Time and time again throughout his impressive career in the travel business, Gary Mansour of Mansour Travel Company made all the right moves to capitalize on an opportunity. His latest undertaking led him to find business where most agents wouldn’t think to look—Russia. Forbes recently announced that Russia has the world’s third largest number of billionaires; jumping to 53 in 2007.
Gary Mansour of Mansour Travel Company.
“I actually went to Russia to get the business,” says Mansour. “I had Russian friends in the U.S. who still maintain a home in Moscow, and they invited me along last December. In Russia, I met centimillionaires who were very cultured, bright and entrepreneurial—it wasn’t just new money. They were willing to pay a $35,000 to $50,000 retainer to use my services.”
Mansour notes that Russians not only want the best, they also desire reassurance and a sense that they fit in. Catering to this new breed of powerful and influential Russians can be quite specialized. When Mansour initially began approaching potential Russian clients, there was a bit of disconnect in service expectations. “There were two families that took awhile to sign up,” he says. “I treated them the way I would an American client. After laying things out for them, I respected their decision-making process and waited patiently for their reply.” Weeks went by until a Russian friend asked Mansour if he’d called the potential clients. “I said, ‘Yes, a couple of weeks ago,’” remembers Mansour. “My friend convinced me to call them again and to really let them know I want their business. So I did follow up, and they were very happy and they signed—they wanted the attention.” Success such as this has led Mansour to open a third office in Europe to help service his new Russian clients.
“The travel agents in Moscow can handle the richest clients in the world—on a service level, they’re kickass,” says Mansour. “They’ll have an agent wait in the lobby of a hotel for 10 days in case some oligarch decides he needs a car.” Mansour notes that what the Russian agents lack is the experience and knowledge to create unique itineraries for their clients. “My Russian clients will come to me and ask me to create an itinerary for them,” says Mansour. “When I ask them where they want to go, they’ll say, ‘Just come up with something.’ Money is no object for them.”
Mansour observes that modern Russians believe that a sense of belonging is based on social connections, rather than the size of a person’s bank account. They’re looking for help and guidance along the way, and Mansour and his global team offer entrée into high profile events and places, like Cannes, Las Vegas or St. Barth’s, and singular activities that include cultivated pastimes, such as golfing, polo, and winemaking. Mansour can provide the level of private access that his Russian clients might never secure on their own, despite their wealth.
“Another country that is growing by leaps and bounds is China,” says Mansour. “They have a high upper class created by all of the manufacturing they’re developing—they’re creating billionaires.” Mansour has some advice for agents looking towards China as a potential goldmine. “It’s not a market I’ll be entering, and I’ll tell you why,” he says. “If you don’t have a trusted partner, which I don’t have in China or India, they’ll eat you alive. You need to be with good people who can lead you by the hand. Otherwise it’s somewhat risky.”
Back in 1972, Mansour worked with NATO in Italy as a cartographer. Too many days alone in the mountains convinced him he needed to try something different. He began planning inspection trips for NATO officers throughout the region, and he decided he liked booking travel. Back in the states, Mansour worked briefly on Wall Street for Diners Fugazi Travel but quickly decided corporate travel wasn’t for him. Cut to Beverly Hills where Mansour worked at Hoffman Travel, booking the travel for the production team shooting the first Star Wars film. “I then booked travel for the production company for Bo Derek’s 10, and I said to myself, ‘This is what I want to do,’” says Mansour. “I liked the energy level of celebrities—they never wanted to hear ‘No.’ They wanted it done, and I got it done.” Past clients of Mansour’s include such megastars as Tom Cruise, Richard Pryor and Tina Turner. By the 80s, Mansour and his wife, Kay, opened their own service, Mansour Travel Company, which presently has 22 employees. This past year, Mansour Travel Company was named fourth in “small-sized companies” on the list of the “60 Best Places to Work in Los Angeles.” “My door is always open to any employee or client,” says Mansour. “Both Kay and I run the company like a family. Even new people are immediately immersed right into everything.”
Mansour also owns Avion Private Jet Club, the first and only company to sell individual seats on already scheduled private jet flights between Los Angeles and New York.
When Mansour was asked to provide the private jets for Al Gore’s ambitious Live Earth series of events in 2007, Mansour came up with the marketing phrase, “Save the Earth, Share the Air.” He also came up with the phrase “air-pooling.”
“It’s better than having a celebrity demanding their own private G4,” he says. “Avion is a whole new baby, making private aviation more available. The membership club charges a fee, and then it’s a matter of paying for the seat every time you fly.”
Owner of Mansour Travel Company
Headquarters: 345 North Maple Drive, Suite 210, Beverly Hills, CA
Annual Sales: $30 million
Affiliation: Ensemble Select