TORONTO — Travel Edge has launched a new Champions program that features a group of hand-selected advisors who will act as brand representatives and ambassadors for the luxury travel host agency network.
The group of 16 top performers, who will represent Travel Edge Network (TEN) at various industry events and trade shows, and serve as resources for the media, includes two Canadian travel advisors: Ajay Karah with Plan A Travel Solutions; and Laura Kelly with Elsewhere by Laura.
We caught up with Ajay and Laura for the March 2023 edition of Sphere, Travelweek’s e-newsletter for home-based agents.
Congratulations on being chosen as a TEN Champion! This is a big commitment for you at what is no doubt a very busy time for your agency. Why was it important to you to take this on?
Laura: “Thank you so much! It has certainly been a busy year already, but I am so excited for travel to be back and think it is more important than ever that I take the time to cultivate my connections in order to continue to grow. Any opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues and partners in the industry is so important for my business, as these relationships set the foundation for years to come and will ultimately end up benefitting me and my clients.”
Ajay: “‘Being in the know’ is half the battle for any luxury travel advisor, and the opportunities this role provides me to expand my own knowledge and connect with the major players in the luxury and custom travel space can’t be understated. Being a TEN Champion actually will save me time, allowing me to connect with the right players. One of the hardest aspects of being an IC is that one can become isolated working from home, lacking in a team from which to pull ideas, share experiences and ultimately, help with success. After 23 years in the industry, I feel I have a responsibility to give back to those coming up so that our industry can remain strong.”
How long have you been with Travel Edge, and can you tell us a bit about your agency?
Laura: “I started my business with Travel Edge in May 2020, which took a huge leap of faith in the thick of the pandemic, but the risk has paid off as the demand for travel and our expertise is higher than ever! I specialize in customized, experiential travel itineraries with a focus on honeymoons, destination weddings and celebration travel.
“I regularly travel worldwide myself, and my firsthand experience in destination is a key component to my business. Nothing is as valuable as having personally experienced a destination and formed relationships with the hoteliers, tour guides and restaurant owners personally. It brings a unique perspective and unparalleled knowledge that directly benefits my clients and impacts what I incorporate into their itinerary.
“Business is booming and travelers are not being deterred by increased pricing as the pandemic really showcased the importance of travel’s roles in creating lasting memories, so they are willing to invest their money in these experiences over material things. I have been recognized as a 2023 Conde Nast travel specialist working primarily on customized, experiential travel itineraries with a focus on honeymoons, destination weddings and celebration travel.
“I am the sole employee/owner and in 2022 I booked 70+ trips resulting in over $1.5 million in gross sales.”
Ajay: “I joined TEN in August 2021. PLAN A travel solutions provides customized luxury travel plans, concierge-level services for the bespoke traveler, a transparent approach to bespoke travel management, and a commonsense loyalty program to encourage deeper, long-term relationships. Along with custom travel arrangements, PLAN A specializes in LGBTQIA+ travel, private / small group adventures, expedition and river cruising, and luxury rail experiences.
“Business is BOOMING!! The need for a personal travel professional has only grown since the pandemic.”
What are some of the key issues facing travel agencies right now, home-based or otherwise, that you want to keep front and centre with suppliers and in the media?
Laura: “We are still feeling the effects of the pandemic within the industry with ongoing staff shortages impacting all areas of travel, which is further exacerbated by the record high demand. It is crucial that travelers plan as far in advance as possible and pack their patience as turn around times are longer than usual and we are still seeing issues with flight delays, cancellations and service standards in some areas. It is more important than ever to have a trusted advisor on your side to navigate this ever changing travel landscape.”
Ajay: “In the luxury and custom market, product needs to be flexible to allow for the most personalized experience possible.
“All industry players need to keep innovating with new technologies, including proprietary booking software, and app based digital itineraries. And there’s a need to offer services that provide real value, such as 24/7 support while travelling.
“The biggest challenges are product knowledge, brand consistency, making the right industry connections and standardizing planning / booking fees.
“Credibility is also a challenge. Many brick-and-mortar agencies have had to hire new due to the pandemic gutting our industry, meaning they lack the experience that many independent advisors bring to the client relationship. The value of experienced Independent Travel Advisors and how we are different from brick-and-mortar agencies needs more attention in the media to educate consumers.”
What does it mean to you to be among the two Canadians on this team of 14 U.S.-based agents?
Laura: “It is an honour to be selected to represent our Canadian team of advisors with Travel Edge. I think that there is a huge opportunity for growth in the luxury travel market here in Canada, with some significant differences in how our businesses and clients operate in comparison with the industry in the U.S. I hope that I can play a role in helping to empower other Canadian advisors thinking of growing their business and transitioning into self-employment. I feel very fortunate for the community of fellow advisors and industry partners that have shared their wisdom and experience with me and I hope to do the same for others!”
Ajay: “It’s an honour – no question about it! It means I can learn more, connect with those that can help my business grow, and provides added credibility for existing and new clients as well as luxury operators.”