One has a name that that is easily recognizable for its long and rich travel industry heritage; the other is someone who came to the business from the outside about it but found he could transfer previously acquired skills to selling travel. What the two have in common is that both are young and see a robust future in being a travel professional.
Justin Lindblad, 36, is the grandson of Lars-Eric Lindblad, who founded pioneering adventure travel tour operator Lindblad Travel; and son of Sven-Olof Lindblad, who founded Special Expeditions, now Lindblad Expeditions. His mother runs Lisa Lindblad Travel Design and his brother Jeremy works for Lindblad Expeditions. With his fiancé, Martina Reznick, Justin Lindblad founded Willing Foot Travel (the name is from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem) in New York.
Bobby Huebner, 32, managing director of The Accomplished Traveler in New York, is a former actor who was very well traveled but had not worked in the travel industry but who saw an opportunity in working with entertainers and other high-end clients in entertainment, technology and finance. Here’s a look at how the two, both active in Young Travel Professionals, came to their current positions – and why see a bright future in travel.
How they Started
While Lindblad grew up around travel, he did not work in the family business – instead opting for a restaurant and catering career until he saw an opportunity to do something different. His original concept was modular travel where he would create multiple modules and travelers could put together a trip. “Then I realized that people really want to talk about their trips and wanted something tailored to them.” He created Willing Foot in 2011.
Huebner had theatrical ambitions when he came to New York after having studied at the University of Michigan. He found work in hospitality including “creating a cocktail list for a certain New York City hotel.” After working as a business development manager for an international publishing house, he took time off to decide what he really wanted to do and in 2011 connected with Jason Miller at The Accomplished Traveler, which Huebner calls a boutique luxury travel concierge company.
“As we discussed what he did,” recalled Huebner, “I realized a lot of skills that went into theater production were very much transferable. All the emotional empathy an actor needs to tap into is transferrable when working with a client. I didn’t know you could be brought on as a consultant for your knowledge on how to get places, what to do and how to eat and drink. Those are things I tell my family all the time, whether or not it’s unsolicited.”
“For me it comes down to contrast, context and authenticity,” said Lindblad; “those are the three pillars to tell a good story.” Lindblad travels half the year to personally experience the places he will sells and to find guides who meet his standards. “You can’t have generic guides,” he said.
While it doesn’t specialize in a category or destination, Willing Foot does target a younger market (35-45) with trips that average $750 - $1,000 a day (ranging widely depending on the destination.) Above all, Lindblad works to adapt to the marketplace. When Japan became popular a couple of years ago he went there for a couple of weeks to find guides and make connections.
Six years ago, said Lindblad, 60% of his business was South America, mostly gastronomy and hiking. Then two groups of women came to him who were professional riders. Now he puts together several trips a year for them featuring riding, gastronomy and spa. The agency also does multiple multi-generational trips a year for two large family groups. “We try to do things differently, “said Lindblad. “Anybody can book a Michelin restaurant but it’s better to eat in the chef’s home.”
Lindblad takes a pragmatic approach to selling travel, saying, “I did a half-dozen honeymoons last year at cost in hopes those couples would become regular clients.”
At Accomplished Traveler, said Huebner, “we are brought on as a trusted adviser, a knowledgeable friend who can help people allocate their resources and time, most importantly their time. I see myself as the senior vice president to the trip while the client is the CEO.” Many clients are either celebrities or those behind the scenes in high-profile industries.
“It’s a dynamic industry based entirely on relationships and emotional connections,” said Huebner. “When clients come back from trips they want to share pictures and stories and talk about their next trip. They also talk about how their child overcame their fear and learned how to ride a horse; that is very rewarding.”
Huebner also travels extensively, saying, “It’s the best way to not just experience the destination but to see how the people give it soul and life.” Accomplished Traveler was named Virtuoso’s most hospitable agency in 2016.
A Positive Outlook
Lindblad sees a future for travel professionals for several reasons. He explained, “People are tired of being tourists. Younger travelers in particular want to go places where they haven’t been.” With his business doubling every year, Lindblad is considering adding to his small team but it would have to be the right person at the right time. “It’s a matter of keeping control. You have to know your strengths and differences, knowing what you’re good at and not good at.”
Said Huebner, “The industry is at a tipping point. The classic image of luxury leisure travel is changing and broadening. For some it’s a farmhouse outside of Ronda, Spain where everything is farm to table and the manager is also the concierge and sommelier. But there are still those who enjoy a gilded entrance and cut crystal. Our job is to be a matchmaker for those different experiences.”
For Huebner and Lindblad and young travel professionals like them, a career selling travel is a perfect match.
Thanks to Young Travel Professionals for connecting TMR with these agents. They are both active in the YTP community.