During his career in the travel industry, Richard has enjoyed leadership roles in both the retail and wholesale sides of the industry. Beginning in retail agency sales and management, Richard transitioned into the luxury wholesale tour operator space, focusing on product development and market share expansion. As Director of Sky Vacations, Richard leads a dynamic team, dedicated to developing programs that offer a unique opportunity for a traveler to connect with a place and its people, specifically to India and “waiting to be discovered” destinations. Richard serves on a number of industry committees and is a current Board member of IGLTA.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Hello, Richard. We are well into the new year. How’s it treating you so far?
Richard Krieger (RK): Hello. So far, so good, thanks. Or maybe I should say “so far, so great” because based on our sales outlook, the year is off to an incredible start.
TRO: It looks like you’ve been in the travel industry since 2006, that’s quite a while in the industry. What drew you to travel as a profession?
RK: I’ve actually been in the industry for longer than that, but who’s counting? When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I fantasized about Paris. I knew that one day I had to get there, but it was only a dream. One day my older cousin gave me an Edith Piaf album saying “if you’re going to Paris one day, you better know who she is.” So, I bought a used French/English dictionary and did my best to catch a phrase, translate a word, all in preparation for one day visiting Paris. After school, I was given the opportunity to work in a travel agency where, after six months, the boss gave you a free ticket to Europe. I thought this is great! I’ll work, visit Paris and then get a “real” job. I did get the ticket, visited Paris and I was hooked. I never looked back.
TRO: You’ve been the Director of Sky Vacations, the tour division of Sky Bird Travel & Tours, for almost 4 years now. How have you seen the company change in that time? And, what are some of the changes you’ve enacted yourself?
RK: Like most of us, COVID forced change upon us and while Sky Vacations was already successful, the lockdown was time for us to reevaluate and recalibrate. My team and I looked at where we were as a company and where we wanted to go and, for us, that meant expanding our portfolio with an eye to travel that connects a traveler with a place and its people. We’ve introduced new programs, hiking, cycling, art, design, etc., all meant to slow things down and allow travelers to have an “experience” not just a “trip.”
TRO: Luxury travel has seen a steady boost since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, heading steadily upwards since the easing of travel restrictions. There is strong evidence this will be a consistent upward trend. Are there any product developments that Sky Vacations is working on to meet this demand?
RK: The luxury travel space is our fastest growing market and my team and I are constantly sourcing new luxury travel opportunities to present to the market. We’re most excited by programs that have a theme and focus. For example, we’re offering the opportunity to travel to Tuscany and attend a private concert with Andrea Bocelli. In addition, we’re offering Dinner in Abruzzo, a special journey to Italy with two world-renowned chefs. We’re also close to launching an extensive collection of luxury Italian villas, historically based tours with leading authors, and expanding our luxury boutique hotel collection.
TRO: There seems to be a shift happening in the luxury travel industry, with a demand for eco-friendly and adventure becoming more entwined with luxury offerings. Have you seen this with Sky Vacations’ operations?
RK: We sure have. The meaning of luxury travel is evolving. It once meant all first-class, very fussy, white-gloved travel. What we’re experiencing is a demand for access and adventure. Our luxury clients hike in Japan, cycle in France, and raft the Ganges in India. It’s clear that the balance of access, adventure, and thoughtful, sustainable travel is key, and getting the balance just right is something our team excels at. As part of our commitment to this market, we’ve recently become members of ATTA (Adventure Travel Trade Association), dedicated to supporting real efforts related to travel and tourism.
TRO: Travel Advisors/Agents are, of course, a vital part of connecting travelers to their destination. How does Sky Vacations work with Advisors to ease this connection?
RK: There’s no question about it, travel advisors are the key to our success. Full stop. The product we develop, the destinations we serve—it all comes from the insight and feedback of our travel agent partners. In addition to providing travel planners with timely and exciting programs, we communicate with them on a regular basis, offer training and have a private “Sky Vacations Insider Access” group on Facebook where we provide details on exclusive offers, new products, FAM trips and even ask questions to get their feedback. We also want to make it clear to our travel agent partners and their clients, that Sky Vacations doesn’t just say we are a leading tour operator, but that we are dedicated to excellence. That’s why we are thrilled to be Active Members of USTOA. Everything is done with the professional travel agent and their customer in mind.
TRO: A focus of Sky Vacations is “waiting to be discovered” destination around Korea, Nepal, Slovenia, and Japan. What qualifies a location for this designation of up-and-coming within Sky Vacations?
RK: This is one of my favorite new areas of focus. For a long time, we’ve heard of “undiscovered” destinations and that term always felt a bit off to me. I mean, just because we may not know a place doesn’t mean it’s undiscovered which is why we chose “Waiting To Be Discovered” as the name for this specific portfolio—and it’s very exciting. As for qualifications, we don’t have a hard and fast criteria. Instead, we’re looking to promote places and experiences that we feel offer travelers something they may not be familiar with and, wherever possible, to destinations that may not be top of mind. For example, we’re all familiar with Japan, but not many of us may know the Nakasendo Valley. In addition to those places you’ve mentioned, we’ll be adding more, so stay tuned and visit our website often!
TRO: It seems that many travelers have begun to seek more of a connection with the people and cultures of a destination, as travel becomes less about just getting away to a different place and more about the experience. How is Sky Vacations positioning itself in that experience-based market?
RK: This is where we live. I say with all humility that the Sky Vacations team and our group of global partners are the best at making these connections. As already mentioned, our goal is to provide travelers with authentic travel opportunities that connect them with a place and its people. In order to do that, it takes not only the commitment and expertise of our team, but a deep understanding of how to translate those experiences to travelers and that’s where our on-the-ground, global connections come into play. We receive up to the moment news, opportunities, tourism developments, and insight that we directly incorporate into our product development.
TRO: On Feb. 2nd, the IGLTA Foundation held its first LGBTQ+ Travel Symposium in India. There has been a larger voice of LGBTQ+ people having input into the travel industry for a while now, all around the world—albeit a bit slow to acceptance in some places. What was the primary focus of the Symposium and how were you involved?
RK: The IGLTA Foundation was created to support the IGLTA membership, as well as tourism globally in general regarding LGBTQ+ travel. Due to my experience and connections with India Tourism, I was honored to be asked to join the Task Force and work with an amazing group of people on this first event. One area the IGLTA Foundation is engaged in is emerging LGBTQ+ destinations, which India is considered. The symposium brought light to the markets there, the potential of more tourism to India but also to support exit-India tourism. The symposium was educational in nature, with a range of topics discussed and engaged the local diverse communities. This symposium will be held annually in India. I’m excited to be a part of this ongoing project.
TRO: What can Advisors expect from Sky Vacations in the future, any big news or announcements?
RK: We’re all about big news! In the next few months, we will be announcing the expansion of our India portfolio, and new products to South America and Asia. And in the autumn, keep your eyes out for a new brand dedicated exclusively to the LGBTQ+ market.
TRO: Richard, thank you for your time. We hope to see you and the rest of your team thrive in 2023.
RK: Thank you for the opportunity to connect with your readers. I look forward to seeing everyone in person, someplace soon.
For more information, please visit Sky Vacations.