Back in 1969, Roland Largay was ready for a change from his duties as vice president of sales at family-owned Anchor Fasteners, a nuts-and-bolts business. When a friend approached him to be a partner in an office selling real estate, insurance and travel, Largay replied that he wanted to be his own boss and negotiated to buy the travel agency portion of the business. “Within two months, I’d sold more than he had sold the previous two years,” says Largay, founder, co-owner and CEO of Waterbury, CT-based Largay Travel and a 40-year veteran of the travel business.
Roland Largay (second from left) poses with Gregg Michel, president, Crystal Cruises (left); Paul Largay, co-owner and president, Largay Travel (right); and Bill Smith, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Crystal cruises (far right).
He attributes his quick success to countless family business discussions around the dinner table when he was growing up, to his business degree and to his passion for travel and love of people. “To be successful selling luxury travel, you have to feel comfortable selling the product,” says Largay. “You can’t feel intimidated. You need to know the ships inside out.” He notes that his best business comes from referrals.
Largay Travel is one of the founding members of Virtuoso Travel. “Joining Virtuoso was the best business decision I ever made,” says Largay. He presently serves as Chairman Emeritus of the Virtuoso Member Advisory Board.
Largay notes that there has been a recent shift of sorts, with a number of the agency’s clients changing their bookings from big luxury lines to mid-market lines like Princess and Holland America.
“I don’t think luxury travel is bulletproof,” says Largay, referencing the current declining economy. “We’re not waiting for customers to come in. We’re being proactive by making phone calls, sending out specialized mailings and partnering with suppliers to mount shows.”
Largay has found Virtuoso to be very helpful during the present economic downturn. He cites advice from Virtuoso, such as developing your staff, managing your risk exposure and exploring public-relations possibilities.
“The dollar is getting strong—it’s stronger against the euro and the (South African) rand than it’s been the last six months. It’s true for Australia as well,” he says.
During the slowdown, Largay Travel is allowing its agents to take advantage of a Connecticut program that permits employees to take up to two days off a week from their job and still receive $80 a day from the state.
Largay also believes in keeping things fresh. “For the last 10 years, our group travel department has been organizing cruises with a local radio personality,” says Largay. “This year, we’ve changed that and we’re offering a Tauck California wine lands tour with this same personality and it’s selling very well.”
Largay has always been a traveler. Upon graduating from college, he took a three-month deluxe American Express trip through Europe. “I’ve lost count of the number of cruises—well over a hundred,” he says. Largay has served on the Royal Viking Advisory Board, as well as being a member of the Cunard Inner Circle, the Abercrombie & Kent Connoisseurs Club and the Crystal Cruise Platinum Club.
Although the soft-adventure side of the business is overseen by Largay Travel’s co-owner and president, Paul Largay (Roland’s nephew), Roland Largay is no stranger to African safaris, having been on 27 of them. When it comes to delivering on the safari experience, Largay considers Micato Safaris to be the best of the best.
Largay is a fan of specialist programs and he himself is a Crystal Cruise Specialist. “With Virtuoso, you have to be a certified specialist before they’ll give you leads,” he says.
Largay advises travel agents to seek employment with agencies selling luxury travel: “It’s the best way to learn, whether you stay with the agency or eventually strike out on your own.”