Luxury Travel Agents Grab the Media Spotlight

by Richard D’Ambrosio
Luxury Travel Agents Grab the Media Spotlight

Robb Report joins Bloomberg in advising high-end travelers to tap the expertise and connections of luxury-focused travel advisors. Photo: Shutterstock

On back-to-back days, two major publications told hundreds of thousands of readers that consumers are best leaving their luxury vacation plans to seasoned travel agents.

In a July 23 article entitled “Travel Agents Are Back: Here Are 4 Expert Companies Ready to Craft Your Dream Trip,” Jackie Caradonio wrote: “Internet booking sites are the worst. Which means travel agents are back in a big way, to such a degree that the cre`me de la cre`me among them are so selective that they’ll work with only a small group of card-carrying members.”

The article provided details about the business models and services of four membership-only travel companies: Fischer Travel, Essentialist, Marchay, and Inspirato Pass.

Fischer Travel President Stacy Fischer Rosenthal charges 175 members a $100,000 initiation fee, plus an annual $25,000 renewal fee, plus trip-planning service fees. “And that’s only if you’re accepted,” Caradonio writes. The sky-high rates get travelers experiences like tennis lessons with John McEnroe and Christmas dinner cooked by a Michelin-starred chef.

At the Essentialist, co-founded by a former editor of Travel + Leisure magazine, a flat fee of $1,400 per household per year includes unlimited travel-planning services by a designated “travel designer” who gets to know everything about their clients, including “what you like to eat to what you like to drive.”

Inspirato Pass is a $2,500 a month subscription app where members receive booking rights to exclusive trips, events and accommodations — all at no added cost. The article said: “The Claim to Fame: There’s the usual hotel suites and over-the-top villas, but what gets really interesting is Inspirato Pass’s access to marquee events and experiences, from US Open seats to a European river cruise.”

Bloomberg talks to expert advisors
Meanwhile, on July 24, Bloomberg’s Claire Ballentine wrote about “Essential Tips for Taking Your First (or Any) Luxury Vacation,” with a subhead entitled “Luxury travel experts on the best ways to step your trips up a notch.”

And who were those luxury travel experts? Twelve travel advisors, including familiar faces like Jack Ezon, founder of Embark Beyond; David Kolner, senior vice president at Virtuoso Ltd.; and 50-year travel veteran Kathy Sudeikis.

Ballentine covered popular luxury travel trends, like private guides and drivers, boutique hotels, and vacation styles like safaris.

Anna Hawley, a custom travel consultant at TCS World Travel, talked about how she likes to book clients a Marrakesh shopping expert. In Rome, she’s coordinating a Da Vinci Code-inspired scavenger hunt for kids.

“The private guide aspect is obviously an added expense, but it’s something that takes the level up,” she told Ballentine. “You really get in depth and get to know the culture, and you see some off-the-beaten-path areas.”

Lindsey Epperly, founder and chief executive officer of Atlanta-based Epperly Travel, advises Bloomberg readers and her clients to seek out accommodations truly prepared to offer highly customized, personal service.

“What people should look for is a major difference in terms of service,” she is quoted as saying. “Luxury is about anticipating needs. It’s walking to the hotel bathroom realizing you forgot your toothpaste, and it’s already there.”

The article also quoted several advisors about the trend of luxury clients planning their vacations like they plan their personal investments.

“People plan their retirement all the time, but on travel, people literally just make it up every trip, every single time,” Kolner told Bloomberg, “a surefire way” to disappointment and wasted money, he told Bloomberg.

Ballentine also wrote about how luxury advisors focus mostly on their clients’ intentions for their trip. “Almost every travel adviser we spoke with stressed the importance of taking time before the trip to consider your goals for the vacation,” she wrote.

Said Todd Bliwise, founder of travel company An Avenue Apart: “When we work with clients, you don’t lead with where they want to go, you lead with why they want to go there and what they want to get out of it.”

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