Even before the August issue of Condé Nast Traveler hit news racks,
Leigh Ann Cloutier started getting phone calls from new clients.
“It’s incredible,” said Cloutier, owner of Rico Travel in
Austin, Texas, who made her second appearance on the prestigious
magazine’s register of top travel agents. “By Monday of last week,
I had nine new requests and every day after that I got more.”
There are actually two Austin agents on this year’s Condé Nast
Traveler list of “Travel Superheroes” 112 “wonder-workers who can
craft the vacation of your dreams,” according to the magazine. Gay
Gillen Stone of Austin’s Gay Gillen Travel was recognized as an
expert on France for the third year in a row.
How agents make the list is an eternal mystery. Condé Nast
Traveler consumer news editor Wendy Perrin, who prepares the agents
report, prefaced the story by saying the list is “not the result of
a scientific formula. The list represents those who have impressed
me the most with their knowledge of specific destinations and types
of travel, as well as their industry connections.
“They also possess a certain combination of frankness,
friendliness, taste, willingness to work with a range of customers
and budgets and an understanding of the types of experiences that
Condé Nast Traveler readers want.”
Neither Cloutier nor Gillen can say with certainty how they came
to Perrin’s attention. Gillen said she thinks Virtuoso may have
But it is clear from their businesses why they fit Perrin’s
profile. Cloutier is almost exclusively focused on Costa Rica. She
visits properties frequently throughout the year, and about half of
her business comes from other travel agents seeking to hook up with
“I know everything I sell, and I have excellent relationships
with suppliers,” she said.
Gillen is noted for her ability to develop specialized trips to
France, such as cooking classes in Provence, ballooning in
Burgundy, barging in Champagne and renting farmhouses and
Like Cloutier, she spends as much time as possible gathering
information on destinations.
“These days, people are looking for travel agents who are
specialized with a lot of firsthand knowledge,” said Gillen, who
had just returned from watching client and Austin native Lance
Armstrong win the Tour de France. “We’re matching people with trips
that fulfill their dreams,” she said.
The Condé Nast Traveler list carries a tremendous amount of
prestige. Gillen put out a press release the first year she made
the list, resulting in a story in the local newspaper.
Cloutier said she promotes the Condé Nast honor on her Web site
and through other collateral materials, but the article really