergency medical technician with the United States Air Force and is based out of Whiteman Air Force Base. For a time, she worked remotely, flying back and forth from Kansas City to New York, all while building up a travel agency.
“I’ve now built a business beyond anything I would have expected,” Morris said.
Since then, she has been helping couples plan their big day while proving the travel agent industry is anything but dying.
“There is a big resurgence in travel agents,” Morris said.
She has found that people don’t want the hassle of searching a dozen different websites, reading a million consumer reviews and not knowing if anything is legitimate. Morris takes the guesswork out of the equation.
“People really want that trusted adviser who’s been there,” she said.
Last year alone, Morris spent about 120 nights at destinations all over the world. She sleeps at 20 to 30 different hotels a year to check them out so she can recommend the best to her customers because about 50 percent of what she books are destination weddings. The remaining half are family vacations, honeymoons and anniversary trips as well as corporate retreats.
Right now, Alpaca Your Bags Travel includes herself, an assistant and two part-time travel agents who focus on Disney vacations and cruises.
“We’re pretty small but mighty,” Morris said.
She said she operates out of her home to accommodate the freedom she needs to travel and not manage a storefront . But she’s open to the possibilities of her growing business.
Morris would like to expand into other types of services. She also has written a book, “The Ultimate Destination Wedding Planning Guide.”
More information about the business can be found at its website, www.alpacayourbags.com.