Why young people are using old school travel agents to plan their vacations

Pandemic lockdowns have eased but that doesn’t mean travel is getting any easier.

Escape artists: Demand for travel advisors soars as transit troubles mount.
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Orlando residents Chris Delgado, 30, the owner of a consulting agency, and his wife Andie, 36, a stay-at-home mom, were pumped to finally plan a much-belated 12-day trip to Italy in March.

“We started off trying to book the trip ourselves but couldn’t get rooms at the hotels we wanted in Venice, Florence or Rome,” said Chris Delgado. “We were also confused about the testing requirements and had a ton of questions that we couldn’t get answers to by calling hotels or researching online.”

So to prepare, they went a decidedly old-school route and tapped travel “advisor” (the PC term for “agent” these days) Lee Ann Howe of Coastline Travel Advisors. Within a day, they had a dream itinerary in place.

“Lee Ann has incredible personal relationships with the key people at the hotels we wanted to stay at like the St. Regis in Venice,” said Chris. “All of a sudden, doors opened up.”

Chris and Andie Delgado almost had to cancel their 12-day romp around Italy until a travel advisor saved the day.
Christopher Delgado

But booking rooms wasn’t their only hurdle. When the couple’s flight to Venice was abruptly canceled, they were amazed to discover that Howe had already booked them on another plane for the same price.

On the ground, Chris says that they were treated like VIPs.

“Thanks to Lee Ann’s connections, every property spoiled us with gifts, bottles of wine and other surprises,” said Chris. “It’s an experience that we would never have been able to replicate ourselves. We’re total converts to using a travel advisor and would never go the online route again.”

The recent barrage of canceled flights has young people turning to old-school travel agents for the first time.
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They’re not alone: Virtuoso, a travel network with more than 20,000 advisors globally, has seen a 50% increase in demand in the last year alone with millennials and Gen Xers being the fastest growing portion of new clients. The American Society of Travel Advisors, comprised of 17,000 members, reports that 76% of advisors are seeing a jump in demand for their services. Elite travel companies say that they are turning away clients. Fischer Travel, which charges a $100,000 one-time membership fee, along with $25,000 annually, is an example and counts celebrities and titans of industry among its members.

“We are vetting who we accept because we want to be able to service them to the highest level and can’t do that if we have too many members,” said President Stacy Fischer-Rosenthal.

Once on the brink of being made as obsolete as the fax machine, the post-pandemic web of flight cancelations, chronic understaffing, bureaucratic COVID testing requirements and a jaw-dropping surge in hotel rates and airline tickets has renewed the need for an in-the-know agent.

Another Virtuoso travel advisor, Andrew Steinberg of Ovation Vacations in New York, says that getting his deep-pocketed clients access and playing the role of their advocate are the biggest parts of his job.

“In the best of circumstances and even for the wealthiest people, unpredictability is a given more than ever before,” he said.

Case in point: Steinberg recently had clients whose 7 a.m. flight from JFK to LAX on American Airlines was canceled. They were rebooked on a flight that had them connecting through Boston, but Steinberg intervened and changed them to a direct trip departing from JFK later that morning. When that flight was also canceled, Steinberg rebooked them on a direct flight departing the next day.

“The clients were thrilled, and I handled it all before they even woke up,” he said.

Advisor Andrew Steinberg (left) of Dawn Oliver says advisors like him are access providers. Brian Maiorana and Jennifer Bahamonde (right) wanted to go to Saint-Tropez last minute. Their travel advisor hooked them up with loads of luxury extras.

In another scenario, Steinberg says that he has several clients who want to vacation in Greece this summer — the only problem being that all of the nation’s best hotels are already sold out for June.

“Finding good hotel rooms, guides and drivers is a huge challenge, but my relationships in Greece have helped me secure impossible requests,” he said.

Fischer-Rosenthal says that Fischer Travel has also pulled off the unimaginable. In a recent situation, one client was attending a bachelorette party in the Bahamas and tested positive for COVID when she took the required test to re-enter the United States.

“She was told that she had to quarantine at some hotel, but we had her on a private plane to Florida within three hours,” she said.

Fischer Travel’s clients may have no-holds-barred budgets, but most travelers today appreciate saving a buck. To that end, Belles points out that booking your trip with a luxury travel advisor means extras for free at hotels such as room upgrades, breakfast, spa and food and beverage credits and early check-in and late check-out. “You end up saving a lot more than you would expect,” she said.

Of course, travel advisors are out to be profitable, and some charge planning fees for their services. These generally range from $50 to close to a $1,000 depending on the complexity of a trip. Belles says that others don’t charge fees at all and make their money on commissions instead.

Detroit-based Brian Maiorana, 43, a restaurant owner, and his fiancée Jennifer Bahamonde, 43, also in the restaurant business, used Dawn Oliver of Embark Beyond in New York to book their honeymoon to Paris and Saint-Tropez this June.

“It was a last-minute trip, and I was scrambling to get into hotels and understand the COVID requirements,” said Brian

He was referred to Oliver by a friend and says that he had never used a travel advisor before and didn’t know what she could really do. When Oliver presented them with an itinerary that included meals at hot restaurants, admission to coveted beach clubs and upgraded rooms at swanky hotels, Maiorana quickly changed his mind.

“The convenience of using an advisor and the hours and hours of time I saved is priceless,” he said.


Real estate boom: Hot spots thrive under new billionaire social calendar

The superrich are snubbing the French Riviera for the coast of New England, living on superyachts like Zoom Zoom Zoom.

Billionaires were slaves to a strict jetsetter calendar — at least before COVID-19 ruffled their cravats.

In early December, that meant off to Miami for Art Basel — aka “the running of the billionaires” — then to St. Barts for a New Year’s Eve glass of bubbly aboard Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s $500 million megayacht.

Next they stopped in Palm Beach, Fla., to say hello to Stephen Schwarzman, Leonard Lauder or Robert Kraft (if they dare!), then a ski jaunt in the Alps in the spring. In May, it was on to the South of France to hit the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix.

In summer, some chartered yachts along the Amalfi Coast, while others opted for the French Riviera — bobbing in and out of the Hamptons via private jet from Memorial to Labor Day. They spent millions upon millions on princely compounds all the while.

But travel restrictions and the viral threat has disrupted the play schedules of the superrich and the seasonal real estate markets relying on peripatetic high rollers. Even in New York — where some 113 billionaires rest their laurels, according to Wealth-X — the lights are out along 57th Street’s Billionaire’s Row.

“The travel patterns of the extremely wealthy have been thrown into a tailspin because of Covid,” said Tony Abrams, founder of Four Hundred, a membership-based concierge and travel company that counts more than 75 billionaires as clients.

“Most of their go-to events like Basel have been canceled, and border restrictions prevent them from going to their usual international haunts.”

Now, restless 1 percenters are carving out a new routine.

Jim and Parvina Glidewell are living it up stateside with their billionaire pals.

“In the past, I’ve gone to Europe over the summer, and the people who chartered from me would normally be in St. Tropez instead of New England,” said Jim Glidewell, a demi-billionaire.

Glidewell spent part of this unprecedented summer in New England on his 161-foot, five-bedroom superyacht named Zoom Zoom Zoom, renting it out to New York hedge funders when he wasn’t cruising. A weekly charter is $165,000.

“Going clamming, watching sunsets and drinking expensive wine is about as action packed as it’s gotten,” he said.

But 2020 wasn’t just an off year. The routines of the ruling class are changing. Here’s a look at the new billionaire social calendar and what it means for some of the world’s top real estate markets.


St. Barts’ Villa Rockstar is a favorite pandemic-era play pen for high rollers.

After being ravaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and locking down during the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, the tony isle of St. Bart is back with celebs like Paul McCartney, Amy Schumer and Chrissy Teigen all spotted over the holidays.

 “St. Bart’s has always been hot, but this year it’s on fire because it’s one of the handful of places that’s open to visitors,” said Abrams. “It’s a place with great beaches and restaurants and gorgeous villas.”

Famously aloof billionaires favor private villas over the island’s luxe hotels and the 16,000-square-foot Villa Rockstar, which goes for upwards of $175,000 a week during high season, is one of the best.

Situated on Saint Jean beach and owned by Eden Rock, the property has six suites including one with a 24-carat white-gold bathroom.

After St. Barts, the party moves on to Palm Beach, where the already costly real estate rental and sales markets have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic.

Billionaires including financier Henry Kravis, investor Carl Ichan and Julia Koch, widow of industrialist David Koch, all hibernate in Palm Beach over the winter.

“People want to park themselves someplace warm while they wait out to see what happens with the vaccine,” said Stacy Fischer-Rosenthal, the president of Fischer Travel Enterprises, a membership-based lifestyle and travel company.


The swank Four Peaks Ranch in Snowmass rents for $20,000 a night.

Gstaad, Courchevel and St. Moritz may be off the table for now, but the other mainstay billionaire stomping ground of Aspen, Colo., will be an even wilder see-and-be-seen destination this spring.

Jeff Bezos, John Paulson and Kris, Kendall and Kylie Jenner (who are currently paying $450,000 a month for an Aspen spread) are just a few of the high rollers with homes here.

“Aspen will be popular in the same way St. Bart’s is over Christmas,” said Abrams. “Both have the same crowds.”

Four Peaks Ranch in Snowmass, which goes for $20,000 a night, is one of the ski paradise’s best billionaire bastions. The property is set on 876 acres and has 15 miles of private trails for cross-country and snowmobiling. Other amenities include seven bedrooms, eight baths, a movie theater and an indoor/outdoor pool with grottos and a waterfall.

Sleeping Indian Ranch in Telluride, Colorado, is filling in for the Alps this spring. It rents for 50,000 a night.

Lately, billionaires who want to avoid the buzz of Aspen are escaping to nearby Telluride, where the 40,000-square-foot Sleeping Indian Ranch from Auberge rents for a minimum of $50,000 a night. With 15,000 acres of total privacy and endless amenities like a movie theater, gym and a cigar humidor room, the estate and the community is about as exclusive as it gets.


Billionaires like Ken Griffin (left), Julia Koch (center) and Roman Abramovich (right) have a new routine.

In 2020, the Hamptons and Malibu filled in for the French Riviera and the Amalfi Coast as getaway spots of choice for the money-is-no-object set. And real estate experts predict a repeat this summer.

“The demand for long-term rentals in Malibu especially shot through the roof when Covid hit,” said Andrew Steinberg, a luxury advisor with Ovation Vacations in New York City. “The broker I work with to find homes for my clients got 200 calls in March for summer renters, which was more than a tenfold increase from last year.”

In the Hamptons, folks like George Soros, Ralph Lauren and Steve Cohen are among the many tycoons hiding out.

The biggest deal of the year came from the hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin who paid $84.4 million for Calvin Klein’s former 7-acre property at 650 Meadow Lane in Southampton.


Buyout The Point in the Adirondacks for a cool $29,600 a night.

Your grandmother and the world’s richest now have something in common. They both love to watch the leaves change!

Believe it or not, destinations like the Adirondacks and Vermont — playgrounds for old money like the Rockefellers, nouveau riche titans like Alibaba’s Jack Ma, as well as celebs like Bruce Springsteen and Sigourney Weaver — saw a huge influx of billionaires this year, according to Fischer-Rosenthal.

Heavy hitters who headed to the Adirondacks clamored for takeovers of The Point, a pricy hotel set on Upper Saranac Lake and the former camp of William Avery Rockefeller. The nightly buyout rate is $29,600.

But the exceptionally well-heeled also enjoyed the mild weather in New England by boat, according to Daniel Ziriakus, the president of yacht charter brokerage Northrop & Johnson, who rents out Gildewell’s yacht.

Glidewell gets it: “Even when the world opens up again, I love the idea of being in New England, not St. Tropez. It’s a destination with a lot to offer.”