Travel Talk - Luxury Travel Magazine

Travel Talk

By: Merry Kirkwood, Issue 27 – Winter 2006
(Style – travel agents)


Just like the elusive pot at the end of the rainbow, finding genuinely good travel advice is, well, worth its weight in gold. And when a trip is to be in the luxury travel class, the stakes are naturally higher. With significant amounts of money being invested and travellers who are often time poor, luxury travel expertise is a keenly sought-after commodity.

So just who are the kings and queens of the travel industry, and what can they really offer travellers? The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has around 2,500 members according to its sources, making up about 60 per cent of the total number of agencies in the country. But of this 4,000-odd total,it’s natural that only a small section of the industry will have the expertise and experience luxury travellers are looking for.

Andrew Ross, is CEO of Sydney’s TravelForce, (a business he has been running with wife Mary-Lou, with a staff of around 45), which specialises in ‘service-orientated corporate and high-yield leisure travel’ from its cutting-edge CBD location. As Michael Schischka, Director of TravelForce’s travel operations says of luxury travellers: “Clients are generally doing research online now, but want confirmation of their ideas from us. It doesn’t matter how much money they have, people still want the best deal.” New trends that TravelForce has also noticed are that holidays are shorter, with more redemption of frequent flyer points, and clients are becoming more adventurous, going to locations such as Cambodia, Columbia and Sri Lanka.

A recent member of Virtuoso, (an exclusive international organization that reflects the top one per cent of travel agencies in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand), Andrew Ross says TravelForce’s Virtuoso participation brings clients the “most competitive pricing, most direct relationships with the finest hotels, resorts, spas, cruise lines... and an expanded resource of knowledge”. By referral and invitation, Virtuoso now has 18 of the top agencies in Australia as members, operating in 25 locations throughout both Australia and New Zealand ( As Patrice Willoughby, Business Development Manager of Vituoso says from her US office, “Through our exclusive programs – like our Voyager Club cruise program – we provide VIP treatment and added-value with exclusive shore events and cocktail parties. At Virtuoso we do more than book trips. We create life-changing experiences.” Virtuoso CEO, Matthew Upchurch agrees: “Virtuoso's clients rely on our specialists to manage one of their most precious assets – their leisure time. We do much, much more than arrange travel... in fact, we've started saying 'We Orchestrate Dreams.'"

Another well respected Virtuoso agency and stalwart of the industry, as well as winner of the
Luxury Travel Magazine Gold List Award for Best Travel Agency in 2006 is the Mary Rossi Agency in Sydney. Originally started by Mary herself over 35 years ago, it is now run successfully by daughter Claudia ( Spokesperson, Marketing Manager Christine Silink, agrees that “providing extraordinary information and specialized experiences that are not easy to come by” is central to the relationship-building process of the business. “We want to keep clients for life”, Silink says. A new trend she sees developing is a move to small escorted trips at the very top end, such as a recent one to South America, which Rossi and her husband escorted personally.

This concept is also central to the Hemingway philosophy (
www.hemingway.bus), where each itinerary is bespoke, although the company offers over 150 different itinerary suggestions. Peter Kessler, Managing Director, brings around 30 years experience to his business, and says: “We focus on personally tailored itineraries. Most commonly, we take couples or small groups of couples who look to be pampered by a knowledgeable guide and chauffer, with pre-booked dinners and only the best hotels.”

The travel industry seems to have a number of well-known elite, who understand the need for fastidious details, and are prepared to go the ‘extra mile’, including leading agents such as Bev Cohen from Wentworth Travel, Maria Theodosatis from Travel Creations, Ros Hakim from World Travel Professionals, Jill Zuckerman from Harvey World Travel, Merilyn Heslop from Benchmark Travel, and Ursula King from Ursula King Travel, who are all based in Sydney. Across the border Cher Roscoe from Travel Call, Michael Nolan from Bayview Travel, and Suzanne Duzerman from Global International, have won the respect of their peers and more importantly their clients.

But as Ros Hakim, also a Virtuoso member ( notes, “Luxury means different things to different people, and is often seen as something money just can’t buy. We find our clients asking more and more for interesting and thought provoking holiday ideas.” Such detail naturally takes time, and expertise, and the industry is working hard to meet this demand.

Belinda Grist reflects the growth of expertise in this area, (, having created a Luxury Travel section in the Mosman Travel agency in Sydney, and been involved in the industry over the past 18 years: “Clients need to feel they are getting something a bit more prestigious for their money.”

This kind of focus pays dividends. Ray Schleibs, from Australian Tourism and Promotions for example, specializes in Australian luxury travel only, particularly to “unique experiential outback products”.

Kerry Schmoock, who as has built up an a consultancy in Melbourne (, worked with Ansett for over 20 years, the last 11 years with the Golden Wing Club, hence the name of her business, Travel Wings, which started five years ago. Kerry likes to call herself a travel stylist, since she is “aiming to make a difference in people’s travel. Every person travels for a different reason, so the main question I ask is ‘why are you travelling?’ and then spend time with people to define where they are in life, and the features they are looking for, and this will determine the destination”. Intriguingly, most clients respond to this question with silence at first, and then say they are looking for something totally indulgent. ‘We just want indulgence and wow!’ is how they express it”. Kerry presents her itineraries on simple, colourful cards, which clients can travel with and then keep: “I call it a postcard collection of their journey”. It gives details of flights, private transfers, hotels and luxury products, and even gives the concierge’s name – as much detail as they may require. Travel enriches the soul – so wherever you travel you create a memory of something to hold onto. Essentially, Kerry believes: “the key to a successful trip is intimate knowledge of the destination and absolute attention to detail” – simple advice, yet non-negotiable from the traveller’s point of view. Future plans for Travel Wings include a Luxury Preferred Club, which will service the needs of discerning travellers.

Staying on top of the game is vital to everyone involved, as is keeping abreast of industry changes. While most luxury agencies are ‘boutique’, the travel industry is undergoing structural changes with the creation of the recently formed, powerful, S8 alliance.

But like all highly sought-after professionals, outstanding travel advisors are a breed apart, and rely on a comfortable interaction with the person they are working for. Not every match-up works, so most agents encourage travellers to shop around, and to talk to friends and colleagues to help find the right professional to work with.

Rachael Peedom, the Leisure Travel Manager at MP Travel in Sydney and Melbourne, sums it up saying there are three things a top agents needs to provide: "Exceptional service delivery, genuine expertise in this area of travel and a strong understanding of what ‘luxury’ means to different people.”

In June 2000,
Conde Nast Traveler said in referring to a Virtuoso agent specifically: ‘an indispensable travel agent is like a seasoned concierge; better connected than the internet, faster than a TS line, able to book the unbookable with a single call.’

So then, who you gonna call?

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