I’m a luxury travel agent for the ultra-wealthy. I’ve sent out search teams for lost luggage and booked a $15,000 private flight for a COVID-positive client. We’ve never seen delays and cancellations at the magnitude we’re experiencing post-COVID.
This is Stacy Fischer Rosenthal’s story, as told to writer Amber Gibson.
Stacy Fischer Rosenthal is the president and owner of Fischer Travel and has been in the business for 40 years. Her clients pay a $100,000 initiation fee to become members at Fischer Travel.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Stacy Fischer Rosenthal, the president and owner of luxury travel agency Fischer Travel who’s been in the business for 40 years. Her clients pay a $100,000 initiation fee to become members at Fischer Travel, which has already gained seven new clients this year and is considering raising the initiation fee. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve not seen anything quite like it in terms of chaos.
COVID has left long-term negative effects on all aspects of travel: Airlines are dealing with staffing issues, hence the cancellations, and there’s a huge shortage in general in the hospitality business – hotels, restaurants, guides, drivers, and greeters. The demand for travel is there — there’s just a shortage of supply.
We are accustomed to delays and cancellations, but never at the magnitude we’re experiencing. The reason people come to us is they want to feel taken care of, to have flexibility, and to have options.
Recently, my team planned an independent trip for a new client.
We arranged French lessons for her in Provence, hiking and biking guides, and people to have dinners with her for casual French conversation. Then, after two days, the hiking and biking trails were closed because of the heat so she decided to just go to Paris instead.
I felt bad for the providers that we found, but understood that she would rather be in a city, and be inside and have a museum experience. And so now we’re crafting this completely different itinerary for her for Paris; we arranged chocolate-making and croissant-baking classes, and professional shoppers to take her out for a day of fashion, and we were able to curate this with just two days’ notice.
Pre-COVID, people traveled for maybe a week to 10 days. What we’re seeing now is families and multi-gen people traveling for four to eight weeks this summer.
The intensity of planning a trip of that magnitude is huge. Sometimes when they are leaving, we don’t even have the back end of the trip completed yet because we’re still waiting for answers from the client, and waiting for confirmations from suppliers because everyone is so delayed. Even in the very best hotels anywhere in the world, concierges are short-staffed.
Lost bags are also a huge issue that’s more prevalent than ever before.
On another recent trip, a client’s daughter, who is an equestrian, traveled from London City Airport to Nice, and checked her medication and equestrian equipment. Her bag didn’t make it to Nice and it was the week of the Queen’s Jubilee.
She was offering a £5,000-reward for the bag. We sent people to both airports and nobody could find it. That was on Monday. On Tuesday, when they hadn’t recovered the bag, I thought, what if we pack another bag in New York and we fly it to Nice.
I couldn’t spare an employee so I called a friend of mine. The client’s assistant packed the bags in New York, I had a driver pick up my friend from New Jersey, and she boarded a 7 p.m. United flight out of Newark. A driver met my friend in Nice and they delivered two bags to the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. My friend spent two nights in Nice, then flew back on Friday.
She literally dropped everything to get on that plane, and our client’s daughter had her riding things and medication on Wednesday.
COVID is still an ever present issue, too.
At least three times a week, there’s a 411 about somebody needing to get off a yacht, or get staff off the boat or get new staff in, because somebody got COVID.
We had a new client who was at a bachelorette party on Exuma in the Bahamas in May when she tested positive for COVID. Her parents called and wanted to get her home, otherwise she had to go to a quarantine hotel in Exuma for a week. I remembered reading something about the Rosewood Baha Mar flying people home if they were positive, so I called the managing director, and within three hours we had her on a private plane to Miami, through Trinity Air Ambulance for $15,000.
Having a human travel agent right now is more important than ever.
We have amazing relationships to get things done correctly. We’re overseeing every move our clients make, checking them in, facilitating the greeter, car and driver, plus constantly monitoring any airport shutdowns, flight cancellations and entry and exit requirements. It’s an ongoing process of reconfirming two or three times to ensure everything goes smoothly.
We are the one point of contact for the whole trip and we don’t pass that off to other people. If there was one thing I’d love to change, it would be that the service levels would be back and the response time would be a lot faster.
We’re seeing the most interest in Europe right now. Not that people didn’t go the last few years, but it’s so popular right now and people are missing it. Big families are traveling for weeks at a time to one or multiple destinations. It’s not just getting the villa, it’s staffing the villa and providing the sightseeing, activities, restaurants, etc. There are so many different facets to every trip.
Creating magical, memorable moments is the best part of our job. Travel is not one size fits all. I try to stay in the moment, and welcome the new business and welcome the challenges and opportunities. We’re working so hard and when people appreciate what we’re doing for them, there’s nothing like that.
We’ve been hiring because of the demand and we know that it will take time for people to learn our business.
I just hired five students coming out of amazing colleges like Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
I look for a passion, listening skills and openness to being creative. Obviously, you have to be very detail-oriented, too and you have to come in with a very open mind to work on a team because that’s how you’ll be successful here. We are all bringing our skill sets and travel knowledge into the equation to help our clients.