Jay Johnson and Leah Smith

Jay Johnson and Leah SmithEleven years ago, Jay Johnson of Coastline Travel Advisors took a business risk that altered the course of his then exclusively cruise-based agency. He hired recently graduated Leah Smith, who pushed the boundaries of his comfortable Orange County, CA-based business by simply asking “Why not?” as in, “Why aren’t we selling more Africa? How about Mongolia? What about Asia?”

The move led to a youth wave at Coastline, a Virtuoso agency, as Johnson hired more enthusiastic graduates who approached being a luxury travel advisor with an entrepreneurial eye. It also led to the launch of a new business for Johnson and Smith, Tafari Travel, which provides cultural travel adventures in emerging destinations. From that, Powered by Tafari was born, that’s a B2B agency that oversees U.S.-based operations and business development for key partners such as Whole Foods Market and a variety of DMCs. That successful venture has led to an expansion to several offices throughout the U.S., and Smith, who runs that business, reports it's in the process of growing even more during the next 24 months.

Coastline Travel meanwhile just acquired Alpine Travel of Saratoga in Northern California and is opening two new offices in Northern California, as well as a satellite office in Orange County. “And, with new store front offices opening up within the next 24 months, I’m extremely confident that we’ll meet our goal,” says Smith, who is now based in New York and still serves as the director of sales and marketing for Coastline Travel.

The numbers attest that this growth strategy is working. Coastline Travel, which was pulling in $7.5 million in 2008, projects $20 million in sales this year, and aims to double annual revenues by 2018.

October 2008
October 2008

The day-to-day business of travel is something Johnson and Smith are still very involved with. One day, they were put to the test after receiving an unusual call from a client. “He asked that we develop a year-long itinerary that included the highlights of the world,” Johnson reports. The catch? “He also asked for the best weather conditions throughout the duration of the trip and wanted to leave in a month.”

After weeks of careful research and planning, the advisors came up with a 14-month world tour. “There was never a day in Leah’s life where she was not working on something for this trip, including weekends, holidays, vacations,” says Johnson. “[The client] finally returned back to his home in Seoul about a week ago after having an amazing time and is already talking about doing it again.”

But just because Johnson's clients are having top luxury travel experiences around the world doesn’t mean he can’t have his own. He recently enjoyed some of his new favorite luxury accommodations on Aqua Expedition’s Aqua Mekong, which cruised from Vietnam to Cambodia. “Not only was the ship and food amazing, but best of all, the Aqua Mekong has its own skiffs that allowed us to disembark in some very remote areas of the Mekong. Bike riding through some of the little towns in the Mekong Delta was something I’ll never forget. It was a true adventure.”

In personal news, Jay is preparing himself for the fact that his daughters will both soon be teenagers; he is still living in Long Beach, CA, traveling the world and following every move of his favorite sport’s teams. Smith has taken up cycling and travels almost weekly to visit offices in Boulder, CO and Orange County, CA.