The Valerie Wilson Travel team. Photo: Facebook.
Hundreds of top travel industry executives from as far away as Europe and Asia partied late into the night at Cipriani 42nd Street to pay homage to Valerie Wilson Travel as it celebrated its 35th anniversary led by its founder and her two daughters who now serve as co-presidents.
A native of Iowa and former fashion executive, Valerie Wilson caught the travel bug while living in London in the late 1970s and after returning to New York opened her agency in 1981 with its first location in the former Pan Am Building, across the street from last night's gala. She told the gathering she imagined at best she would be a boutique agency with about $5 million in sales. Today Valerie Wilson Travel includes 315 advisors and is ranked in the top 50 travel agencies in the U.S. with just under $400 million in annual sales. It has offices nationwide, including California, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Illinois.
Known for its signature peach colored ticket jackets and elegant cursive script logo, one executive said, "Cartier has red, Tiffany has blue, Hermes as orange and Valerie is peach. Everyone knows it. She understood branding before anyone else." Despite the chilly weather, the large ballroom was decorated with peach trees and filled to capacity.
Facebook was lit up with messages to Wilson and her daughters Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg and Kimberly Wilson Wetty. Ernesto Floro, Sales and Marketing Director for The Pierre, a Taj Hotel wrote, "Thank you, Valerie Wilson Travel for a fabulous evening." Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, posted, "Val knows how to party and party like a rockstar!" Greg Tepper of Exeter International said, "It was an incredible honor to attend your 35th anniversary, and I will never forget it." Brian Honan, sales director at Trump SoHo posted, "What becomes a legend most? Mind, spirit, determination, vision and most of all, heart. Cheers to you Valerie Wilson to taking us all on the journey."
Helen Smith, marketing chief for The Dorchester Collection flew in for London for the gala and was set to return to London this morning while Silversea Cruises, Crystal Luxury and Windstar bosses Mark Conroy, Edie Rodriguez and John Delaney braved the freezing temperatures and holiday traffic jams to pay homage to Wilson and her team. Four Seasons president Christian Clerc also flew in.
Hotel executives Helen McCabe-Young, who recently left One&Only and Tom Civitano, ex-Jumeirah both came to join the celebration. Others spotted in the crowd included luxury hotel rep JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers, Hilton luxury sales director Sam Chamberlain, Hyatt's Richard Lebowitz and Tristan Dowell, Chris Walker of The Leading Hotels of the World, Pierre GM Francois-Olivier Luiggi, Baccarat GM Herman Elger, Mandarin Oriental New York boss Susanne Hatje, Ritz-Carlton's Alexis Romer, Virtuoso's Albert Herrera and Misty Ewing and Delta VP Chuck Imhoff. Also, there were ASTA SVP Eben Peck and Time, Inc. lifestyle editorial director Nathan Lump.
Even those not in town got in on the action. Lisa Pile, Australia-based vp-sales for Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, posted to Facebook, "We LOVE you Valerie Wilson!" Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel added her wishes, posting, "Congratulations on 35 years Valerie." Rival agency CEO Michael Holtz posted a photo of peaches, adding a caption, "The SmartFlyer family wishes Valerie Wilson, her daughters and entire team a peachy day on a wonderful milestone!! Congrats."
To top the evening off, some $35,000 was raised for various charities, including the American Heart Association, Dream Foundation, Swim Across America and Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy.