Two powerhouse travel businesses, Fischer Travel and Fortis Global, have launched an exclusive alliance to offer truly impressive levels of personalization and security services for their ultra-luxury clients. The former — led by president Stacy Fischer-Rosenthal and founder Bill Fischer and known for accomplishing such feats as having hotels knock down walls to create larger penthouse suites for its clients — might be a household name in the industry, but the latter you might be less familiar with.
Fortis Global — founded by Ashley Tate-Gilmore, the former director of the White House Travel Office for the Obama Administration — is an emergency preparedness travel concierge company based out of Chicago; it offers travelers a suite of medical, legal and security services. And much like Fischer Travel, it’s a family business. After conceiving the company in 2018, Tate-Gilmore brought aboard two cousins, first J.T. Stinnette as COO and general counsel, and then Jennifer Keeney as chief experience officer.
At the White House, Tate-Gilmore was in charge of complex travel logistics, doing trial runs of trips and handling hundreds of passports at a time, for V-VIPs. It was constant work, but the experience opened Tate-Gilmore to a whole new world of cultures and destinations — and to the realization that there is a way to travel like a president, even if you’re not one. “The inception of [Fortis Global] was that I would love to help people see the things that I’ve been able to see, travel safely and do all these amazing things,” Tate-Gilmore tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
While security details are not new to Fischer Travel, Tate-Gilmore’s experience and resources were unmatched. Forming an alliance “made a lot of sense,” said Fischer-Rosenthal, who added, “the value proposition that Fortis brings to Fischer is incredible.”
Each business has a yearly membership model. Through the alliance, clients can use the services of the other business à la carte, or the companies can craft custom solutions for specific clients when a long-term, or recurring, use of the other’s services might be required.
And while the alliance seems like such a natural fit for the companies, it didn’t form overnight. Fischer-Rosenthal and Tate-Gilmore were first introduced in July 2020 by a mutual client and spent the following year getting to know each other to ensure the relationship made sense and would be a benefit for their clients.
“The alliance is really going to be dynamic, not only for us but for our clients and for the travel industry. We are forces individually, but together, we’re disruptive. And, so, we’re very excited,” said Stinnette.
Here’s an example: This past summer, a Fischer client was filming in Jamaica. Once Fischer-Rosenthal had the base details about the trip, she reached out to Tate-Gilmore to get her take on what services were required.
“We were able to speak to the client about how we would facilitate the trip and when we felt they needed armored guards,” Fischer-Rosenthal says. “There wasn’t great cell service in one particular area, so we needed to make sure that we had people with radios and contact. We were able to utilize the people on the ground [through Tate-Gilmore] to make those decisions because they knew exactly what they would recommend.”
Tate-Gilmore says she considered everything from the hotel location and what the road conditions were, to cell service and what type of clothing the clients should wear in public. Fortis Global’s head director of security, a former Secret Service agent, reached out to the regional security office to get recommendations for the type of security details required and what company they should use (which Fortis Global then did a background check on). They hired drivers for each armored vehicle, as well as one security agent per car. They also used Fords to be less conspicuous than, say, a Mercedes.
Everything, of course, was tested out beforehand. The client even “added a couple days because they were so comfortable with the detail and with the logistics of it … and it worked very, very well,” Tate-Gilmore recalls.
“It was brilliant,” says Fischer-Rosenthal.
Traveling Like a President
While Bill Fischer was literally knocking down walls, Tate-Gilmore was knocking down their figurative counterparts, becoming the first Black person to hold the title of White House Travel Office Director. She got her “in” with former President Barack Obama when he was running his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2003; she interned as an office executive while still in college. Tate-Gilmore continued to work for Obama in various roles and in 2008, she assisted with his inauguration. She was then hired to his Travel Office when he assumed the presidency.
Back when she first started working with Obama, “it was just a tiny operation,” Tate-Gilmore says. When he became a senator, it was suddenly a big operation, “and then even bigger when we went into the White House.” As she explains, “It went from us driving him around, literally, in my car, to 26 motorcade vehicles and a huge military capacity and Secret Service agents.”
The pre-trip briefing that Tate-Gilmore would lead for the president and his team became a staple for Fortis Global. She calls it “our best offering.” The goal is to provide all the details the client will need in the briefing so that they won’t need any other assistance on the trip. “It was what kept me safe and sound during all of my travels over the course to the eight years while I was the director of the Travel Office at the White House,” she says.
This pre-trip briefing covers such topics as “all of the medical details that we could share — you don’t eat this; take this shot, take these meds.” The same goes for the security and legal side: “Don’t do this, don’t go there; don’t do X, Y and Z.”
“We say if you stay safe and you are careful and you follow these rules, ideally, you don’t need any additional services from us,” Tate-Gilmore says.
Following her time in the White House, Tate-Gilmore saw the opportunity to help others travel as a president would. Soon after, she launched Fortis Global and brought her family aboard. With a tagline of “Travel well, be safe,” the company currently employs five people and offers clients three membership options. The first level is for an individual; the second for a family with one principal member and five additional set members; and the third is designed for a corporate solution or small business, with one principal member and five interchangeable members. All include yearly membership fees. Fortis will also design a custom solution for a client if needed.
How the Teams Met
Several years back, a close friend of the Obama family had a sick father in Hawaii. He was having trouble accessing the proper care and through a conversation with Tate-Gilmore, she told him, “I can help you.” The man said he’d tried MedEvac. Doctors had told him his father wouldn’t live much longer. A few phone calls later, Tate-Gilmore had his father flown from the Big Island to Honolulu, where he received the care he needed. He went on to live three more years.
That man happened to be a client of Fischer Travel and later introduced Tate-Gilmore to Bill Fischer and Stacy Fischer-Rosenthal, who tells us, “I received a call from a client who is Chicago-based, and he said, ‘I want to talk to you about this incredible woman that I’ve met. She has a startup, which I think you can align well with your travel services because I do believe you’re the best in travel and I do believe that they have some resources that can really help your members and clientele.’”
There was an immediate connection between the two companies’ leading women. And it didn’t hurt that both Fischer Travel and Fortis Global were family businesses. “You have to stay true to yourselves and what your core values are as a company,” Fischer-Rosenthal says, adding that she’s “all about female leadership, mentorship.”
Being able to collaborate with someone that’s like-minded to her and also family-rooted made this an easy decision for both.
“It was just perfectly synergistic,” Tate-Gilmore says.
Of Fischer-Rosenthal, Tate-Gilmore says, “She’s such a kind-hearted person and she comes off with the most wonderfully inspirational spirit.” The team at Fortis Global affectionately calls her “Mama Bear.”
“Stacy is nurturing, wonderfully genuine and a breath of fresh air,” Stinnette adds. “When we say, ‘Mama Bear,’ I don’t want you to take it as a negative context at all, because we mean it very endearingly. Being a serial entrepreneur and having been in these spaces, longing for a more senior company to show us the ropes and take you under their wing, this is beyond for me and for us.”
Tate-Gilmore, Stinnette and Keeney all come from a family of entrepreneurs. And while their parents never got into business together, it was always a dream of theirs. “My mom found this letter written by my dad to J.T. and Ashley’s parents, of them wanting to work together,” Keeney says. “It meant so much that we could fulfill this legacy that they had hoped to do.”
Working with your family can be a tricky business, but Tate-Gilmore tells us she wouldn’t have it any other way. “There are no secrets; everything’s on the table,” she says. “It’s all a safe space because I couldn’t be confident, honestly, in this unless I had these two behind me.”
And the cousins’ work ethic and chemistry have taken Fortis Global to impressive heights in a relatively short time. “The three of us are so important to making this business thrive and work,” Keeney says.
“[Fischer Travel has] never done an alliance like this before, which to us is really very special,” Tate-Gilmore says. “Sometimes as a Black-woman-led business, there are some doors that are just automatically not open to you. The Fischer team very much wanted to give us the opportunity to be introduced widely, to as much of their network as possible, because it is important that we bring a new and fresh diverse space to the table.”
And for his part, Bill Fischer has also played the role of mentor to Tate-Gilmore and her team. In speaking with them, he said, “Don’t give up. You have something here,” according to Keeney. “He’s given us confidence; to be in his presence and share all his experiences was really amazing and empowering for us,” she says.
Funny enough, however, the teams only met in person for the first time for the photoshoot for Luxury Travel Advisor’s cover. “I think we all felt like we had known them for years when we walked in the door,” Keeney says.
A Significant Alliance
Throughout the pandemic, Fischer Travel stayed in front of its clients, reaching out by phone or online surveys to gauge their readiness to travel and to check in on them.
When a client wanted to get away but didn’t feel safe traveling, Fischer Travel would try to be creative and set up outdoor movie nights or have counselors come by and recreate camp activities for the kids. Everyone who visited with a client was vetted to be vaccinated, signed waivers and took a COVID test. She adds that other clients were looking for new in-house chefs and, knowing the number of people looking for jobs within the food industry, Fischer Travel took it upon itself to start matchmaking.
“It’s our job to network, to listen and to act upon it,” Fischer-Rosenthal says. In the end, she says, “I think the relationships we have with our clients have gotten so much stronger over COVID because even if they weren’t traveling, we were still reaching out.”
The alliance with Fortis Travel gave Fischer-Rosenthal and her clients the comfort in knowing they would be taken care of; it also gave the team something to get excited about. “There are so many layers that make this happy story during a time where there was not a lot going on,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “It gave us something to think about and say, ‘Wow, how lucky are we to be able to be in a position to offer this type of service to our clientele?’ Who wouldn’t want that?”
Tate-Gilmore says it’s been “a year and a half worth of keeping everyone in their space safe.” As she explains, she isn’t a doctor so she couldn’t tell her clients whether it was OK to travel or not — she could only best accommodate them should they decide to travel. “We really spent that time leaning into trying to figure out what our best suggestions were and how to keep folks safe and how to find doctors who are eagerly traveling.”
The pivot required taking “a lot of steps back to just be safe,” but Tate-Gilmore says the Fortis team was very conscious about the guidance it shared with its clients; it found out all it could about where to get tested, then vaccinated, and more. “It was about learning how to be as safe as possible — and then sharing that.”
The alliance has also come with its fair share of serendipity. Fischer-Rosenthal told a story about how she was tasked with replicating a bracelet that Prince Harry was gifted by a village in South Africa; he was photographed wearing it shortly after Princess Diana died. She reached out to a vendor with a photo and they tried to figure out which village it was made in, what stones were used. No such luck. Then, one night while Fischer-Rosenthal was on the phone with Tate-Gilmore, the latter said she might know someone who had been on the trip. Through the contact, they tracked down the exact village and which materials the bracelet was likely made of. Fischer Travel’s South Africa contacts then sourced a craftswoman in Cape Town to recreate the bracelet from scratch.
Although intended to be a Christmas gift for her client’s son-in-law, the bracelet would not be arriving in time. Fischer-Rosenthal created a calligraphy book about the meaning of the bracelet and the stones used, along with the story of how it was made and documentation of the process in pictures from the craftswoman.
“It was the perfect example of the alliance just blossoming,” Tate-Gilmore says. She adds she was “blown away” by the lengths to which Fischer-Rosenthal went to recreate the bracelet, calling it a “learning experience.”
Tate-Gilmore continues, “She did something phenomenal and then personally hand-delivered it, which is just the Fischer touch. So, I’m super grateful to have the opportunity to help with that type of thing.”
Fischer Travel… Still Up to the Usual
In the years since Fischer Travel last graced our cover, the luxury travel agency-turned-full-time lifestyle concierge has been up to its usual over-the-top achievements for its ultra-lux clients. The agency is always looking for talent, people who are detailed-oriented, innovative and passionate about creating experiences. All advisors are full-time employees and “everybody works for the Fischer client,” Fischer-Rosenthal says. “We are one strong and dynamic team. In my close to 40 years at the company I have never been prouder and more confident in the team we have now. We’re able to pull resources; we’re able to share knowledge.”
One such new employee is Fischer-Rosenthal’s son, Max Rosenthal, who serves as the business operations manager and joined the family business in May 2020. He was previously a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration (class of ‘16) and then worked in the hotel world doing corporate strategy and development across many hotel brands. He began assisting with Fischer Travel and Fischer-Rosenthal tells us, “We saw great value and promise.”
She adds, “He’s coming to us with a new, young perspective, which is fantastic because I have a young team and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks. He’s able to effect change in a way my team will really appreciate.”
Fischer-Rosenthal says it was her dream to have Max join the business, but she did not force it on him. She tells us he was also a big advocate for the Fortis Global alliance. “This alliance introduces Fischer Travel to a diverse set of new clients while also enabling us to provide the best possible service to our existing clients. As the world and client needs change, this alliance keeps Fischer as the premier agency,” says Max Rosenthal.
Fischer Travel is now a three-generation enterprise and Max feels “excited for the future of the family business.”
Becoming a client of Fischer Travel comes with a $100,000 initiation fee, followed by a $25,000 annual renewal and additional service fees. During the pandemic, however, Fischer Travel allowed its clients to pause their participation if they weren’t traveling or utilizing the agency’s lifestyle services. “Let us know when you’re ready,” they told their clients. “And they came back,” says Fischer-Rosenthal.
That said, overall, Fischer Travel had more clients pay participation fees in 2020 and 2021 than in years past. The membership model also allowed Fischer Travel to bring in revenue at a time when travel came to a near standstill. As for whether she would recommend an annual membership model to other agencies, Fischer-Rosenthal tells us, “It’s easy to say that you can charge, but you have to be available 24/7, you have to deliver. But when you can do that, I think it shows a sense of loyalty on both sides.” She adds, “We’re pretty good about making sure that we communicate who we are, what we do and how we do it.”
Delivering the right product at the right value is the number one priority for Fischer Travel. “The one thing about the clients that we serve is there’s no budgets, really. They want what they want, and it doesn’t matter what it costs as long as it’s the right fit,” Fischer-Rosenthal says.
One Fischer client is traveling to the Davos World Economic Forum in January 2022. For the trip, they sourced him a $325,000 per night villa — but it’s unaffiliated with any hotel properties and no one on the Fischer team had been to the property. So, they called up a former employee who lives in Berlin and flew them in to check out the villa to ensure it was up to their standard. “We have an extensive vetting list, getting it down to matching wine glasses,” Fischer-Rosenthal says.
“It’s not as much as the price being off-putting, it’s more about us making sure that we’re delivering the right product for the value and making sure that we understand what the staff and security is,” she says.
Another impressive feat Fischer Travel pulled off was a multi-country trip with a focus on Jordan; the highlights being a dinner for two in Little Petra with musicians and a private chef and a glamping experience in the Wadi Rum Desert. One challenge was sourcing female butlers for the client’s wife; the agency ended up hiring staff from the nearby Four Seasons and Movenpick hotels. Fischer Travel also hired 10 employees from the Kempinski Hotel in Aqaba to raise the level of service at “the very best desert camp in Wadi Rum, [which] was still not up to Fischer Travel standards.” Fischer-Rosenthal tells us, “They brought with them, mattresses, bedding, linen, furniture, a flat-screen TV and amenities from the Kempinski Hotel and transformed the camp into a more luxurious setup.”
And then there were the entry challenges due to COVID. “My advisor was working around the clock because she had to be on it with everybody in the middle of the night while things are happening real-time,” Fischer-Rosenthal says.
She adds, “We pride ourselves on our service and ability to make things happen, make the impossible possible when it’s any kind of challenge around travel and lifestyle.” Although it doesn’t always have to be in the travel and lifestyle world; Fischer-Rosenthal says she wants the agency to be their clients’ first point of contact, regardless of what they need. For instance, when a client’s daughter was being treated in Philadelphia and the family was looking for a house on the Main Line, Fischer-Rosenthal helped to source the right house for them. She says the agency didn’t charge the clients for these services, adding, “It’s not always about the dollars and cents; it is really about the relationship and being human.”
As for what clients are asking about on the travel side, villas and private homes, jets and islands top the list. Fischer-Rosenthal says that celebration trips for all the missed events are very common, and clients are staying longer and more often in one destination. Wellness is trending as well. She also expects domestic travel to be popular among clients who are still not ready to travel internationally; that said, Fischer-Rosenthal notes the agency had “a huge uptick” in travel to Europe when countries began to reopen.
“We are booking multiple trips at a time for clients for now through 2023. People want something to look forward to and we’re here to help,” says Fischer-Rosenthal. “It’s such an exciting time for us in travel.”
The Future of Travel
Bill Fischer tells us, “I always had in the back of my mind, the luxury travel business.”
Bill’s friend opened an agency in Brooklyn where Bill worked selling packages for $199 to Las Vegas and $299 to the Caribbean. Then a client came to him, asking for two tickets to the World Series. At the time, he says you had to buy a box of six tickets for four games, which came out to over 100 times more than the clients wanted to spend. Fischer got them the tickets, they paid and he realized, if he could do that with tickets, he could do it with travel. Soon after, he began charging his clients a $5,000 membership and 80 percent of his clients left. He then unlisted his phone number and began working only by referral.
“It wasn’t an overnight success, but it definitely is a success,” Fischer tells Luxury Travel Advisor. He adds, “Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that it could be so good.”
Nowadays, Fischer has taken a backseat when it comes to running the business, but he remains involved. “Bill’s still our go-to; he’s still the relationship man,” Fischer-Rosenthal says. During COVID, he continued to visit all the new restaurants to make sure they’re up to par for Fischer clients and create environments that ensure their clients are treated properly.
When looking forward, Fischer-Rosenthal says, “I think it’s unbelievably very bright, the future.” She adds, “Luxury travel is here to stay. I am an optimistic person, so the hard work, the persistence, the teamwork, the collaboration, staying true to your core values [is paying off]. I think you can’t be everything to everyone; that’s what, sometimes, travel advisors try to do. We just try to stay in our lane, and I feel like we’re back and we are certainly stronger than we’ve ever been before.”
Stronger even, thanks to Fischer Travel’s alliance with Fortis Global, a relationship that’s just beginning to blossom.
“I couldn’t ask for more in a mentor to be a woman who’s walked these same paths and sees some resemblance, but also something so different from herself,” Tate-Gilmore says of Fischer-Rosenthal, who added, “I love changing people’s lives. And that’s what we do. We have the ability. It’s not just a job.”