‘Travel advisors are the best form of travel insurance’ and other takeaways from the GTC Conference | TravelResearchOnline


‘Travel advisors are the best form of travel insurance’ and other takeaways from the GTC Conference

You wouldn’t think that writing about luxury travel has much in common with selling luxury travel, but in fact it really does.

At least that’s my takeaway from an interesting and different kind of panel at the Global Travel Collection’s Elevate virtual conference last week—where, in addition to the usual roster of company executives and top suppliers, a panel of travel journalists talked about emerging trends in luxury travel. Like travel advisors, many of the journalists noted that the best way to cover travel—and to promote it—is to travel yourself, and to explain the details that go into a trip in the time of covid step by step.

Town & Country editor in chief Stellene Volandes noted that in her recent travels, the last day or two of every trip was consumed by conversations about passing the required tests to return home. Feeling carefree is such a big part of luxury, she said, but even when you revel in the experience of travel these days there’s a cloud of concern that “disrupts the cocoon that envelops luxury travelers. The moment a bit of chaos enters, you feel unsafe and it rattles people.”

For travel advisors, then, the key is to make the luxury travel experience “even smoother than ever. I want to feel like if I am stranded in an igloo someplace, like I can call an expert who can help me and possibly get me out. Calm is especially luxurious right now.”

In the end, Volandes quipped, “travel advisors are the best form of travel insurance.”



News from Internova and GTC

Getting down to business, Gabe Rizzi, president of GTC parent Internova Travel Group, noted that after 564 days of dealing with Covid-19, there’s “a distinct trust deficit in the market; all these changes in the messages and the information create inconsistency, and that creates mistrust.” And that mistrust is sending travelers in search of a professional travel advisor to guide them.

Restaurants and retail stores are not alone in their search for good employees in what is arguably the tightest job market in history. As travel—and especially luxury travel—picks up, Internova Group also is on the lookout for great travel advisors to join its ranks.

Travel is an industry built on scale, and growth depends on recruiting more travel advisors and independent contractors, Rizzi said. To that end, Internova is focused on “enhancing and improving on its value proposition for advisors, clients and suppliers” by producing more and richer content, developing tools that travel advisors need to build intimacy with their customers, and improving the workflow among the front, middle and back offices.

Formed last May as the new parent of Travel Leaders Group, Internova is still a relatively unknown brand, Rizzi acknowledged. But with so many subsidiaries (including All Star Travel Group, Altour, Andrew Harper Travel, Barrhead Travel, Bonotel Exclusive Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Global Travel Collection, In the Know Experiences, Nexion Travel Group, Protravel International, R. Crusoe & Son, Roadtrips, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network, Travel Leaders Vacation Center, Tzell Travel Group and Your Event Solutions), the company offers “a platform for every single type of travel, from family to business to leisure” while keeping each vertical unique, noted Global Travel Collection (GTC) president Angie Licea. “It’s much easier for suppliers to focus on us as a single brand when contracting and looking for support.”

In the executive office, Rizzi said, his agenda includes more than just new people; he “looks at the world in three dimensions.” People are first; “we are always looking to bring on new talent that challenges us.” But he also is focused on improvements in the processes that link the front and back offices, to make life easier for travel advisors, and to the tools that allow them to do their jobs better and quicker. “Those are the three areas we continually innovate.”

Other Insights from the Elevate Conference

*On the journalist panel, TravelWeekly editor in chief Arnie Weissman noted that staying in fewer places and crossing fewer borders help make for a calmer experience. “The testing, the timing, the PNR forms that have to be filled out, the waiting for the tests to come back, can easily break the sense of going on a luxury trip,” he noted. And to that end, travel writer Natalie Compton of The Washington Post noted an interesting new trend of having both a travel advisor and “a fixer on the ground” to deliver an experience that’s truly unique and makes you feel safe.

*Don’t be shy about sharing your success stories with the press, Volandes said—it’s good for the travel advisors and for the industry as a whole. “If you have gotten someone out of a bind, that’s a story we want to tell,” she said. “Knowing that there is a system in place when the worst happens inspires confidence and keeps people traveling.”

*GTC is seeing a shift in the kinds of marketing materials travel advisors are looking for: they want more domestic and less international destinations, said Donald Jones, GTC’s chief marketing officer and SVP of the western region. “Travelers aren’t fearful about traveling internationally; they’re fearful about not getting back,” he said. Recent GTC materials have highlighted fall road trips, fall festivals, smaller properties and secondary destinations; “I’m fascinated by some of the amazing luxury properties you find in these tertiary cities.” Heading into winter Jones is looking at the Festival of the Sheets in Utah, properties like Montage Deer Valley, and urban locations with a cultural link like the new Four Seasons and the Museum of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Said GTC chief strategy officer Becky Powell, “We need more luxury hotels domestically. Our clients are asking for more smaller boutique hotels outside of city centers.”

*Putting an airline to sleep is hard, but waking it up is even harder, says Delta Airlines VP of Sales Chuck Imhof. Still, locking the middle seat for as long as it did propelled Delta to the #1 spot in the JD Power award for best airline for the first time. Interestingly, both Delta and United have renewed their focus on seat-back entertainment systems, adding Bluetooth so customers can stream from their laptops. “We will have 300 aircraft with a brand new platform that will allow you to stream to your personal device by the end of the year,” he promised. Imhof also noted the growth of the “premium leisure customer” base that pushed the premium products to outperform the main cabin, and a $12 billion investment in airport facilities in key markets including LA and New York.

*American Airlines sees strong demand for warm weather and beach destinations for the winter season. It has reopened Admirals Club lounges in 25 cities, and others will be opening later this fall, said Ralph Susca, principal sales manager and account manager for Tzell and Protravel.

*Hotels need to focus more on activities for teenagers, said Campbell Chapman on the panel of Teen Influencers, and she should know. She’s been to 28 countries, and she feels hotels always have activities for adults and kids clubs “but never activities for young adults and teenagers.” And they need more outdoor activities, too. Eight-year-old Lucas Harder, who’s been to 26 countries, suggested hotels organize excursions not just for one family, but “get people in the hotel to sign up, so you can book with other people in the resort that you know.”

*And a final tip from April Hutchinson, editor of TTG Luxury: There is going to be a shortage of champagne, an insider at Perrier told her. You heard it here first.

Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.

As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.

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