|David Lowy launched Astrada Jets in September to provide VI P airlift to clients.|
To succeed in selling luxury travel, you have to know what you want and how to get it. Most importantly, though, you also have to love it. For David Lowy, a luxury travel advisor with Renshaw Travel in Vancouver, Canada, this is not only a business model, but also a way of life.
Lowy started out in the travel business at age 19. He knew several people who were having trouble renting out their condos in in Hawaii, a destination he had visited frequently, so he developed his own small rental business. After quickly realizing that travelers would also need airfare and rental cars as part of the travel package, he joined Renshaw Travel in Vancouver and learned to become a travel agent. The rest, as they say, is history.
Success came early for Lowy, but it was not without a certain amount of legwork and drive. His “a-ha!” moment came during the early days of Seabourn Cruise Line when he attended an education program hosted by Larry Pimentel (then-president of Seabourn) titled “The Magic of Selling Smarter to the Affluent.” “It was like in the movies when someone is sitting in a church and suddenly a light shines right on them,” Lowy tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “I knew this was what I wanted to sell.”
At 27, Lowy became the No. 1 Seabourn agent in Canada and was among the top 10 in North America. Then, in 1996, while on location for the launching of the Seabourn Legend, he met Matthew Upchurch, president of API, the precursor to Virtuoso. This was the beginning of a long and supportive partnership with the luxury consortia. “Within a year, I became the first API agent in Canada,” Lowy says.
Between 1999 and 2008, Lowy took some time to tackle a new business venture outside the travel industry, still all the while pursuing personal high-end travel. In 2008, he decided that it was time to come back to what he loved and what he knew, and what everyone knew him for, and that was selling high-end travel.
Making it Happen
His first step upon getting back into the game was to attend Virtuoso's Travel Mart in 2008. It was there that he learned the names of key players in the industry who could provide the best direction for him in terms of building his luxury business. One of his most important mentors, he says, is Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel. “Lowy knows what he wants to sell, and he makes it happen,” Scully says. “[When he came to me], I got that he really wants to do this. Watching him set goals, reach them and set new goals is what I am most proud of.”
When the economy went belly-up in 2009, Lowy had just restarted his agency business. Ordinarily, this would have been a cause for major concern, but Lowy prides himself on dealing with the most elite and well-heeled travelers, all of whom were still traveling despite the country’s economic crisis. “In fact, [the downturn] made them want to travel even more because prices were lowered,” says Lowy.
While the luxury travel advisor prefers to keep the specific details about his clients under wraps, he tells us that his customers run the gamut from entrepreneurs to high-end professionals and everything in between. “My business became successful very quickly. You would hear about ‘doom and gloom’ all the time, but the wealthy still had the need to travel and I managed their most precious asset, which is their time.”
Since 2008, Lowy’s luxury business has taken off. What started from nothing has grown to a staff of five, all of whom are passionate about the business. (Renshaw’s nine other advisors are all independent and have their own narrow and very successful specialties, he says.) His first hire was Christa Craig, who came to the position with no travel experience. “But she did have a passion for luxury and a passion for great things. I taught her what she needed to know and since then she has done very, very well,” says Lowy.
|In Nairobi, Lowy serves lunch to children through Micato Safaris’ AmericaShare.|
A travel background is not as important to Lowy as a passion for superlative service and an appreciation for luxury. Today, his team players are almost like an extension of each other, as Lowy puts it. Each member works on what he or she likes to do best. “Everyone has a unique ability and a passion. I work with clients and suppliers, while others love to put together large and detailed trips. One of my employees loves the business side of it,” Lowy tells us. “I encourage everybody to get out and travel. That is so important.”
Part of what makes Lowy so successful is his passion for the people in this business, whether they are supplier partners or his own clients. His relationships with both is incredibly personalized to the point where throughout the world he is just known as “David.”
He tells Luxury Travel Advisor about the clients he once sent to South Africa. “All along the way, they were just amazed that people who lived and worked there would come up to them and say ‘Oh! You know David?’ There, they were on the other side of the world being welcomed as a friend.”
“This is a happy business,” he says. “I care so much about all these people and I know them and their families well. I’m not a faceless person on the other side of their secretary.” It’s this reputation that continues to earn him the most elite clientele. “I don’t solicit business,” he says. “All of my business is by referral.”
|Private Aviation is the largest segment of Lowy’s business.|
His network of resources also plays a major hand in keeping his business booming. Seasonz Travel, a New Zealand travel and accommodation service, for example, helps him craft high-end and in-depth trips to New Zealand.
“You can’t go everywhere,” he says. “I organize the best trips to New Zealand without ever having been there because I have an amazing onsite person who can organize them.”
Lowy is also a Four Seasons Preferred Partner and has a strong relationship with Don Jones, vice president, travel industry sales for Four Seasons. He also works closely with Carolyn Turnbull, global sales director for Amanresorts.
Astrada and Astrada Jets
Lowy's newest venture is the branding of his luxury business with the September 2011 launch of Astrada and its “sub-brand” Astrada Jets. Astrada works as an affiliate business of Renshaw Travel, which comprises several advisors who specialize in niches such as hard adventure, weddings, specific destinations and more.
“Astrada is a combination of ‘astra,’ meaning star in Latin and ‘strada’ meaning road or path in Italian. It was branded by Keith Waldon, who rebranded API into Virtuoso,” says Lowy, whose goal was to build a business that was like “private banking for travel. I wanted to have a brand that could have the flexibility to provide the services I wanted to add.”
Astrada Jets was developed to provide VIP airlift to their most affluent clients, who were not aware that private aviation was something bookable through luxury travel advisors.
“While I already had a thriving private jet business, I heard from one very good friend and client that his company had chartered two jets for a business trip. I asked him why he didn’t call me, and he said he didn’t even know I could do this,” Lowy remembers.
Booking private aviation is just like anything else for a luxury travel advisor, says Lowy. It’s about knowing your clients’ needs and being able to deliver service at the highest standard. “We are our clients’ advocate and do everything to get the right aircraft at the right price and employ rigorous safety standards,” says Lowy. “We can take all of the hassle out of the booking process, and research and coordinate everything else such as catering, special requests like in-flight Wi-Fi, ground transportation and accommodation.”
|Christa Craig is Lowy’s private jet expert, and knows the ins and outs of all the aircraft types.|
Lowy's right-hand person at Astrada Jets is that same Christa Craig, his first hire upon rebuilding his business. “She is our private jet expert and takes care of the smallest yet most important details,” says Lowy. “Once the trip starts, our team follows the client 24/7 to accommodate any changes and requirements they may have.”
If all goes well, Lowy tells us that he could see diversifying Astrada into other high-end areas. “I could see Astrada Yachts, Astrada Villas and Astrada Golf,” he says. Astrada is set to be Lowy’s one-stop-shop for anything and everything luxury and will be a huge drive for his luxury business.
It’s this type of forward thinking and ambition (and love for the industry) that pulled Lowy into the business and has made him a true star.
"My vocation is my advocation," he says. "It fits my personality and I feel very suited to what I do," he tells us.