Biz Travel Agency Finds Big Success In Leisure

by Richard D'Ambrosio

Photo: First in Service Travel/Facebook

New York-based First in Service Travel (F1S) knows that for its corporate customers, all work and no play isn’t good for anyone. That’s why the travel management company this month is adding a cruise desk to its growing multimillion dollar leisure travel business, broadening its mix of services to meet the needs of a successful corporate trade.

For 25 years, First in Service has been managing business travel for a high-profile international clientele in finance, luxury goods, entertainment, media and technology. About four years ago, the company realized that although it was regularly booking vacations for its clients, it didn’t really have the expertise or dedicated staff to target leisure sales to that base.

“Our luxury leisure division was an organic extension of our corporate and entertainment offerings,” said F1S CEO and co-founder Fernando Gonzalez. “We work with so many high-profile executives, entertainers and models, who didn’t realize we could handle all of their travel needs—regardless of whether it was a world tour or a private island getaway. Once we made the division official, it took off.”

Today, the leisure division has 15 dedicated full-time agents. It has grown from $5 million, or 5% of total annual gross sales, to about $25 million in gross annual sales, or 20% of the agency’s total, and is “steadily growing” today, Gonzalez said.

Focusing on cruise
The more F1S sold vacations to its clientele, the more it became apparent to Gonzalez that his company needed to specialize in cruises. “It’s the fastest-growing segment in the leisure industry, and our clients are telling us they want to cruise,” he said.

So now F1S Cruises is working with 31 ocean and river cruise lines. F1S Cruises is being run by industry veteran and former Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines sales manager Stephen Scott. Scott will help market the cruise desk to clients and train 90 to 100 independent contractors on how to sell cruises.

“We’re here to guide [our agents] through what can seem like an overwhelming amount of options for all lifestyles,” Gonzalez said.

F1S already was one of the top three cruise producers in the New York region before launching the division, Gonzalez said. He hopes to “move the needle to the top with Stephen on board.”

“Stephen was an award-winning sales executive at one of the leading cruise lines in the world. His knowledge and contacts are outstanding,” Gonzalez said. “He’s convinced us all that our next trip will be a cruise.”

More growth opportunities
Gonzalez sees F1S growing its business in a number of other areas as well.

“We will continue to further specialize and really shine in areas like travel to South America. In our opinion, that’s an underdeveloped market that will be rising fast with more and more luxury hotels launching, strong value for the U.S. dollar, and lack of terrorism fears,” he said.

“Many of our specialists are Latin American and fluent Spanish and Portuguese speakers. Furthermore, our team is growing; we’re opening more international offices. It has all snowballed into a very exciting future in an industry that is poised for tremendous change.”

Gonzalez founded F1S with his sister Erika Reategui in 1991. The company, a branch of Tzell Travel Group and a Virtuoso member, has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Madrid, London and Bogota. It has dedicated corporate, luxury leisure, cruise, entertainment and events divisions.

F1S is advertising its new cruise division with a fall campaign in BELLA magazine, an upscale women’s monthly distributed in New York and Los Angeles. The campaign also included event sponsorship during New York Fashion Week with Paris Hilton and the celebrity launch of the magazine in Los Angeles.

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