Don’t call Julia P. Douglas, owner of Jet Set World Travel in Chicago, a travel agent. That’s not how she sees herself or her employees.
“On their business card it actually says luxury travel consultant, but when I refer to our team I’ll refer to them as travel specialists or travel advisors,” she told Travel Market Report. “I never refer to them as agents.”
To Douglas the title ‘travel agent’ does not reflect the creative and fresh approach she feels she and her staff, all of whom are about 31 years old, should take when helping people plan their travel.
Jet Set’s creative approach begins with the intake form all new clients fill out, and continues through the planning phase with an agency concierge service that can plan just about every detail of a client’s journey.
“We aim to be our client’s creative, innovative and inspiring travel designer/advisor/consultant,” said Lauren B. Maggard, a travel consultant at Jet Set World Travel. “We want to know our client like an interior designer knows your personal style, a barista knows your coffee order, and your hair stylist knows your part,” said Lauren B. Maggard, a travel consultant at Jet Set World Travel.
From the moment a new client “walks in,” the creative approach is apparent. The three-page intake form clients fill out includes traditional questions, but it also has these inquiries – Which describes you: cold beer in flip flops or a sport coat with a great bottle of wine? And, Preferred style of accommodation: contemporary and trendy, traditional and elegant, classic and clean, or eco chic retreat?
While these questions may seem light-hearted, the information Douglas and her agents glean from the answers enable them to match their client with the appropriate travel experience.
For clients who take advantage of the agency’s concierge service – and about 80% do – everything clients do during their trips can be pre-arranged, and further tailored to their tastes.
The concierge approach
A detailed FIT and a concierge-arranged trip have similarities, but they’re not the same, Douglas said. Concierge service requires a great deal more time from a consultant, and fees for the service reflect that.
“It is entirely up to the client whether they elect to utilize our concierge service as it is one of the conveniences that we bill hourly for, since concierge services are typically non-commissionable,” Douglas told Travel Market Report.
Through the concierge service Jet Set consultants will arrange just about anything, from dinner reservations, spa appointments, and getting clients onto a guest list at a happening club, to theater tickets, yacht charters and helicopter picnics.
Firsthand experience essential
Because the types of services Douglas books as a travel consultant/concierge are so personal, it’s imperative that she have as much first-hand knowledge about the services as possible.
“When I travel I try everything. I never go to the same restaurant twice. I always try the spa. I think that insider knowledge is really what sets you apart,” she said.
But Douglas and her travel advisors can’t go everywhere, so they rely on clients’ recommendations as well. Research is also helpful, she added. “I read blogs like Chowhound, look through Zagat, read the Luxe city guides, the New York Times travel section.”
Whenever she has the chance on her travels, Douglas chats with hotel concierges who are great sources of information, “especially in cities that change so frequently like New York, Paris, Berlin, and London.” She will ask them, “What neighborhood is really happening? What are people on the ground talking about that we might not be exposed to?”
Early bird rationale
New clients frequently ask Douglas why they should use her concierge services rather than wait until they arrive in their destination and use the hotel concierge.
“It’s the background of knowing what they’re really looking for, the style of trip they have in mind, which the hotel concierge may not take the time to learn,” she said.
“Plus, if you have four stops on your Italy itinerary – say Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples – the concierge at each respective hotel is not going to know what you’ve already experienced in the city you previously visited or are going to visit next. We try to round out the experience, making them complementary experiences, so they’re not experiencing the same thing again and again.”
There’s a more practical reason as well: timing.
“In some cities restaurants book up eight weeks in advance, so if you want to eat at these signature places your friends are going to be asking about or that you’re reading about, you have to make advance plans,” Douglas said.
Or perhaps a client likes to get a massage at the end of the day, before dinner. Those time slots fill up quickly; if a travel consultant can guarantee their appointment that has value.
“More and more, as people have less time and take shorter trips, they want to make sure that they get exactly what they want, when they want it,” Douglas explained. “And that’s only guaranteed by planning well in advance.”