At Reid Travel in Boca Raton, FL, a steady, affluent clientele keeps annual revenue above $10 million. The agency’s office sits on one of the busier thoroughfares of this moneyed town, whose Mediterranean-style aesthetic was crafted by Addison Mizner, the legendary resort architect in the 1920s.
Today, Boca Raton retains its panache as a chic enclave in Southern Florida; in fact, as part of Palm Beach County and considered a satellite of Miami’s elite, it’s one of the wealthiest towns in the state. As such, clients of Reid Travel are likely to have not just one amazing home somewhere fabulous, they’ll likely have two or three. If they do have just one it’s because they’ve decided to settle in Boca and enjoy its affluent resort vibe year round.
All of it makes for a strong business for Reid Travel, whose office is walk-in by style, although appointments are set for clients so careful attention can be given to travel planning.
The agency, a member of the Signature Travel Network, is a top producer for Silversea; in fact, in 2015, Reid Travel had five full world cruisers on the line and it reports it’s had a big uptick in expedition cruising with Silversea as well. It’s also a top producer for Regent Seven Seas. In general, Reid Travel sells the best suites for clients who would prefer to simply not travel if they don’t have the best accommodations on board. These are clients who travel consistently to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, but for them it’s not part of the “celebration travel” trend; for these uber-wealthy folks, amazing travel is a de facto part of life. Grandparents take extended families on amazing ventures; significant birthday extravaganzas involve moving groups of close relatives and best friends from one country to the next, via private plane.
Lauren Jacob has led the business since 2007; she took over the day-to-day operations for her mother and father, who bought the agency in 1975 after moving from New York to Florida (her father was a stock broker who decided to move from finance to travel). Jacob’s style is paced and subtle, one that surely appeals to her upscale customers. Her 12 advisors (five are employees, seven are independents) provide a wealth of knowledge for a clientele that hails primarily from the East Coast and Midwest, some international. About half the Reid Travel’s clients are local and the style to work with them is in person, by phone or e-mail, whatever provides the most personal touch.
Pictured: Lauren Jacob took over the reins of her family’s travel agency in 2007 and since then has evolved the business to evolve with her clients’ changing needs for luxury travel.
“It’s a good mix and we’ve been on the same street in Boca Raton for 40-plus years,” says Jacob. The storefront location is likely to get more walk-in traffic soon; a nine-story apartment building is under construction across the street. The upper levels will be residences and the ground floor will be retail.
“So we’re looking forward to a little more activity in town. I think it’s a good thing,” says Jacob.
Many of Reid Travel’s clients are avid cruisers and they tend to remain staunchly loyal to their luxury brands. “They’re die-hards for the things they like and I can’t blame them,” she says. “On a line like Regent or Silversea, when they go back, everybody knows them and, over the years, they’ve made lots of good friends and they see them on various cruises. And because of the size of those lines, you can get a chance to really meet people.”
Finding new places for such well-heeled individuals can be a challenge, and Jacob says for her cruisers, South America has become an option particularly because they can sail in or out of Florida, so it’s a trip that typically requires just one flight. On such a voyage, they might then take a Machu Picchu extension. Jacob herself has traveled to Peru and Chile and believes those destinations are great options. “In Chile, with the difference between up in the desert and then the wine country and then down to the National Forest, you might as well be in three completely different countries. It’s just surreal and it’s great fun to do all those different places,” she says.
The Next Big Trip
Multigenerational vacations are big for Reid Travel’s clients, with grandparents taking their children or grandchildren for posh vacations, particularly during the holidays. When we spoke with Jacob, a 99-year-old client had just called to reserve a Christmas cruise for her family this year; that clan includes 30 travelers.
“I just love the optimism,” says Jacob. “We have several of those travelers. We have a lot of very loyal, long-time clients and we get a lot of referrals from them.”
Customized FIT travel is also strong; clients tend to love the classic hotels in major cities and extended trips are not unusual.
“We had one lady who was celebrating a big birthday who spent over a million and a half dollars to entertain friends. She had a big birthday bash in Singapore and then they traveled throughout China. They had a private jet, which was perfect,” Jacob notes.
Jacob, whose role at the agency is primarily in management, enjoys the fact that her advisors have longevity and thus a wealth of knowledge. Several have been with the agency for more than 25 years; others came on board when she did, about nine years ago.
“We have a lot of really experienced people and they’ve been everywhere. They travel a lot, whenever they can,” says Jacob. “It’s great for them. It makes it so much easier to talk to people when you can say, ‘Yes, I was there,’ because it gives them a lot more confidence and it gives confidence to the people who are trying to get information for their travel. Knowing what to recommend based on personal experience is a big plus.”
That suppliers often visit the office is another knowledge booster for Reid Travel’s advisors; because of its South Florida location, February is a popular month for visitors from colder climes, particularly for European hoteliers. Cruise lines representatives constantly visit as well, that’s because they’re virtually in the neighborhood.
“We see them constantly because for the most part they’re in Miami,” says Jacob.
Her belief is to keep loyal a tight group of preferred travel companies that consistently provide good service to her customers.
“We do have our ‘go-to’ suppliers. We want to be able to deliver an experience for our clients that exceeds expectations and to do that, working with suppliers who have proven they can deliver is important,” she says. “We have a lot of great suppliers, we have a lot of great reps. They’re just so helpful if you have a question, you have a problem or you need something. As a rule, they’re really responsive. When we do FIT, we do have our go-to people, we use A&K a lot and they are very helpful. We also use Signature’s on-sites for FIT and of course, you know how it works with the agents, when they get people that they work well with, that’s who their go-to people are. They know they can count on them. Also, within the office, we share a lot, so when someone says, ‘I have somebody who wants to go wherever, who should we use for that?’ you bring up those people who did a great job.”
Having such a strong trust in suppliers is vital because you need to rely on those people you’re turning your clients over to, says Jacob, whose credo is “We’ll bring them over to you, but be good to them.”
Even with such a strong clientele, Reid Travel is always looking to add to its roster; this month it will host a customer presentation on Silversea Expeditions; to attract an audience it will advertise in the Boca Observer, a local newspaper. Boca Raton magazine is another outlet. Aside from traditional print publications, the agency does strategic e-mail blasts to client lists.
New clients often come in the form of those who haven’t used a travel agency before, who have tried to book a vacation online and are now saying, “It’s just too hard. I don’t know how to get from here to there.” This can be particularly true for those who are trying to put together a land trip in Europe; if they don’t know the roads or the train systems it can be difficult, even if it looks on the map as if they could drive there, says Jacob.
“The other element about doing it on your own is you miss the experience level,” says Jacob, who notes that an advisor can tell you where you should take an extra day to add on an experience you probably didn’t even know about.
Running a travel agency is a second career for Jacob, who grew up in the New York area and went to school in Washington, DC. When she graduated, her father advised her to find a career that had a training program, and so she went in to retail, starting out as a buyer at Garfinckel’s department store in the nation’s capital. She eventually moved back to New York, working in Bonwit Tellers and then The Gap, where she was a “planner” who would work with buyers to determine how many pieces of say, the most in-demand blouse of the season would need to be ordered.
“Retail is a very fun profession and you meet some really interesting people and much like travel, once you’re in the industry, you see the people moving from one place to another,” says Jacob, who, along those lines, notes her delight at Mark Conroy, the former head of Regent Seven Seas, returning to the industry to head up Silversea’s North American office (“We’re just so happy,” Jacob says of her team.)
Other parallels? Relationships are important in retail, just as they are in the travel industry because people do move around. “You never know who you will end up working with; it could easily be somebody that you’ve worked with previously in a whole different environment,” she says.
Other similarities between retail and travel abound. “In the retail world, as a buyer, you’re buying product from a range of suppliers, a range of vendors and then reselling it to your clients. From that level, I think there’s a lot of similarity. You’re selling someone else’s product and you’re trying to get the right match for your clients,” she notes.
Taking on Travel
Jacob eventually launched her own consulting company. “We specialized in the retail industry, advising and implementing procedural and technological changes for retail stores to manage their inventories,” she says. She finally changed gears when the corporate travel required for her work became too monotonous. Flying in and out of cities and never really seeing what was there no longer held a charm. In 2007, she joined the family travel business. When she showed a true knack for running the agency, her parents gradually stopped coming in every day, leaving it to her to run.
Her timing was a bit challenging as the recession kicked in soon after her arrival and even though her clients don’t live from paycheck to paycheck, psychologically, the harsh economic environment took its toll on their psyche. “It was tough because you want to come in and have business to be fabulous,” she recalls. “But when you have times like that, you really buckle down and say, ‘Okay, this is what we have to do.’ You keep marketing, you keep advertising, you try to keep your expenses as tight as you can and move ahead and we did. We made it through.”
During her tenure at Reid Travel, Jacob has traveled the world, visiting Antarctica, South America and Asia, to name just a few. “I’m game to pretty much do anything,” she says. “I love going to places I haven’t been yet. I’m single so I’ll do it by myself or with friends.” A highlight was attending the christening for the Silver Discoverer in Singapore. She had not been to Laos and Cambodia so she packed on another week since she was in the region.
“As expedition and adventure travel expand into the luxury market, we are looking forward to providing these new experiences to our clients.”
These days, the enthusiasm for new luxury product is tempering some of the negative effects on the cruise industry. New ships from Crystal, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea are keeping clients excited in an environment when qualms over the highs and lows of the stock market, terrorism and the Zika virus have the potential to slow down a dynamic travel environment. Some of Reid Travel’s clients are declining to go to Europe this year and the Zika virus may impact on multigenerational clients who typically go to the tropics. Jacob’s strategy to counter that will be to focus on selling the Americas; with Alaska cruising being top of mind as well as National Parks visits using Tauck.
“You can’t have people be uncomfortable when they’re trying to enjoy themselves. There are still plenty of places to go and feel very comfortable,” she notes.
The onslaught of new product is keeping her clients jazzed; they love river cruising and are learning to book early on since many itineraries on the lines Reid Travel books are sold out until 2017, particularly for those who will sail only in the top cabins. And the anticipation of the new ships is simply too strong for some to take; one client said he’d wait to sail the new Regent Seven Seas Explorer until after its inaugural so it could “get the kinks out;” a few days later he called to say he wanted to sail on it right away.
“It’s bragging rights for people to be on a maiden voyage,” says Jacob, who notes that the new product coming on line shows there is a strong future for affluent travel.
“I think it’s a great indication of the confidence in the luxury level of travel,” she says.
The ongoing evolution of luxury travel energizes her and her team, she says.
“Reid Travel has focused on luxury travel for a long time. As expedition and adventure travel expand into the luxury market, we are looking forward to providing these new experiences to our clients. The luxury market continues to surprise and engage us with constant updates and over-the-top innovations, with no end in sight. We look forward to being a part of the journey," says Jacob.
Location: Boca Raton, Florida
Top Executives: Lauren Jacob, president; William Jacob, Patricia Jacob
Number of advisors: 5 employees, 7 independents
Business mix: 90 percent leisure
Annual revenue: $10 million
Affiliations: Signature Travel Network
Agency website: www.reidtravel.com