Now in its 21st year of operation, Protravel International is a virtual powerhouse set to earn $320 million in sales this year, “with very healthy margins.”
In Manhattan alone, Protravel has 175 agents and 60 employees providing accounting, IT and telephone services to the entire company. Another 300 are scattered throughout the country in offices and in home-based locations.
President Priscilla Alexander credits the quality of Protravel’s agents for the company’s good fortune. In fact, she knew 20 years ago that assembling a community of “the best people who sell travel” was of dire importance.
“That we have been able to attract travel counselors who are the best in the industry has been a measure of our success,” she says. Alexander, however, also cites having the right people in administrative and accounting positions as an absolute necessity.
“These people are the glue, and a few pennies saved to have a less competent person is not going to save you any money. I’m sensitive to the fact that travel agencies are somewhat skittish about spending money, but that’s not the place to save,” she advises.
Protravel has been selling luxury travel since its inception in 1984, thanks to its Manhattan roots, whose existence of affluent denizens made selling affluent travel a matter of course.
“Before luxury became the buzzword I was doing it anyway. We just didn’t say it was luxury,” says Alexander. “It was us focusing on those who have always been high-touch people, who want service and who, when you deliver service, are willing to reward you for it.”
Indeed, Protravel’s customer list is generously sprinkled with the names of extremely well-known people, including movie stars, entertainers, government officials and Alexander’s favorites, “those invisible, high-net-worth individuals.”
This combination of high-spending clients and high-caliber travel agents has spawned a company whose sheer volume of premium business provides it access to proprietary deals from suppliers that smaller operations could never dream of obtaining.
And while Protravel certainly charges fees for its services, that’s not where the majority of its revenues are derived.
“We charge a transaction fee for every ticket and we charge what I consider a modest fee for FIT planning and special services, commensurate with the amount of work done and our relationship with the client,” says Alexander. “But it’s my firm belief that our fees are self liquidating, and by that I mean that our buying opportunities bring greater savings than any fee we are charging.” The reasons for this are threefold, says Alexander.