Ciao! I'm back, but wait I didn't go anywhere 'yet'! I just been delivering exceptional luxury travel experiences to my clients since the last I wrote. In mid May I celebrated my 1st year as Mr. Travel Agent, LLC. So much has happened, and I'm looking forward to returning to my blog musings.
I thought the best way to get back into writing was to hold a fun, random interview. I chose an undisclosed professional associate to conduct the interview, and I'll answer every question!
So let's begin!
THE 1ST YEAR INTERVIEW:
I: = Interviewer
D: = Me
I: Hello Derek, I really can't believe you've done it, though I have to say I guess I shouldn't be surprised! So 1 year now, wow, how are things with your agency?
D: Ciao, Where to begin, the growth right out the gate last year was really something I did not expect. I honestly think I was not prepared at first, but the cool thing about me, that any professional who knows me will say is, 'he is so incredibly efficient', and that mindset in me kicked in very quickly last year. I quickly realized, holy shit man lets do this! I was ready, I thought about this moment for 22 years, but was very uncertain could I be a business owner.
I: Right from launch?
D: Yea, I secured a CPA, got all my legal ducks in order and took off right away like lear jet! When I turned in my first quarter to my CPA for tax filing, I was already at around 50% growth over a normal pre pandemic year. My CPA said, this continues for the final 2022 quarter at this same pace, I'm converting you to an S-Corp immediately and back dating it to launch.
I: So you are an S-Corp now?
D: Yes, by the end of 2022, growth was +100% over a normal pre pandemic year. I had over 50 client bookings travel in the 3rd/4th quarters of 2022, I was like woah hold on, where is this really going. I saw incredible potential. I wasn't even expecting to put any kind of money into local advertising or social growth when I launched, but by the end of the 3rdQ I did. I put a couple $k in print advertising with Be Local for a full year, and did the same with another local org. I'm not the kind of guy to toss a few thousand on anything non-critical, but here I was after only 3 months published ads locally, freinds and family were shocked.
I: How are those campaign's going?
D: Questionable.....I need to figure out a way of knowning where the clientele are coming from, as I can't tell if the print ads worked or not, but based on the growth, I have to think something is working somewhere!
I: & How is 2023 going compared to 2022, so far?
D: If I look at May '22- May '23 for 1 year overall and compare that to pre pandemic year, I would say 1st year growth is around +500%, its unreal. If I compare quarter 3&4 of last year to 1&2 of this year (which still has a month to go), growth year to year for 6 months is at +100%, so yes if the year continues at this pace by end of '23 I could be looking at +200% over '22, which would be +700% over pre pandemic, in 18 months, that makes my eyes go wide at times.
I: I know this industry just like you and don't want to discuss numbers, but give the public an idea of what that means.
D: Hmmm, I guess I can discuss sales figures, as those don't reflect revenue itself.
I: Ok lets go by sales figures then, how do things compare?
D: Let's see ok so in 2019/20 I did around 1 million for the year pre pandemic. I have done 1 million a few times over the years pre pandemic, but some years 900/800/700K, in 2022 I did a million, but thats combining 6 months under salary, and 6 months as Mr. Travel Agent, LLC. I was happy with that as it showed even as a private owner for 6 months I maintained the sales volume I had when employeed.
I: That's great! How about from agency launch till now, and what about in '23 alone?
D: 600K+ in 2022 for 6 months, and 700K+ in 2023 for 5 months. So what's that?...1.3 Mil in a fiscal year, and looking at 'maybe' 1.4 Mil in 2023 alone, but things tend to cool off in Q4 usually, but then again they did not cool of in the Q4 of 2022.
I: Do you associate some of this growth to the post pandemic tourism BOOM?
D: Oh hell yeah, I absolutely do, but the thing is that boom is not going anywhere anytime soon,the outlook for 2024/25 is actually even bigger than 2023 as more and more travelers are returning to international travel.
I: How do you see things?
D: Well pre pandemic an average year as a luxury advisor under employment saw around 70-80 client trips a year. In 2022, the first partial post pandemic recovery year I did over 60 client trips. So that was already much stronger than a normal year and the beginning of the travel boom. However in 2023, I've already curated over 60 trips in 6 months. So I def seeing that boom. There is also something else at play here too.
I: What do you mean?
D: Well, one word 'inflation', travelers are returning at records numbers, and quickly discovering prices in certain parts of the world have doubled in the hotel industry. The thing is the demand is so MASSIVE these luxury hotels are at 100% occupancy 6-8 months out and they can demand such nightly cost. It's not so prevlent in the fixed toruism market, such as cruises and escorted touring are higher than pre pandemic but is only by maybe 10-20%, which makes no difference to a client.
I: Explain, to the public about inflation in the hotel industry?
D: Sure, I'll give examples. A luxury client came to me and was expecting $1k per night for the Le Sirenuse in Positano, as this was about the entry level room average to get into the Le Sirenuse pre pandemic. You cannot get into the Le Sirenuse (well first off good luck finding space this summer, anywhere in Positano), but to continue, the days of $1k Le Sireuse are gone, it averages nearly or over 2k$ per night now. I see that as 100% inflation. I just secured the Le Agavi (which is a 5 star outside of Positano), for September for over 11K$ for 5 nights. Thats over 2k$ per night, and that is what it cost now for a 5 star in Positano. I wanted to secure the Villa France, but at over $12K for 5 nights, they opted to save $1k. That is what it is now, imagine telling a client I can save you 1K over 5 nights if you stay at the Le Agavi. Not that there is anything wrong with the Le Agavi, it's great it just not in Positano, it's outside of it on the cliffs.
D: Some destinations the inflation is not so bad, Spain, Portugal, Eastern Euope, Asia, S. America are fairly reasonable with inflation figures, but France, Italy, Greece just to name a few, are in extreme demand post pandemic and hotels know it.
I: What is the hottest destinations?
D: Italy, Greece, Italy, Greece!!!! & I'm livin for it, bring it on!
I: LOL, truth my friend
D: I remember when Secrets Resorts could be delivered to honeymoon clients entry level for a week in Mexico for around 3-4k with air, those days are gone man, Secrets demands 6-8k now with air for a week for 2. Air across the board is much higher too to travel international. The thing is everyone is paying it, everyone is coming back to travel, & so this is the now, this is the new world of travel. Experts say it will level off in the next few years, but a cooling is not forseen.
I: How are you handling this massive influx in client travel?
D: I got this! Incredibly well, which surprises me, I run this whole show personally for every single client. I do it all, the calls, the consultations, the meet ups, the back office, the clerical. My desk has around 20 active, in progess client files at any one time, they are all neatly in a pile and nothing is mishandled, nothing is out of place, everything is as near as current workflow as possible. I feel like I could probably take on about 100% more volume instantly without breaking a sweat.
I: Really, wow, that's incredible.
D: Yea, well I'm very organzied, lol. I dream about my clients travel needs and ideas, and wake up and put those ideas into action. I check with my overseas connections soon as I wake up in the morning, what needs done? everything ok? clients good? If nothing needs action, then it's onward & upward to the next one.
I: How to do you get along with clients?
D: Clients are dear to me, I'm so friendly with all my clients, I love talking with them, they are why I am here today. I cherish them in my heart. To the point now I try to reward clients now, to show them I really appericate them to the fullest.
I: How so?
I: I read about them on your site, how do they work?
D: Well every client (almost), so long as travel for 6 nights per year gets into the VIP Club upon return of first qualfying vacation. The VIP Club rewards clients loyalty with my own milage program that converts into $$$s. So I client can return to me and use those miles to knock out or reduce planning or ticketing charges. This allows clients save their miles and build them up, eventually they could earn a curation charge free trip. I also have the VIP Club Lounge, which is a Facebook group exclusive to clientele only, and when clients join the group they get bonus miles and bonus amenities when traveling. They also are rewarded in more miles for referrals, and the client they refer is discounted upfront.
I: & what about ELITE, how is that any different?
D: ELITE is very different. First off ELITE is a membership ult tier of the VIP Club. Your dollars earn miles at 100% more than in the VIP Club itself. You earn more miles faster, and everything from reviews to social media tags/mentions/photo shares lands you more miles than in the VIP Club. The biggest thing about ELITE is once you are in and paid for the year, you are done with curation charges for the year. I still charge some ticketing charges, but that is it. If you are in ELITE and have miles you can use them towards those ticketing charges, because you don't have the consider using them towards curation, as you have none!
I: Is ELITE successful?
D: It's new, started it in Jan, and I'm limiting enrollment to 2 per month, making it exclusive and not everyone can get in. Exclusivity sells to the upper clientele, they love it. I've sold 5 slots out of 10 so far, so hey 50%, not bad right? In addition those in ELITE get priority access to me if needed. I'm their guru, well I'm every clients guru, lol, but I'll take care of their needs first. I care about every client you know, I have a to do list every day, and if a non-ELITE client needs priority over and ELITE they get it to get things done, but ELITE client will get serviced first based on departure and need priority daily.
I: Let's move on, you were on the news in Pittsburgh?!
D: UNREAL right? I mean come on me on broadcast news, No FREAKIN WAY! But Yes I was!
I: how did that happen?
D: Well I want to post a blog in just days about this, so I will not go into to much detail about the interview itself but, do you know Tom Garris from WTAE?
I: Yea, ummm I think so...
D: Tom emailed and called me in early April, was looking at doing a story about the upcoming summer season of travel, and wanted to know if I would be interested in being interviewed & filmed. Ok, so here is me beginning to grow into my 2nd year, and I can be on tv? I was nervous, but went for it. A week later we interviewed in a park a few miles away, and we chatted about different travel topics for about 20-30minutes, while being filmed by the cameraman as we talked and walked. It was very cool, and think I handled it well. In the end Tom said, "I think I can get this on air in May, but you'll probably only get about 30secs air time.
I: That's normal for news pieces, great exposure in the local market.
D: 100%, indeed, and so I expected that. Then I had calls in late May, "Derek, you were on WTAE morning news!" "Derek, you were on the mid day news"! I had no idea when the piece was airing, and everyone was telling me about it. I reached out to Tom, and he gave me the weblink for it, and informed me that whole piece aired, and it ended up after going into the editing room, that WTAE decided to do a whole piece, 2mins on my agency and me, and they loved the piece, so gave me more air time.
I: I saw it on the weblink via your linkedin.
D: Yea, 2mins, I was floored, everyone in Pittsburgh who was watching any of those news broadcast in a city of this population saw that interview and was exposed to my agency. I felt really honored to recieve such exposure by such a highly rep news company, wow. I still don't believe it.
I: Have you seen any effect?
D: It was just 2 weeks ago, so clientele wise maybe ... maybe not, but web traffic on the site itself has shown around 200% more traffic daily since that broadcast, as the website was featured on the air and my agency was mentioned by name. There I am watching a news broadcast, and viola there goes my website on TV, my logo, my VIP Club. I mean holy hell man, WHAT?!
I: Continued growth to you my friend, so much I want for you to take this industry by storm, maybe you can be the Elon Musk of the travel industry!?
D: LOL, I have ideas in my head, that would blow this industry away, I just do not know how to bring them in and implement them, and I'm a quiet person. I mean if I continue growing the way I am right now, maybe I do open a storefront, maybe I do look at employees. I think I'd bring in my wife first and together we see how much bigger we can get before either of those.
I: You wife knows the industry?
D: Yes & No, I have a lot to teach her, I joke with her, I say maybe very soon I'll need you to perhaps assist with the clerical side of this, so I can focus on the clientele side of things. No, but really that is not out of the question.
I: Mr. & Mrs. Travel Agent, in the future?
D: Yeah the next Mr. & Mrs. Smith! LOL, who knows, I can absolutely see it. I'm working on creating & implementing a public clientele incentive program, that could really next level this. It will be small at first and not sure when it will be ready, but the growth potential of it has my mind turning with ideas. As I said I already reward referrals via the VIP Club & ELITE Level, but this, this is something else entirely.
I: What's next?
D: Figuring out how the hell to let clientele book online on my website. I mean they can already book luxury hotels via my Virtuoso portal, and my Classic Vacations portal. No one does it though, I need to figure out a way of exposing those options to the public, but already the potential is there for passive sales in the middle of the night. I'm talking about everything I want tours, cruises, FIT, I have big visions, I just don't know.
D: It's possible I know it is, I've seen it, and I want it.
I: One thing at a time, yes?
D: Yea, that's it, I'm client focused 100% right now, I don't have a lot of time to look at all the ideas in my brain right now. I want to take care of every single client to the utmost and deliver beautiful vacations to everyone.
I: Now the fun questions!
D: These were not fun?
I: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
D: At the pace things are growning right now, 5 years?....There is word in my mind, but I'm not going to say it, lol. Let's just say successful and hitting a target, that when I opened the agency I thought 10 years maybe or more, but let's see where things go.
I: Ok...., ok so 10 Years?
D: 10 years? I'm done, early retirement! No I'm kidding, I can't stop I'm so passionate about this industry. Clients realize this, and thats why they love working with me, to me this industry is not just about the profitabilty, it's about incredible passionate clients who love to travel, amazing destinations, new hotels and so much more. With success in 10 years, I'll be able to travel at a higher level longer, and take more trips, probably have a least 1 employee deal with the clerical side of things 'maybe' lol.
I: Your perfect client?
D: Come on, no such thing, every one is different in their own ways and desires in travel.
I: Hmmm, average client spends?
D: Varies, destination, level of travel, length of travel. I can do 5K-10K vacations to the Caribbean easily, but two weeks in Europe a client couple isn't going to Europe for 2 weeks for 10K at a luxury level. Maybe on a escorted tour or a moderate cruise/river cruise program, but the average curation two weeks in Europe on a mixed 4/5 star basis with Economy Air, tends to look like 15K-20K. Nothing is set in stone. I don't expect a client to have 20K all the time, but they need to be realistic about things and how much their destination is going to cost. Shorter trips at a higher level, Longer trips at a 4 star level, it's all good.
I: What do you decline?
D: Good question, you know I'm here to grow & please clientele, I don't like declining a realistic client, but I have to say no on occassion. It not interested in a client who wants 2-3 star hotel itineraries, I'm sorry but I'm a luxury travel agency, that has to mean something. I don't deal in public transportation except for rail & ferries, you want a bus transfer or shuttle to your hotel, sorry not interested. I'm now decling lower end resort vacations and cruise. Some one calls me for an entry level cabin on Carnival for 4 nights at $500, nah, there is no real worthy revenue it that, I have to pass. Trying to go to the Caribbean and stay at a lower end All Inclusive or resort? Look I'm not here for you to come back home and say OMG that place SUCKED, WTH did you send me there. Well that's what you wanted right?, so I'm done with questionable satisfaction in hotels, resorts, cruises, just to make a little income and uncertainy, nope, not worth it. My steller rep is not worth that chance.
I: What about moderate?
D: UPPER Moderate, the thing is I know the 4star service level in this industry extremely well all over the world, and that comes from being a normal everyday sell anything travel advisor for 19 years of my career. So the upper 4 star hotels and cruise brands I will crush that for clients, every time I step up to bat. So long as the client understands, like hey this is NCL not Seabourn ok? You get what you pay for with these hotels and cruise lines.
I: What are you most looking forward to about anything in this industry?
D: I know this one, luxury superyacht cruising.
I: As in?
D: Have you seen the Evrima by Ritz Carlton?
D: We have Ritz Carlton yacht now in this industry, I mean look at that stunning luxury yacht. You can live it up for a week or two like Jeff Bezos! Go On! & now the game truly begins!
D: Ritz is building another, and now we have Four Seasons and Orient Express also getting into the superyacht market in the next few years. This is all new, just one year ago, public clientele had no options for sailing on luxury superyachts. these are game changers to the upper level clientele who enjoy sailing in style. Honestly Ritz isn't outlandishly priced for the Evrima, you can get on it for about $1k per person per day. So if you got 20K it is absolutely possible to sail on the Evrima for a week or so. That's very comparable to it's nearest comp in Seabourn & Silversea.
I: What are you doing right now, today?
D: 20 trips, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Czech, France, Hawaii, 2 Crystal Cruises, and 1 Seabourn Cruise. All active in curation for this year and into '24 as well.
I: Clients traveling right now?
D: Yes, Italy, Italy, Italy! Oh wait & England/Ireland too.
I: Latest returnee's?
D: Ah,...Italy Italy Italy, lol, truth, but also Greece, Quebec City, Australia &... Mexico.
I: Most a client spent this year on one trip?
I: Want do you want to sell but don't see any sales?
D: OH good one! Can I get an African Safari, anyone?! Maldives & Tahiti, Asia! I love Asia, but from the Eastern US, at least the Pittsburgh Market the clientele is few, they must exist right?
I: I'm sure they do, they just don't know you.
D: Yeah, need to change that.
I: Let's call it a day, last question.
D: Go for it!
I: Next call, client gives you 20K budget, two people, will travel economy but wants to splurge in destination to the max their budget will allow them on hotels. Open to any unique/exotic destination.
D: They are going to south east Asia. Bali, Thailand or Vietnam, they will think they are celebrities the kind of hotels they can stay & room types within budget.
D: That wasn't it?
I: I thought of another, tell the world where is Mr. Travel Agent going in 2023?
D: Nice way to end it! Malaysia, Singpore and.... Turks & Caicos!
I: Can I do one more then?
D: LOL, sure
I: What kind of hotels do you personally stay at?
D: This is interesting, if I can swing it and work it out with hotel reps I have moved into the high end to expose myself to my clientele's tastes. I really like Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Ritz type properities, I've become a bit spoiled in the last few years, my taste more refined. I don't stay at these places for free, so please don't think, oh it's all comp he don't pay anything to stay at Four Seasons...lol, think again. I've dropped $1k a night to stay sometimes, but usually if it all works out I can negoiate my way down to half that at times, and some times a free night here or there, suite upgrades, it really varies.
I: Derek, it was a pleasure having this opportunity to interview for your 1st agency anniversary & web site, I wish you much success and hope you achieve everything you want out of life & your new agency. I await Mr. & Mrs. Travel Agent to take over the world.
D: LOL, Elon Musk style to the MOON! Blast Off! I'm a realist and grounded, I'll achieve as much as can at a pace I can, then the next level will be considered, thanks for agreeing to this fun interview, and good questions!
Derek Schemonitz, Owner/CEO of: