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WHAT DO YOU DO AND HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I oversee sales, marketing and promotion of the Travel + Leisure brand, and every day I remind myself how lucky I am. The quick summary of how I got here is a lot of hard work, tenacity, maximizing my potential in each position I’ve held and, of course, a bit of luck. The slightly more informative version is that I started at American Express Publishing group in 2001 in a corporate sales group that looked after Travel + Leisure, Departures and Food & Wine. From there I moved to Food & Wine as Associate Publisher for 5 years and in 2012 to Travel + Leisure as Publisher. So I have been “around” travel and Travel + Leisure for many years, and three years ago, the timing worked out to lead the brand.
WHO OR WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST INSPIRATION IN THE INDUSTRY TODAY?
The people that make the travel industry special. I’ve worked in media for many years and have had the experience of working with partners in other vertical categories, and the genuine camaraderie of the people in the travel industry is beyond anything I’ve experienced. It really comes down to the fact that everyone who is in the business of hospitality is hospitable and super passionate about it.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHANGE OR MOST EXCITING TREND YOU'VE SEEN IN THE TRAVEL AND MEDIA INDUSTRY IN THE PAST FIVE TO TEN YEARS?
It amazes me that travel accounts for 10% of the global GDP and that most consumers and business people aren’t aware of this fact. That number has also grown a percentage point in the last 5 years, which is significant. The exciting part of this fact is that consumers - young and old - want new experiences. At Travel + Leisure, we call our core audience of travelers “experience collectors.” No matter what’s happening with the global markets, travel remains very high on the list of “luxuries” consumers are willing to spend on. This is because when you collect travel experiences, with friends, family or even solo, you are creating memories that last forever. You may not remember all the features on your last computer or phone because you will upgrade many more times in your life, but you’ll never forget the song you heard while running on the beaches of San Sebastian at sunset.
ARE THERE ANY AMENITIES, SERVICES OR OFFERINGS HOTELS OR CRUISES ARE DOING REALLY WELL THAT ARE SETTING THEM APART FROM THE REST?
The luxury hotel world is doing so many personal and experiential things to set them apart – from personal guest pick up at the airport gate, to allowing guests to forage their own ingredients for a chef-prepared meal, to offering complimentary pressing for business travelers (I love this!). The cruise industry is doing much of the same with bespoke amenities, experiences and custom suites, and suites are very difficult to build on a ship with limited space. In my opinion the two companies really setting themselves apart are Montage Hotels and Resorts and Crystal Cruises. There has been some press about both companies so I’m not sharing trade secrets. Montage Hotels & Resorts continues to grow and recently took over Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. They are also launching a new lifestyle hotel brand called Pendry, which will be design driven and fashion forward. The first will open in San Diego in 2016. CEO Alan Fuerstman is a visionary and after hearing him speak to Travel+Leisure’s board about what he looks for in employees and how he empowers his team to take action with guests “in the moment,” I was ready to sign up to work for him. Crystal Cruises certainly has a lot of news and is a company to watch in the cruise space, especially recently as so many brands are launching new products and partnerships. Crystal will be launching river cruises, yacht experiences and have even bought a Boeing 787 Dreamliner --- they can truly say they offer air, land and sea!
WITH SO MANY CHANGES OCCURRING IN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR PAID TRAVEL CONTENT AND TRAVEL AGENTS?
The future for luxury travel agents is bright in my opinion. Travel agents are really “experience designers;” they’ve had the experiences they create for consumers so they know what to do and what not to do, and there is real value in what they provide. My point of view is while the information available to consumers allows them to plan their own trips; there is really too much information. It’s exhausting to sort through every option to create the best experience -- the experience you want -- without some help from an expert. Travel + Leisure’s Travel Advisory Board, which is comprised of 17 travel agency owners, is finding that younger travelers (call them millennials if you wish) sometimes try to plan their own trips, yet after doing 70-80% of the work, end up calling an advisor to make sure they are on track and seek counsel for the remaining 20% of the planning and booking process. Travel experts also have the strongest relationships with industry brands and products, meaning they’ll typically be able to secure upgrades of rooms, transfers, etc.
TELL US ABOUT T+L JOURNEYS, TRAVEL + LEISURE’S NEW COLLABORATION WITH BLACK TOMATO:
Team T+L is very excited about our collaboration with Black Tomato. When you consider the consumer’s journey of booking travel, Travel + Leisure plays a part in so much of the experience – we inspire through the magazine, consumers can search, plan and consider real options on traveandleisure.com and share experiences through our social channels. The one area of the consumer experience Travel + Leisure was not engaged in was booking. In partnership with Black Tomato, our editorial team is collaborating and creating trips they believe are right for the Travel + Leisure audience. Our readers and viewers travel 23x a year, so they’ve done a lot of things and been a lot of places. We knew we needed to inspire them with new, different and “what’s next” experiences. Other brands are selling travel, but not editorially-driven trips like those from Travel + Leisure and Black Tomato. We plan to expand the T+L Journeys platform in 2016, but I can’t share details just yet.
IS THERE A UNIQUE OR UNITING FACTOR THAT DROVE YOU TO THE TWENTY FEATURED DESTINATIONS?
We focused on a range of experiences that showcases short and long trips, expensive and more affordable, family and couples. The simplest example is Cuba. The editorial team believes that now is the time to visit Cuba. It may not be the most luxurious experience at the moment, but it will be super authentic and raw and will feel like you are going back in time. In 10 years if you experience Cuba again, it will be completely different, with luxury hotels, restaurants, and more.
WHERE DO YOU SEE TRAVEL + LEISURE MAGAZINE IN THE NEXT FIVE TO TEN YEARS?
Bigger. Better. Stronger. You could say bionic. Our digital, social and video strength will continue to grow – particularly video as that is a major focus. On the print side, we currently have our largest audience and most affluent audience in history. Travel, and specifically luxury travel, will always have a place in print. Mobile is probably the biggest change and opportunity over the next 5 years. Travel + Leisure redesigned and re-platformed our site in April of this year and now 60% of our traffic is coming from mobile. We will be looking at ways to improve and monetize the experience. Why wouldn’t Travel + Leisure have downloadable guides for your mobile phone? Travel + Leisure recently partnered with PlanesTrains+Automobiles, a new original travel video content creator. They distribute their series through Roku, Amazon Fire, Delta Airlines Inflight and Sonifi in hotel rooms. A unique and forward thinking distribution, which is the future of broadcast. Travel + Leisure will be developing a series around T+L Journeys with PlanesTrains+Automobiles and will have the opportunity to create other series with partners.
WHERE DO YOU PREDICT THE NEXT HOT-SPOT DESTINATION WILL BE? ARE THERE ANY HOTELS, DESTINATIONS OR CRUISES WE SHOULD BE KEEPING OUR EYE ON?
There are so many undiscovered and unexplored destination fronts. For Americans, I think Nicaragua; Vieques, Puerto Rico; Cuba and Myanmar. Travel + Leisure named Myanmar Destination of the Year last year because it is super special right now. Yet, the expectation is that it will grow quickly, become crowded and ultimately become a different experience.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HOTEL IN THE WORLD?
This is a really difficult question, similar to asking your favorite restaurant in New York City. My answer today is The Peninsula Shanghai. The rooms, the view, food, service and overall experience is beyond. When your stay begins with a personal pickup at your airport gate, a breeze through customs and a transfer in a Rolls Royce, you know it doesn’t get much better.
AS SOMEONE WHO’S CONSTANTLY ON THE ROAD, WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR OTHER FREQUENT BUSINESS TRAVELERS?
My best advice for business travelers is to work out upon arrival after a long flight. A run through the city cures my jet lag better than anything else. You also get to explore a bit, which is hard to do when you’re in a city on business. And then, just drink as much water as you can and no caffeine - on long flights.
IF YOU HAD THE DAY OFF TODAY, WHERE WOULD YOU BE?
I much prefer the beach on a day off, and I’ll never be able to get enough of the Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands for the tennis, beach and spa – and the lobster fresh out of the water.