Travel Agent recently sat down with former “30Under30” winner Marisa Costa to learn about the launch of her new company, Amiko, which she describes as a "community" of top travel insiders aiming to connect the next generation of travelers with "in-the-know advisors, engaging influencers and friendly locals."
“In an age of ‘fake news,’ we believe in trusting the experts, so we've created a highly-curated source for the best service providers, the coolest products and vetted, quality information,” Costa tells Travel Agent.
Costa compares Amiko to an “all-connected travel friend” or a one-stop shop for both consumers looking for the next hot destination and advisors looking for the next hot client lead. Costa tells Travel Agent that Amiko combines “the service and client relationship of a travel agent, the in-depth knowledge and niche expertise of a tour operator, and the marketing tactics and digital nomad lifestyle of a social media influencer.”
“Our unique model results in a win-win,” says Costa. “The advisors get to follow their passions, and the client ultimately gets better service. That lets us focus on becoming the leading expert in our respective field, always being in-the-know regarding the hottest new trends for a particular type of clientele and outsmarting the Internet.”
How the Idea was Born
Costa previously served as director of NEXT, a joint initiative of Protravel International and Tzell Travel Group. In that role, Costa’s job was to recruit, train and foster the next generation of travel advisors.
“As a mentor to so many new agents, I was in a unique position to not only listen to their struggles, but also try to figure out how to fix the problems they mentioned,” says Costa, who remains an independent contractor with Protravel. “I became an advocate for the next generation of advisors, and by connecting with agents from other agencies, it appeared they were all voicing the same concerns. In this new world, there were some things these advisors desperately needed that they were simply not provided with by existing organizations they were already a part of, primarily in the fields of marketing and technology.”
Costa tells Travel Agent that Amiko advisors take care of every step of the booking process and also use social media engagements to vet suggestions for accommodations, experiences and restaurants from their personal networks.
“The reason for this is simple,” says Costa. “We want suggestions from people we trust, people who are like us, who travel the same way we do, and most importantly, who have been there and done that. There will always be consumers for traditional full service agents, but there’s also another consumer being mostly ignored, the ‘DIYer’ (‘Do It Yourselfer’). As an industry, we’ve basically given up on them, but they're becoming the average consumer at this point."
Costa tells Travel Agent that as a community, Amiko focuses on innovation, educational opportunities and provides social forums that enable its advisors to share ideas, info, leads, and contacts. Amiko also helps advisors travel more by planning events, fam trips and site visits. The company is also planning to book villas around the world by the month, encouraging its members to meet there.
“We are not an agency,” says Costa. “Our advisors will book travel through their respective agencies per usual. Our membership is based on individual merit, rather than host agency affiliation. It's also not sales based. We don't get involved in the bookings, and we don't take any commission from our advisors. We’re just here to supplement their membership in an existing agency or consortium by offering marketing and technology services that aren’t being provided anywhere else.
“For example, I'm one of the Amiko advisors,” continues Costa, “but I book as an affiliate of Protravel International, which makes me a member of Virtuoso and Travel Leaders, and I'm on the Global Board for Young Travel Professionals (YTP) as well. There are so many organizations advisors can be a part of depending on their specific business. We see ourselves as another organization, with a specific focus on marketing and community building through technology.”
Costa tells Travel Agent that Amiko will also provide advisors with the credentials they need to speak with authority as an established expert in their particular field.
“We're providing them with opportunities to promote their services and gain exposure on a massive scale to their specific target demographic,” she says. “It seems like everyone today is starting their own travel company, resulting in their guests getting stranded abroad, so it's important to work with experienced advisors. We ensure consumers that they've chosen a trustworthy, cool advisor that will make sure their trip goes smoothly.”
Marketing and Lead Generation
Above all, however, Costa says her new company’s primary focus is marketing and lead generation. Costa even hinted to Travel Agent that Amiko has some exciting partnerships coming up with media companies that are structured in a way that will lead to new business for Amiko advisors.
“We work with influencers who have been vetted, who know what they're talking about, who provide great content, but more importantly, have a following of potential clients, not just random followers they paid for,” says Costa. “We then pair these influencers with advisors and brands to tackle both the marketing and booking side of travel in one place, since we believe they go hand-in-hand.”
So what advice would she give to other Millennial agents looking to become full fledged entrepreneurs?
“Put your pride aside,” says Costa. “If that means working hard, being poor and moving into your parents basement, do it. There's never going to be a good time, and it's only going to get harder as you get older.”