Martin Rapp, whom we profiled on our May 2008 cover, didn't intend to be a travel agent, in fact, he was an owner of the Traveller’s Bookstore for 17 years in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center. He only came to Altour in 1995 after he met the mega-agency’s owner, Alexandre Chemla, who was quite impressed with his knowledge of the world, which subsequently earned Rapp the nickname, “The Professor.”
Today, as head of leisure sales for Altour, Rapp travels the world over and over to scout out the best place for the clients of the agency, which is close to earning $2 billion a year in revenue.
His position at Altour is packed with responsibility, but Rapp is also at the frontlines. His most recent over-the-top booking was for a couple that is obsessed with France and particularly the chateaux of the Loire. Through a friend, Rapp discovered a French Count whose lineage goes back several hundred years who opened his chateau to Rapp’s clients. The Count and his wife even provided the couple with insider experiences (think driving around the racetrack at Le Mans and touring chateaux and gardens not open to the public). They also hosted dinner parties and introduced them to their friends, who filled them in on what life is like in France. Now that’s living like a local.
Rapp has been on the road quite a bit recently, visiting Japan, Israel, Tibet, Oman and Muscat. All were fascinating, he says, but his new favorite place is Bhutan. “Aside from the magnificence of the landscape, there is no other place where I felt that their religion [Buddhism] and everyday life was so intertwined,” he says. “That is evident in every person that you meet form the youngest to the oldest.”
He was also bowled over by one of the newest hotels in Paris, La Reserve. “It’s a 40-room hotel down a quiet street from the American Embassy with terrific views of the Eiffel Tower,” reports Rapp. “The calm elegance and luxury of the decoration in the public and private areas is unique. I sell it to my clients by saying that it is as if a very rich friend said, ‘When you are in Paris, you must stay in my home.’”
Since we profiled Rapp seven years ago, Altour has strengthened its position in entertainment, where it has traditionally been strong, and the upscale FIT sector.
It’s also added a new vice president of marketing who is tasked with strengthening Altour’s presence in the world of social media, i.e., Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. They’re also charged with creating a tool to produce customized itineraries to present to clients before leaving on a trip, Rapp tells us. “All of these are to cement our relationship with clients of all ages.”
“The Professor” is quite keen on keeping up with new entrants to the travel world so he can keep up with what clients are asking for. “Airbnb, Uber and other sharing businesses, which were not on our radar [in 2008] are getting stronger, and while not yet threats to the upscale travel business, will begin to encroach into it,” says Rapp. “We have to figure out how to use them to our advantage.”