HOLLLYWOOD, Fla. – It’s a hot and windy Friday afternoon on the beach here, but Jennifer Kellum, owner of Neverland & Main Travel, isn’t on this beach. Instead, she’s at the Diplomat Beach Resort, where the ballroom is buzzing.
More than 300 people, including many travel advisors who have generated at least $1 million in annual sales, are with her at the Global Travel Marketplace (GTM), engaging in quick six-minute meetings with vendors representing all kinds of trips. products, from cruises to space flights.
This year’s event has largely drawn advisors amid makeovers: many have recently launched their businesses or are trying to restructure their agencies for the post-pandemic era, according to Jacqueline Hurst, director of business recruitment and engagement for Travel Weekly Events (GTM is produced by Travel Weekly’s parent company, Northstar Travel Group).
That’s why Kellum is here at booth 54, sitting down with a new supplier every six minutes. She’s navigating a rebrand and trying to move from selling theme park vacations to luxury travel. She started her career in 2014 exclusively selling Disney to a theme park-focused agency before launching her business in 2017. She started small selling what she knew best, but said she classified.
“Disney will keep you busy all day…but what I was learning was that we don’t grow with our customers,” she says. Guests came to her for Disney but went elsewhere for a river cruise or a trip to Alaska. “We wanted to grow with our customers’ vacation needs and we wanted to be their one-stop-shop.”
Kellum began shifting her business to offer more luxury travel in 2019 by reaching out to other agents for vendor recommendations.
She then wanted to rename her agency, but the pandemic hit and she feared the change would give clients the impression that her business was financially unstable. “It just wasn’t a good look at the time.”
Global Travel Market Highlights
Now that travel demand has picked up, she is ready to introduce a luxury arm, Aire Luxury Travel, into her agency. Before doing so, she seeks to find other providers she can trust to take care of her clients.
The buzzer sounds and Kellum exchanges business cards with Erick Garnica, associate vice president of worldwide leisure sales for Palm Beaches Florida, with resorts in a dozen Florida cities.
After asking her a few questions, she thinks one of her resorts would work for a client’s party of 21 travelers and her eyes widen. The group spans three generations of five families spread across the country: grandfathers want to play golf, grandmothers and mothers want the spa, and they need beaches for the kids.
“That’s why I came here,” Kellum said, putting his pen down on the table. “We wanted to tick a lot of boxes.”
This meeting probably saved her an entire day of research, she adds as she turns to greet the next salesperson who quickly sits down in front of her as the timer restarts.
Morgan Graybill, owner of Morning Star Luxury Travel in Greenville, SC, meets with a supplier at the Global Travel Marketplace in Hollywood, Florida. Photo credit: TW Photo by Andrea Zelinski
Some agents have other agendas. At the bottom of the next row is Morgan Graybill, a luxury travel consultant from Greenville, South Carolina. She settles down at her table, with a silver table runner of sequenced peacocks, which she hopes vendors will remember her for.
She is looking for a lot of things at this conference: a French destination specialist, a golf specialist and a yacht supplier in Croatia; Additionally, it wants to reconnect with the cruise suppliers it sells.
But what she focuses on just as much is their service levels.
Graybill launched its luxury agency, MorningStar Luxury Travel, after the Covid hit. Starting a new business has been difficult, she says, but it’s starting to grow. A supplier may have a great product, she adds, but if he’s a poor communicator, she won’t do business with him.
“Luxury isn’t just glitz and glamour. It’s service,” says Graybill, citing long vendor wait times spurred by labor issues. Other providers have been poor communicators, she adds, hampering her ability to provide her customers with luxury service. “I can’t afford to be mentally tired,” says Graybill.
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