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The Inside Scoop: Travel Industry Insights from Conde Nast Traveler 2024 Top Travel Specialists was hosted by GTN's Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Vanessa McGovern. During this presentation she interviewed six of the eleven GTN advisors who were named 2024 Top Travel Specialists. This group of travel advisors are very well versed in the luxury travel space and have so much passion for what they do. They serve their clients at the utmost level, and they've got some great insight into what's happening in the world of luxury travel. So let's get into the presentation!

Starting with Casey Dye of Travel Theory:

Casey tell us how your business has changed from 2023 going into 2024?

Yeah, so we've only gotten busier. We have, you know, our business is mainly built on referrals actually. So we have just kind of like gradually expanded and expanded what we're doing as people travel with us and they realize how much smoother it is. They don't have to worry when they go on these trips. Every detail's taken care of. And you know, they have these amazing experiences and they share it with their friends. And then next thing you know, they're calling us for their trips. So we've just had an amazing year and it's been wonderful to be able to be recognized by Conde Nast for a second year in a row. So, exciting!

So would you say that one of your top trends right now in the travel industry is people are already talking about 2025?

Yes, we definitely still have some last minute travel coming up. We have people contacting us now for travel in June, which is relatively last minute in our world. So we do still have that type of business, but we are already talking with people about 2025. Absolutely.

What type of last minute requests are you seeing?

Europe, Which is tough in general during this time, but then add in the Paris Olympics this year. Taylor Swift is in London in June, so that's affecting, I know. Yeah. So, but yeah, last minute request for Italy as well, which Italy is probably our top requested destination, again, two years in a row, I would say.

What are the other trends that you're seeing right now or what you predict based on your book of business?

Well, you know, depending on the location where people are traveling, we have been talking to people about luxury trains, which we love. And, you know, not, not necessarily Amtrak, but like the Royal Scottsman and the Orient Express trains like that, the and and Explorer in South America. So talking to people about weaving in those types of experiences into their trips, That is something that is very hot right now when you go to travel industry events. And a lot of the, a lot of the different luxury hotel companies are getting into trains as well.

What advice or success tips would you have to somebody potentially watching this who loves travel and should maybe start thinking about doing this full time?

I mean, I would say absolutely jump right in, because I feel like the business is there. So many people travel and they want to have someone to help guide them there. They're busy in their everyday lives and they don't wanna spend all the time, you know, doing all the research. So there's definitely a need for more travel advisors, and I think there's plenty of business for all of us. So I would say, come on in.

And then the other tip I would have is to have a support system. Someone else in the travel industry who you can bounce ideas off of who you can, you know, maybe commiserate with, you know, sometimes we, we run into S and lows of entrepreneurship. And so it's great to have that resource and I think that GTN does a great job of providing that and, you know, giving us the, the Facebook group and the camaraderie and in-person events where we can meet people. There's, you may not know, there's actually a couple of advisors that were kind of in our same cohort area. We have a WhatsApp chat and we talk and it's, you know, just advisors that we met early on that have been a great resource for us. So find that community and I think you'll do amazing.

What is a trip experience that you wanna do or send clients to that you didn't even know was possible?

Well, I would say actually Antarctica is high on my list and it wasn't on my radar before. I like sunny locations, warm weather beaches. But, so this is complete opposite. But what I have learned about these Antarctic expeditions going on right now, both with like white desert with the Antarctic camps or via the expedition ships with like Cork or Aurora, they look incredible. They, they're, I think the time to go is now because I mean the, it's melting, so it's time to go. So it's a, It's time to go. And there's a lot of amazing partners that you work with that will take your clients there.

Next up, Julie Ann Hargett from H Luxury Travel

What trends you are seeing for H luxury travel?

So I would say, and you know, similar to Casey, our business is built on referrals. And so the biggest trend is not necessarily a destination or a country, but the biggest trend that we're seeing are clients wanting experiences. They want to take their family, they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and they want to have hands-on experiences where they can really check out and just have time together. So that's, I would say the past year has been the biggest request. I mean, I was on the phone with clients earlier today, and that was one of her big things is I've got a son graduating high school and a son graduating college, and we want to have experiences together. We don't wanna just check off going to the Coliseum or, you know,going to Florence. We want to have hands-on experiences that we're really gonna remember for years to come.

What is an example of an experience that, you know, really left a beautiful memory for a family that you sent maybe to Italy or another destination?

Oh, goodness. So I would say, since we're talking about Italy, one of the biggest things is doing a private experience at the Vatican. Whether it's opening the Vatican, having the keys that Is possible, Whether it's doing the Sistine Chapel in the evening privately with just your group or your family. Those are some of the things that have truly left marks on families. And because you have boots on the ground partnerships in Italy, you can basically make anything happen with the relationships that you've personally curated.,

So tell us a little bit about success tips. What tips do you have for viewers?

So I would say, first of all, if you're wanting to get into the travel industry, absolutely you should. Like Casey said, there's plenty of business to go around. It really is. But one of the biggest things is having a mentor, having whether it's one or two mentors, having people that you can look up to, people that you can rely on communities, of course, very important. And just sticking to your foundation, whether that be impeccable service, which I think is very important. It's so rare these days to have that. So sticking to what you know and sticking to a niche, sometimes it takes a little bit of time to find that when you're new to the industry. But once you find that really honing in on that and that's truly your specialty, and that's what your clients see and then they then refer.

What advice do you have for somebody that really just needs better strategies on getting to know their clients?

So I think it starts in the beginning with your inquiry form or however you receive clients. You want them to answer as many questions as possible. I ask a lot of questions. So when I'm on my initial call with clients, especially new clients, you know, we're digging in deep like, what is your favorite weekend look like? What, what is your favorite snack? What do your kids love? What are the things that really drive you without, you know, asking for their blood type?

So you really have to have to have kind of a process in place, which I know we talk about this a lot at GTN, but part of your process needs to be finding out more about your clients and whether that's covering it in the initial call or we send a form after they've been onboarded that dives a little bit deeper and that they can take a little time to fill it out.

What would you say your outlook is on the industry right now?

Oh gosh. The industry is booming right now. And you know, there's enough business for everybody. There's billions of people on the planet and I think you know it, it is gonna stay that way for a while. I don't see anything slowing down. I think again, post pandemic, everybody really wants to travel and it's not so much about the budget, it's about having that experience and creating those memories that you really can't get elsewhere. Travel changes you. Travel opens your eyes. They're looking for those core memories and creating those with the, their loved ones. You know, anybody can buy their kid an iPhone, but let's do something that really makes a difference in their life and people Are willing to invest in the right experiences.

Moving to our third GTN Advisor, Stephanie Goldberg Glaser of Live Well Travel Often:

Why dont you share a little bit about how your business was started to where it is right now

Well, we only have a few minutes, so I'll make it short. You know, the, the truth is once you focus on something, whatever that thing is, right? I think Julie Ann was talking about a niche and I started focusing more on luxury as, you know, for my clients. And that, means different things to different people, right? It's not always the same thing, right? But I started focusing more on luxury and what we can do for our luxury clients, which is added amenities and upgrades and more free stuff. Everybody likes free stuff and especially me and I love getting people free stuff.

And so, you know, if you get this fantastic trip and then you add extras to it, doesn't want that, it's amazing. But focusing on luxury and focusing on the luxury components that are more upscale hotels and private experiences and private touring with guides has really focused my business in that direction and, and everybody wants it. It's true. It's surprising.

Tell our viewers the difference that belonging to Hotel Elite programs has made for your businesses

How do you leverage those programs? Well, you know, everything we do is a relationship, right? So if the relationship is with a hotel company or with our partners on the ground in country or whoever, right? It's super helpful and super important.

And really it is the crux of what we do. It's not just getting people up into a hotel, it's that we have people that we can call if we have a problem, or, or more often than not, before our clients visit a property. So their anniversary is taken care of so their birthday is celebrated properly, which whatever that means to them,

right? Some people don't wanna cake in candles, some people love a cake in candles. More sparklers, the merrier. You know? And, and those kind of relationships have really allowed us to get a little bit deeper into those relationships with our clients as well and just really expand what we offer people in the best way. Yes, I love that answer.

What do you think are top trends that you're seeing right now overall with travel?

Our top destination every single year, year after year, is Italy. Italy, It's always Italy. Everybody wants to go to Italy. Whether you've been to Italy before, you haven't and that's great. So that's not, Italy is not going anywhere. But some other fun. You know, one of the other fun things that I think we've noticed in post pandemic world as opposed to a destination specific trend is people really don't wanna wait to do their things.

And it's not really so much as revenge travel as it is, you know, like we've seen what our lives could look like and it could be very different and you don't know what tomorrow brings and it's not promised and maybe you just wanna do it now when you can. So what that also means is a shorter timeframe to plan. People are like, I don't wanna wait till 2026,

Tell us the travel experience that you are looking forward to personally experiencing coming up

Well, just last week Virtuoso announced their Virtuoso icon list for 2024. And the Virtuoso icon cruise this year is to Tahiti. That's gonna be amazing. So I'm very much looking forward to that!

Next up is Sandy Lipkowitz of We Make Travel Easy:

You have built an incredible business and have just now imagined the next chapter of your business, will you share a little bit about that with our viewers?

Well, I'm very excited because, you know, I love my business and I, and I love my clients and they're fabulous. But you know, as we were all saying, you know, we're all looking at, you know, life and how that's changed and everything else. And I'm looking, 'cause I'm aging into that age of it's time to have some time to travel for myself and to also visit friends and family and do that kind of stuff.

But I don't wanna leave the travel business just yet. It's my passion and it's my love and you know, my community and everything else, so I was looking for a situation where I could bring in a younger person that I could mentor and then Covid happened that put the timeline back and everything else and all of it just kind of popped into my mind one day.

I have a very good colleague and friend who is also a member of the Top Producers Club in GTN, Lisa Marie Wertanzl of Sterling Journeys and she just brought her amazing daughter into the business and I thought, this is exactly what I'm looking for. So I approached the two of them and they were delighted. So this is going to take some time as nobody's done this before. We're kind of pioneers in this when we're kind of really figuring our way through the dark. But we're in the process of merging my business: We Make Travel Easy, we'll sunset over time and I will come in as director of development with Sterling Journeys and I will do what I love to do, which is source new business and create new itineraries for clients.

And so tell us a little bit about travel trends that you are seeing specifically in a group travel setting.

Well, on, on the smaller side of kind of group is the multi-generational. And I've seen a lot of families, you know, with grandma and the kids and the grandkids kind of going together. I have a client that is a CPA, so come Monday is kind of the end of his craziness and on sat the following Saturday, he's taking, the children and the grandchildren, and they're all going to the Dominican Republic. So there's a whole lot of that, and it ends up becoming a group when you have eight or 10 people.

I'm also seeing friends traveling together, you know, two couples, three couples, four couples doing that kind of stuff. People really want connection. Yeah. And you know, kind of have that togetherness. And especially since so many of our loved ones are in different parts of the country. When do we get to be there together? And I can't tell you, one of the most rewarding things I have is when people come back to me and I'm just doing a festive trip for her family and she says,

What is a destination as a Conde Nast traveler top travel specialist would recommend that travel advisors, as well as luxury discerning travelers put on their radar?

That's hard. I mean, you know, I love Africa and I can't tell you how many Africa safaris I'm doing right now. Africa is really, really hot and I've got them booked into 2025 because in Africa you need to do a year to a year and a half in advance since the camps are so small. But recently there has been an uptick in Uzbekistan and the surrounding areas there. So now I have seen that people are starting to reach out to other areas and go there before everybody else goes.

Now it's time to welcome our next Gifted Travel Network member, Anna Harrison of Travel Observations:

Tell us about how, how your business is looking right now and what your outlook is on the industry.

I have a very positive outlook on the industry. I think as many of my colleagues said, the the business is there. There's no need to feel like there's any competition. There's more than enough to share. And I'm seeing a lot of adaptability.

And we saw that when the pandemic hit. We saw how the travel in industry adapted and came up with new places to travel and new ways to travel. And I, I feel like we're still seeing that momentum where it's okay, some cities are becoming over touristy. So, you know, let's make connections with villas in the countryside. Let's go to tier two cities and these other destinations. Let's create these memories together instead of just following a tour guide around with a flag. And so I think that we're keeping up with the demands and being able to present, you know, the trips of everyone's dreams. I feel like we finally have opportunity to say, "well we've always been able to do it, but now you really want it. So let's go crazy."

Tell our viewers a little bit about your business, how long you've had it, what you were, a little bit about what you were doing previously and now the role that you play in your business.

I designed thoughtful trips for discerning travelers and I mainly work with busy professionals and hotel affection, autos and luxury adventure seekers that really dont want to plan their trip using Google. I think that the days of printing off a famous blogger's day by day itinerary and just following what some person on the internet told you to, I think that that's, we're sort of past those days and now I'm seeing Saturation point with that. And so now it's more authentic expertise that people are craving. And so when my travelers call me, I really build my business on authenticity and my travelers know the places, all the places I've been and how much I love my favorite destinations. And so instead of just offering them cookie cutter itineraries, I am trying to inspire them and I'm doing the work for them.

What tips do you have for travel entrepreneurs right now?

So I've always subscribed to the theory that if you treat people right, success follows don't chase success, chase the act, the act of treating people, right? And everything else follows through. But I put a twist on that also.

You know, if you treat your clients well, success will follow. But my twist is you are also included in that treat people, right? And so if you start your business by treating yourself right, what are your boundaries? What trips do you wanna take on? And I know it's hard, right? We've all said, right, when you're starting out, you maybe do take on trips you're not sure about or aren't your niche, right? But as you get more and more clear, start trusting that intuition. If, you don't need to take on a trip and you get that email, don't let a scarcity mindset make you say yes to all business. If it's not, if it already ha,

What are your favorite destinations that you feel don't get as much sort of social media, air time, maybe as other destinations that you really want for travelers to consider?

Okay. So you threw me for a loop with that question! But I do have a couple answers. And I would say actually a couple destinations in South America, these destinations are amazing. Ecuador in particular is one of my favorites. I've been there four or five times and so many people think of Ecuador as the Galapagos and you only fly there to go to the Galapagos Islands and land Ecuador is fabulous. You can go, horseback riding in a volcano, explore an extinct volcano crater and oh I still have leather luggage that I bargained for in a market up in the mountains, the food amazing Quito, the, capital city has amazing international modern restaurants.

So I think that South America in general Ecuador specifically, but other destinations like, you know, Bolivia, Argentina, all of that are just in Columbia of course. But I just think there's so much to be discovered there and I don't think that they're having a moment like some of the other European destinations at this time.

Now its time for our final GTN member, Heather Parker of Bliss Travel Experiences:

Heather, tell our viewers a little bit about your business, how long you've been in business for and what your sort of outlook is right now in the industry.

Sure. I've been in business almost 10 years. So September will be the big 10 year anniversary. But before that I was in the banking industry for about 20 years. And so it was a big pivot for me. A lot of people thought I might be crazy, but it's really paid off. And I'd say the biggest thing I'm seeing right now is that the people who have money to spend on travel, wanna travel. And there's more this year than there was last year. So 2022 and 2023 were great rebound years, but as you know, after the pandemic people just wanted to travel so much. And first quarter, 2024, our bliss teams business is up 53% from first quarter 2023. So it's, it's not stopping at all.

I would say probably 60, maybe 60 - 70% is repeat business with existing clients who have traveled with us before. And then the other piece of that is usually referrals. Referrals from either clients where someone says, my friend and her family went to Greece last year and you, they can't stop talking about it. Please help me and my family or just through Virtuoso. A lot of referrals come in that way and that kind of thing.

Is there a consistency for the types of trips you're planning right now for your guests?

I would say, the consistency really is the people. They are either booking a complex trip with me or just hotel stays. So most of my business is more of a complex trip where it's seven or more days they wanna do and see a whole bunch of things. And they might have even been there before, but they don't wanna plan it themselves. So they're looking for help on the front end with like, here, Heather, take this from me. And I, I often say it's kind of like having all your receipts in a box and just giving them to your accountant at tax time and saying, please put this together in a nice package for me. You're the expert. You know, where all the, the ins and outs of like where I can get my deductions and all that stuff. And that's kind of how we are, right? We're working with a specific part of the country, in that part of the world where we know the ins and outs of like, what are the best days to do this or this, or, you know, not just any food tour, but here's the walking food tour and trust that everybody raves about, you know, with a great guide or whatever. So I, like to bring in, depending on what those particular people's priorities are for that trip, if they wanna entertain their teenagers and not have them be bored or some other people are a couple's trip where they're really interested in architecture and history. Everybody has a different priority. So I like trying to figure out what that is and then, you know, making it perfect!

What tips do you have for travel advisors in terms of being successful in today's new landscape?

Because it is different than it was even last year? Yeah, I think, I think some of the mistakes a lot of newer travel advisors make is that they assume their potential client travels just like they do. So they assume that the budget of this person that they're talking to on the phone is exactly what they would wanna spend, which may be very, very different. You know, so like, my personal budget for a trip to wherever will not be the same budget as any of the five people who I'm planning for. So the biggest thing is not to plan based on your personal preferences, but plan based on their preferences.

What are tips that you have for travelers thinking of wanting to visit Japan?

Yeah, Japan specifically, is very similar to what Sandy was saying for Africa, that's the destination where you really need to start planning well in advance. Maybe not a year in advance, but at least six months in advance. I think Japan kept their doors closed (so to speak) to visitors after the pandemic for a lot longer than many other countries in the world. So it was almost like the demand was so pulled in tight. Once they opened their doors, it's been gangbusters for them, right? So it's not just cherry blossom season that Japan is hot, Japan is busy all the time.

So summer in Japan, if you're planning for 2025, I would start this fall no later than this fall. And the other thing that I would say too is don't just think of Japan as Tokyo and Kyoto, but think about doing maybe a Royal Caribbean stay, you know, up near Mount Fuji and you know, really seeing the cultural culture and different parts of, you know, what Japan has to offer other than just the bigger and medium sized cities.