Virtuoso Panel: What Makes a Good Advisor?

Terrie Hansen, Virtuoso’s VP-marketing, moderates a panel with travel advisors Jim Bendt, Stephanie Anevich and Jay Johnson.

Terrie Hansen, Virtuoso’s SVP-marketing, moderates a panel with travel advisors Jim Bendt, Stephanie Anevich and Jay Johnson.

The number of Millennials now choosing luxury travel advisor as a career continues to rise, as does the number of those changing careers to become travel consultants. The trend was palpable at last month’s Virtuoso Travel Week at the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Matthew Upchurch, Virtuoso’s chairman and CEO, said that so many new entrants to the field of travel advising is one of Virtuoso’s proudest accomplishments and those just starting out are finding it to be a lucrative career choice.

“Never in all my years in this business have I seen new travel advisors go from a zero-book of business to multimillion dollar producers in such a short period of time. I am talking about 25 year olds and I am talking about career switchers,” he told a gathered group of international journalists at Virtuoso Travel Week. 

RELATED: Live From Virtuoso Travel Week: Top Affluent Travel Destinations and Trends

Upchurch: “It’s been very gratifying” to see training programs paying off.

Upchurch: “It’s been very gratifying” to see training programs paying off.

One of the most successful initiatives for Virtuoso in recent years has been to communicate that being a travel advisor provides a career path that can generate a competitive income and a fulfilling lifestyle. The network has greatly intensified its efforts to craft training and educational programs for new entrants that will enable them to ramp up and start earning quickly.

Those efforts have paid off. Just a few years ago, Upchurch said it was notable when, say, he’d meet an attorney who had left his law practice to become a luxury travel advisor. These days, it’s not so unusual. “It’s been very gratifying to see,” he said.

Along those lines, Jay Johnson, owner of Coastline Travel Advisors in Garden Grove, CA, said that two of his top agents are under the age of 30. “One of them does $1.7 million a year and she’s 25 years old, right out of college.” Johnson was one of three Virtuoso advisors who sat on a panel for the media to discuss top travel trends in the luxury market.

Technology has aided the rising trend of attracting new advisors to the business, since it’s allowing travel consultants to conduct their business wherever and whenever they choose. Upchurch said that “mobility and social media” are fueling this capability. “They’re posting that they’ve just been to Bhutan, for example, and [such posts] drive a lot of their new business.”

It’s appealing that the next generation is rediscovering the role of travel advisor as a valid career option, but what do agency managers look for in candidates when they hire?

Johnson said they need to have a passion for travel. “What makes a good advisor is someone who has done a lot of traveling when they were younger, perhaps with their family.  You’ve got to love what you do. It’s not selling life insurance or something like that. If you have a passion for travel then you’re going to make a good advisor and be able to tell a story or two.”

Jim Bendt of Pique Travel Design, Excelsior, MN, said he has hired a number of consultants from outside of the travel industry who are under the age of 30. They’ve come from other professional roles and understand the concept of customer service. “It’s really about understanding the bigger picture and having a work ethic to really deliver,” he said.

Stephanie Anevich of  Vision Travel Solutions in Toronto, said a fluid mind is vital. “They have to be entrepreneurial, in my opinion. They have to think out of the box. They have to be able to go into a crowd and talk to people and be able to present themselves in a really nice way. Thinking out of the box is a key for us and so is the ability to be flexible.” 

By the Numbers

The 26th annual Virtuoso Travel Week reported record number of attendees—4,420 people from 92 countries. The nearly 354,000 one-to-one meetings that were conducted over four days are expected to generate $450 million in travel sales.