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As president of Travel Leaders Elite, Gail Grimmett oversees a division with four of the biggest agencies in the luxury travel market. Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Protravel International and Tzell Travel Group represent approximately $4 billion in annual sales each year. These companies are staffed by top travel agents who have a wealth of education and experience — however, the division has yet to become a household name with advisors or consumers.
TravelAge West caught up with Grimmett at the division’s first-ever trade show held in October in Beverly Hills, Calif. The West Coast event was followed a week later by an event held in New York City.
First of all, congratulations on the West Coast trade show. What kind of a reaction did you get from attendees?This was the first time doing anything like this in the West, and we will definitely be doing it again. In fact, it will probably be an annual event. Some agents want us to do it a couple times a year, but I don’t know if I have it in me!
We had 200 agents and 170 suppliers there — we even had a waitlist on the vendor side because we had more suppliers then we could fit in the venue. I felt a real sense of pride because the success of that trade show was really a result of the great agents that were there. The quality of the agents, and the amazing travel experiences they sell, was really what made the vendors want to develop partnerships with the agents.
Our agents earned a lot of respect from the suppliers. The vendors were excited to meet new agents, and the agents learned about products they didn’t know about before.
What was it like having agents from all the different agencies in one place?The agents got to see firsthand the collective power they have now — particularly on the West Coast. We’ve grown so much in the West — and we continue to make inroads in the West — so for them to see the sheer size and the power they have now is great.
I know from previous jobs what it’s like when you are far away from headquarters. You can feel like the forgotten child — like you’re in Siberia. I think this event really showed our size and our power and, equally as important, it shows our commitment to the West Coast. It shows that the West is a very big part of our strategy, and we’re going to continue to grow it.
How do you define the Travel Leaders Elite division?When you look at who is in the elite organization, the agencies are iconic brands that are well-known in the industry for selling high-end luxury leisure. We all have a similar demographic as to what we sell, yet all the brands carry their own weight and strength in the marketplace.
Do members of the group share tips? Are there synergies between them?There are some synergies when it comes to technology deployment and some other areas, but each one of the agents are running their own business, and each one is different; an entertainment agent needs a completely different toolset than a leisure agent. So, I think our job is to put together a great agent toolbox, and I think we are doing that. We have the tools that are specific to each of their needs.
Travel Leaders has done a good job creating specialist programs based on current travel trends. Do you see that as a benefit for your agents? Yes. For example, we now have a wellness certification program that is realistic and talks about how one person’s definition of wellness might be completely different than another person’s idea. One client might just want to relax and lay by the pool all day, while another person’s idea of wellness is getting up at 5 a.m. to go for a 10-mile hike. We give agents the option of selling both types of trips, and we educate agents on how to get to know their clients and understand what they really want.
Where do you see Travel Leaders Elite going in the future?For us, it’s always about providing added value for the agent and for their clients. We have some new technology we will be rolling out in the next few months that will help the agent in terms of servicing their clients. We’ll be providing new lead-generation technology within the elite division, as well as new education. We’ll also be working on some big-picture items, such as better marketing and social media, and finding ways to get the word out about Travel Leaders Elite to consumers.
What are some current trends you’re watching?Africa is super-hot right now — it’s the bucket-list item of all bucket-list items. Iceland is also popular.
Honestly, I’ve just never been more excited about the future of travel agents. The world is so much more global than it ever was. People aren’t just going to London for a weekend; they want to see gorillas in Uganda. And if that’s what they want to do, they want to talk to somebody who either has gone there or who knows exactly where they should go, who they should go with, where they will feel safe, etc.
I think as the world becomes more global, it just opens the door even more for this industry.