Where should I visit next?” It’s probably the most difficult question a travel agent has to answer — whether they are asking the question, or their clients. Fortunately, Travel Agent has some suggestions, as provided by this year’s 30Under30 winners.
Eyes on Europe
We learned that several of the classics remain so for a reason. Numerous agents touted recent trips all across Europe. France, Italy, Spain and England were all mentioned; however, no matter how many times one may have visited one of these destinations, there is always something new to experience.
In France, Paris’s Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel reopened last summer after a massive, four-year renovation project. During the updates, the 18th-century hotel received a few modern updates but maintained its elegance — guests can enjoy amethyst chandeliers, crystal Baccarat decanters and various other objets d’art, as well as Karl Lagerfeld-designed suites. “Paris is still — and I think always will be — a popular destination for clients,” says Kristen Munch of Frosch Travel. “A few nights at the Crillon is worth the trip itself. The attention to detail is incredible and they managed to highlight the history of the hotel. The decor is a delicate balance of contemporary and traditional Parisian style. Everything about this hotel screams luxury.”
Italy is brimming with destinations worth visiting. Frances Sarrett from McCabe World Travel recently visited both Florence and Rome (where she “walked virtually the entire city”). She says it’s perfect for honeymoons, family vacations, cultural excursions and relaxing getaways. It’s simply a matter of determining what your clients are looking for and putting together the right experiences.
Ryan Barks from Travel Haus of St. Louis agrees. He recently visited Italy but tells Travel Agent that if a client doesn’t request a specific destination, he makes sure to ask them what they want to experience — what they would like to see, do, eat and drink. “I am confident in my ability to place my clients in the right spot based on their own wants and needs,” he adds.
Ritz World Travel’s Callie Mae Ritsema returned from Spain a short while ago. She had previously been to Madrid multiple times; however, this time she road-tripped through central and northern Spain. “I really learned about the diverse landscapes and cultures — from the large cities, to the rolling hills and wineries, to the mountainous area in the north,” she says. “I learned that Spain has so much to offer than I thought.” Since the trip to Spain, Ritsema has used the experience and knowledge to help a client of hers with their trip to Spain.
For Paris-bound clients, a few nights’ stay at the Hotel de Crillon “is worth the trip itself,” says Frosch Travel’s Kristen Munch.
Several agents also made the effort to visit London this year. Others visited nearby destinations, such as Ireland and Scotland — both of which could be great add-ons or substitutions for clients who have already done the English capital. TravelStore’s Kate Johnson says Ireland has been calling to her for as long as she can remember. She finally had the chance to go and tells us, “I was impressed with not only the topographical beauty of the destination, but the rich culture, history and gastronomy as well. Since my return, I have already begun planning several trips for couples and families to the area.” An added bonus of Ireland is the safety, Johnson says. The safety, welcoming people and being an English-speaking country makes Ireland a top choice for timid or new travelers, as well.
The hottest destination in Europe, however, has been Iceland. The country has been growing in popularity over the past couple of years and it’s showing no sign of stopping. Sarah Ann Van Elsen from Adelman Discoveries, Nolan Flynn from LaMacchia and Kristina Choquet from Artisanal Experiences by Ovation Vacations have all visited the country recently.
“To explain a destination like Iceland is definitely hard,” Flynn tells Travel Agent. “I’ve never been somewhere so unique and beautiful. I would recommend Iceland to any traveler that wants to immerse themselves with nature, but in Iceland, that nature appears like magic. Exploring ice caves, diamond beaches and countless waterfalls is only the tip of the iceberg (pun intended), when traveling to Iceland.”
“I recently traveled to Iceland, which was an absolutely magical experience,” Choquet says. “Although Iceland has been on the radar for quite some time, to actually experience and see the beauty of the country was wonderful and otherworldly.”
She adds: “The newly opened Blue Lagoon Retreat is the epitome of luxury, with its attention to detail, level of luxury, quality of food and design elements. This is an exciting new hotel in the country that would satisfy any seasoned luxury traveler’s very high expectations. To swim and experience the blue lagoon, with its natural fluorescent blue water caused by the silica deposits reflecting the light of the blue sky, was one of the best experiences of my life. I have been pitching this destination to clients as a full immersion experience in nature, experiencing it in its purest form, exploring glaciers, waterfalls, and driving through volcanic lava fields. The beauty and nature in Iceland are unlike anywhere else in the world, and the opportunity to drive on a glacier, which are under huge threat and are projected to disappear in the next 200 years, is something you will never forget.”
Kristina Choquet of Artisinal Experiences by Ovation Vacations calls Iceland’s new Blue Lagoon Retreat “the epitome of luxury.”
Other Europe highlights were its cities on rivers. Amsterdam, Prague and Zurich are must-visits for avid river cruisers. Van Elsen tells us that she has a Rhine River cruise scheduled for next October with two extra nights in Amsterdam and a Danube River cruise that has an optional extension to Prague. “It was good for me to be able to experience both of these cities, so I can more easily sell our river cruises since I’m more familiar with a few of the destinations,” she says.
As for the river cruises themselves, Jordan Lapetz from AAA Travel Michigan suggests AmaWaterways, which she sailed on for the first time this year. “Having the hands-on experience with what to expect and explaining to my clients was priceless — since my return I have had a huge increase in river cruise bookings, especially with AmaWaterways,” she says. “Being able to show pictures of my cabin, the ship’s public spaces and explain life onboard really allows me to bring the experience to life. Off the ship, AmaWaterways’ thorough tour guides and tour director really allow their clients to get the most out of each day.”
On the oceans, another cruise that received a few rave reviews was the Norwegian Bliss. Platinum Travel’s Candace Dupps sailed on the inaugural voyage from Miami. She tells Travel Agent that the ship is just as suitable for solo travelers (thanks to “the awesome studio staterooms”) as it is for families, “who may want larger accommodations or more exclusivity in the more luxurious and private area, The Haven.” Dupps adds that the racetrack, laser tag and shows can keep any age group occupied, and that the food was “incredible.” Her tip? Be sure to check out the observation lounge, which “is one of the best in the cruise industry.”
Travelink Incorporated’s Elizabeth Hoover adds that Celebrity is another cruise line to consider, as “the next level,” for those who typically sail on Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Holland America Line or other similar brands. She adds it’s better suited for non-families or younger travelers, although there was still representation among these groups on her voyage.
The Cliffs of Moher are one example of the “topographical beauty” of Ireland that made an impression on TravelStore’s Kate Johnson.
The Other Side of the World
Down Under has always been a dream destination, but it seems to finally be growing in popularity. Kayla Mason from Frosch Travel tells Travel Agent about her recent visit to Queensland, Australia, while Samantha Collum from West University Travel had the chance to explore New Zealand.
Queensland “was one of the most beautiful landscaped counties that I have ever seen,” Mason says. “This state in Australia has city life, beaches, reefs and jungles. It is definitely up-and-coming and needs to be a place for anyone going to Australia to visit.” A few musts, according to Mason, include holding a koala, feeding kangaroos in their habitat, and visiting the Great Barrier Reef (by helicopter or in the water).
Collum’s trip to New Zealand didn’t disappoint, after hearing such positive reviews. To keep her clients engaged, she posted daily updates on social media; they were able to follow her wine-tasting at Waiheke Island (“With a country-wide focus on farm-to-table [dining], and over 60,000 acres of producing vineyards, New Zealand is a foodie heaven!”), helicoptering over Milford Sound, and bungee jumping in Queenstown. Upon returning, she wrote a series of blog posts highlighting her experiences with recommendations for what to do. Collum suggests flying into Auckland and, after exploring the city, travelers should head into the countryside to see the bubbling hot springs of Rotorua or fly to the South Island to see its snow-capped Southern Alps. “Perfectly situated to view these dramatic landscapes are a number of luxury lodges, which are each a destination on their own.”
Her personal favorite? Huka Lodge, she says.
Like Ireland and Scotland, Australia and New Zealand provide a safe destination for clients who list this among their concerns.
West University Travel’s Samantha Collum says New Zealand’s luxury lodges “are each a destination on their own.” Huka Lodge is her favorite.
Back in the Western Hemisphere
Mexico and the Caribbean are perennial favorites and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. Throughout the Caribbean, numerous islands were highlighted by the agents, including Antigua, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti and St. Lucia.
“Most recently I went to Antigua — it’s definitely the most amazing place I’ve visited in the Caribbean,” Trevarus Martin of Book and Bag Travel LLC says. “The people were so friendly, the food was amazing, and the beaches were beautiful! I’ve been able to pitch this place as the hidden gem of the Caribbean.”
Stephanie LeGrow of Lovely Lotus Travel tells us that she recently explored and stayed in all of the major resort areas of Jamaica. “Each area has its own vibe, which is very helpful knowledge when recommending where my clients should go,” she says. “For example: For my clients looking for adventure, I would recommend staying in Ocho Rios, as there are many outdoor activities and places to explore. For the client who is looking to get away from it all with a relax-in-the-sand mentality, I would send them to Negril — you can’t beat those beaches and that small-town feel. For the more modern traveler, possibly looking for “the whole experience,” I would recommend Montego Bay; with newer areas, shopping, restaurants and a central location, it is a great launch pad to go explore some days and hang back and relax on others.”
Jamaica is also a great destination for groups (such as a bachelorette party), Kaitlyn Kubitskey from My World Travel LLC says. “I have included Jamaica as an option for all of my clients interested in a tropical / beach / all-inclusive experience.”
Touraid’s Jordan Glanda is a fan of El Dorado Maroma in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Christabella Pierre from Atlas Cruises & Tours adds that visiting Dunns River Falls in Jamaica is a must. “The water left my skin so baby-soft that I had to rave about it,” she says. Pierre adds that she was able to book several clients just from her Facebook posts about it. A tip on using social media: “I set the expectations, so that clients get excited about their trip, while leaving just enough curiosity for the customer to have the desire to explore more,” she says.
“My favorite place that I have visited over the past year is the beautiful island of St. Lucia,” says TravelSmiths’ Leah Bilquist. “It has such a unique personality compared to the rest of the Caribbean. I was able to take a helicopter transfer from the airport to the top of the island [where] I was able to celebrate at the Friday Night Gros Islet Party with locals, sampling local cuisine and iconic Caribbean rum punch.”
A few other experiences that she highlighted include tasting wine from all over the world in the wine cellar at Cap Maison (in the north) and taking a mud bath at the world’s only drive-in volcano (in the south).
The Caribbean is a wonderful destination to visit for no other reason than that — it’s a wonderful destination. However, Deanna Bonanni from E. Clark Travel says that many of these islands also, simply, need our support. She wants to bring the passion for the destination back after the devastating hurricanes of 2017. “I want to give back to these magical islands,” she says. “These destinations are what opened my mind to travel — I owe them.”
Despite some of the seeming ups and downs of Mexico (due to various concerns), the destination remains as strong as ever for U.S. travelers. In January, Jordan Glanda from Touraid Travel Inc. visited “the beautiful Karisma property, El Dorado Maroma” just outside Playa del Carmen.
Elizabeth Hoover adds that The Royal Playa Del Carmen is another top option. “The hotel sits right on the Avenida de Constituyentes, where all the restaurants, shops and ferry to Cozumel are located,” she says. “It has a luxury feel, the grounds are very well cared for and there are a number of restaurants to choose from when looking for dining options.”
When in Jamaica, a visit to Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios is a must, says Atlas Cruises & Tours’ Christabelle Pierre.
Central and South America
For those that have visited Mexico, perhaps go a bit further south. Costa Rica, Peru and Colombia are other destinations that the 30Under30 suggest. Kubitskey says she first traveled to Costa Rica in 2016 but fell in love with the country — notably, the people, food and diversity of scenery. It’s a good destination for travelers looking to relax on a beach or go ziplining through the forest.
“Peru and Colombia are two of the fastest-growing South American countries in tourism right now,” Jonathan Garcia of First in Service Travel says. “If you go to Peru, you must visit Machu Picchu, which is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Machu Picchu is tangible evidence of the urban Inca Empire at the peak of its power and achievement — it’s literally life-changing and that alone has brought out the curiosity of several of my clients. Another destination is Cartagena, Colombia. The Old City is full of history. It is a real treasure of colonial architecture, full of monasteries, plazas, palaces and mansions with their overhanging balconies and shaded patios. These are great destinations for those who are interested in history, culture and ancient ruins.”
A visit to Machu Picchu, Peru, is a “life-changing experience,” says First in Service’s Jonathan Garcia.
For the more adventurous, consider African destinations such as South Africa, Uganda and Kenya.
“South Africa is one of my favorite destinations to pitch, as there is something for absolutely everyone,” Samantha Hartman of Protravel International says. “Going on safari is truly an unforgettable experience, and my single favorite travel experience. Outside of safari you have city life [beautiful Cape Town], wineries and thrilling adventures (shark diving!).”
Frances Sarrett, who traveled to South Africa for two weeks, spending several nights in Cape Town, followed by two safari experiences, agrees. “Africa is a destination that is important to experience in order to understand it and to be able to promote it to clients,” she adds.
Allison Kobasky from Over the Moon Vacations recently traveled to South Africa, Dubai and the Maldives. Her pitch for South Africa? “We [she and her husband] speak of the South African people that are so warm, the contrast of wine country and city life in Cape Town, the adventure and excitement of safaris [and inevitably the luxury and pampering that comes with the experience], as well as the rich culture and delicious food.”
Elsewhere in Africa, SmartFlyer’s Allison Law visited Uganda, Kenya and Victoria Falls. In addition to the standard safari vacations that clients typically ask for, Law suggests tacking on a gorilla trekking in the Bwindi National Forest [Uganda] or a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Odyssey Travel’s Taryn Deschaine cites Six Senses Kaplankaya as an example of new, well-recognized brands in Turkey.
Asia and Beyond
Another adventurous destination is Thailand. While travelers can still enjoy the city life in Bangkok, there’s plenty to experience outdoors-wise. However, as Thailand grows in popularity, a good idea for either an add-on (for those who haven’t and still want to visit Thailand) or as a substitute (for those looking to avoid it), is the Philippines.
“This is a destination in Southeast Asia that is underrated and ready to be marketed to the masses,” says Marielle Kabin from Travelwise International. “For years, Philippines’ neighboring countries, like Thailand, have been marketing and campaigning to attract travelers into their country as an exotic destination…For passengers looking for an authentic experience to an exotic destination, I begin my pitch with the reason for travel: It’s not for ‘the ‘Gram’ or to keep up on social media, it’s for one to experience adventure, spontaneity and to get lost just enough to be forced to ask a local for directions. People travel to lose themselves in a destination just to find themselves changed by the lessons you learn while getting out of your comfort zone. In my opinion, Philippines would be an excellent choice to travel to.”
A few added bonuses are the U.S. dollar-to-Philippines peso ratio, the large English-speaking population and “some of the world’s best beaches, [such as] El Nido, Coron and Boracay.”
Other destinations include cities with long histories but modern conveniences. A few ideas are Istanbul or a Japan tour, combining Tokyo and Kyoto.
“I returned from Istanbul, Turkey, in April and instantly fell in love with the city,” says Camelback Odyssey Travel’s Taryn Deschaine. “Since it has such a deep and interesting history, there is an endless amount to see and explore. The city is so rich in culture and the Bosphorus is constantly buzzing with ships passing by. Not to mention, the culinary experiences are out of this world! Tourism is also on the rise, with well recognized hotel brands like Edition and Six Senses opening new properties. If you are looking for a destination that is nothing like you have experienced before, visit Istanbul.”
Jacquelyn Santo, from Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, offers a similar take, by combining Tokyo and Kyoto to check off all the boxes — “Tokyo for a more fast paced, city experience and Kyoto for a more ‘Zen’ vibe, visiting all of the beautiful temples, shrines and gardens.”
And then there’s a classic American getaway: Hawaii. Stacey Hoehne of Brentwood Travel visited both Oahu and Kauai this year. They were at the top of her must-visit list and are among her clients’ favorite destinations. “Hawaii isn’t a tough destination to pitch, but I love having the firsthand experience now to add that special touch when selling the islands,” she adds.