A Day With Park Hyatt’s Advisors


Park Hyatt Leadership Forum attendees
Meeting of the minds It was a who’s who in the world of luxury travel advisors at the Park Hyatt Leadership Forum.


Luxury Travel Advisor was privileged to be at the Park Hyatt Leadership Forum held in Chicago in July. On hand were executives from top luxury travel agencies across the country who participated in a luxury travel trends discussion.

David Odaka
David Odaka, president of All Star Travel Group; event moderator David Kliman, founder, The Kliman Group; and Martin Rapp, head of Altour’s global leisure travel operations

Our conversation spanned Twitter and Facebook to fostering stellar customer service and guest recognition. Bob Watson of Watson & Watson cautioned that “social media is an important adjunct, but it should not be ruling the roost. Luxury is personal. And as such we should not lose sight of the fact that first and foremost we must perform service. If we don’t, somebody else will.”

Watson also noted that customer service should be as individualized as possible. “If someone is checking into your hotel, it’s up to the advisor in conjunction with the hotel to fashion that visit to that particular client. It makes no sense to put a bottle of champagne in a room where a person is not a drinker or who doesn’t want to drink alone. It’s better to know that perhaps what he’d rather have are a few bottles of water.”

Michael Holtz of The Smart Flyer agreed with Watson to a point, but argued that “social media is actually huge. I think we’re only at the beginning of it. It’s like when people walk around New York City and say, ‘Wow! I should’ve bought that apartment building in 1978. Look where it is now!’ I think it’s huge. We happen to have one of the top social media agents if not in the country, then on the planet. The business that she’s picking up with social media is staggering. And she’s not picking up business that would’ve gone with Protravel or some other agency. She’s picking up business that went nowhere. It’s from Expedia or Orbitz.”

Dan Ward
Dan Ward, brand specialist, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts; Shahla Vaziri, general manager, Worldview Travel; and Bell de Souza, vice president and COO of Mansour Travel Co.

There are times when just one bad experience can ruin the customer service reputation of a supplier, said David Odaka of All Star Travel Group. “The salesperson is great, the reservation is good, everything is good, you’ve got your request in. But then the person at check-in is having a bad day, or is rude. That happens a lot with airlines.” Another tip from Odaka? “I also believe in ‘don’t overpromise and under deliver.’ In my office I call it, ‘being present.’ I hate it when I’m talking to somebody and I say, ‘I’m going to New York on the 23rd’ and the next question is, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘What day is that?’ I’m like, ‘Are you on this call?’ I feel that people need to be paying attention. If you’re at work, you’re at work, and you need to be present and do your job, and it’s not asking a lot.”

David Lowy of Renshaw Travel also gave his opinion on customer service. “Back to ‘being able to recognize people for the individuals that they are…’ I think it’s incumbent upon us as advisors to advise you—the hotels. You can’t know whether the client is a non-drinker, or he doesn’t like champagne. We all look good when we give you the information, and it makes [the hotel’s] job a lot easier to be able to wow the client. And so, that’s one of the things that I’ve found is so helpful and one of the great things about what you do at Park Hyatt. We’re very much in tune with our on-site sales people—our contacts at each hotel. We know them face-to-face. We sell the people that we know as much as we are selling the property. All the deluxe properties are going to have great beds, they’re all going to have a great spa—all these things. But ultimately it’s not only the personal relationships that we have with our clients, but equally as important is the relationships that we have with you.”

Jack Bloch
Jack Bloch, owner, JB’s World Travel Consultants; Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president, Valerie Wilson Travel; David Lowy, president, Renshaw Travel; and Richard Lebowitz, director of luxury sales, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts

The advisor/supplier relationship is vital, agreed Martin Rapp of Altour. “I think all of us around this table are probably busier than we’ve ever been. We keep getting more and more clients and that’s for one reason only, because we protect the people that come to us from being burned. We protect our clients. And it is as important—if not more important—to have relationships with our suppliers.” 

Being too keen on gathering personal information on a client can be a slippery slope. Julie Lemish of Rex Travel noted that, “One thing to be cognizant of as a hotel group is there’s a way to do it well and work with your agency partners and a way to not do it well. A good example is you’re calling after 5 p.m., when the sales team has gone for the day. I called a hotel in New York City the other day and I wanted the Presidential Suite. There’s one Presidential Suite. They asked, ‘Can I get the frequent guest number? And I kept asking if they could check on whether the suite was available for the next day or not. They replied, ‘Well, we have to look up his personal profile first.’ It was like pulling teeth. Other hotel chains do it really well, they’ll say, ‘Oh, Mr. So and So, oh, yes, it’s available!’ So, there are hotels that do it well and there are hotels that don’t do it well.” Her advice? “Don’t get so caught up in the whole preferred guest program.”

Tristan Dowell and Michael Holtz
Tristan Dowell, director of brands, Park Hyatt and Andaz with Michael Holtz, owner, The Smart Flyer

At the same time, an advisor who has a strong file on his clients’ likes and dislikes will prosper, said Watson. “What could be more of a tremendous hit for a client who all the sudden found out he has celiac disease and is on a gluten-free diet and you have a gluten-free amenity in that hotel? My God! He will never go anywhere else.”

Odaka concurred that it’s the advisor’s responsibility to deliver the nitty-gritty details on client preferences. “All these luxury brands promise they have this guest profile and are able to track their customers. But does it work in reality? Not that great. And I think really what’s important is to get the important things down. Blueberries and extra water are great little cherries on top, but if you don’t get gluten-free or—I have a client that’s allergic to feathers—if you don’t get the feather-free room and important things like that across the board it’s not great.” His response to such a potential downfall? Even if a luxury hotel chain promises it records guest preferences across the board, Odaka follows up each and every time to ensure his client does not get, for example, feather pillows in his room.

Collaborating as a community in terms of delivering a stellar customer service experience is imperative, said Albert Herrera of Virtuoso. “And that’s where we as a network are headed as well because we know that the consumer in this day and age is ever more involved in his purchasing habits.” Herrera cited statistics from the Virtuoso International Symposium that indicated that consumers check 25 to 30 sites before they actually make a firm travel decision. “But they go through all that and then they call their travel advisor. Hence back again to trust, such as our team making sure that there isn’t any better rate out there.”

Kimberly Wilson Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel pointed out that within the discussion, “one word we’re missing is ‘recognition.’ I think a lot of our customers are looking for recognition when they check in. And it’s not necessarily what’s in a room or their preferences, but just recognition of how many times they’ve visited this hotel and how loyal they are to the brand.” Wetty cited a client who was staying at a hotel for the 100th time. He walked in for his stay, expecting some sort of recognition and got nothing, not even a “thank you.” Don’t forget your newest customers, either. “I think there’s a great opportunity for the new guest because often when somebody keeps coming back you try to upgrade them when you can. But if somebody’s coming to your hotel for the first time, are they getting upgraded? Are they getting wowed? We wow more people that are coming back than that first-time customer. I think that first-time customer should just as easily be upgraded to a better room or a better view if it’s available. A good surprise can go a long way.”

Jack Bloch of JB’s World Travel Consultants circled back to social media and whether or not it’s relevant to the luxury travel industry. “It’s relevant in the sense that people are sharing information. But it’s not the be-all and end-all. It goes back to the original conversation about personal touch. Every five years the consumer media writes the obituary for the role of the travel consultant. We’ve been becoming extinct over the last 15 years and it proves time and again that our extinction does not exist. Social media and everything else can come in, but the relationship is all about the personal touch. That’s never going to go away no matter what anyone ever says.”


Anne Ackermann and Rakesh Sarna
Anne Ackermann, vice president, Fischer Travel Enterprises with Rakesh Sarna, COO, international operations, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts


Albert Herrera and Jason Couvillion
Albert Herrera, vice president, Virtuoso, with Jason Couvillion, owner of Bruvion Travel/Concierge Services, Inc.


Julie Gardziola and Megan Eakins
Julie Gardziola, director of sales and marketing for Park Hyatt, Chicago and Megan Eakins, brand manager, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts


Walter Brindell, Jerry Greenberg and Bob Watson
Walter Brindell, general manager and area vice president, Park Hyatt, Chicago; Jerry Greenberg, manager of leisure services, Cassis Travel; and Bob Watson of Watson & Watson


Kimberly Newbury and Bob Watson
Kimberly Newbury, business development director, Questex Hospitality + Travel and Bob Watson, owner, Watson & Watson


Tristan Dowell, Jerry Greenberg and Stephen Blackburne
Tristan Dowell, Park Hyatt and Andaz; Jerry Greenberg, Cassis Travel; and Stephen Blackburne, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts


Peter Carideo, Julie Lemish and David Kliman
Peter Carideo, president, CRC Travel; Julie Lemish, president, Rex Travel; and David Kliman, founder, The Kliman Group


Second City
Advisors were treated to a surprise, interactive, performance by Second City


David Rappel and Sara Kearney
David Rappel, Protravel and Sara Kearney, senior vice president brands, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts


Evelyn Molina, Jennifer Achim and David Odaka
Evelyn Molina, manager, Fine Hotels & Resorts, American Express; Jennifer Achim, vice president, marketing, Ovation Travel Group; and David Odaka, All Star Travel Group


Michael Holtz and and Gina Gabbard
Michael Holtz, The Smart Flyer and Gina Gabbard, vice president, leisure sales, Tzell Travel


Kimberly Wilson Wetty and Stephen Blackburne
Kimberly Wilson Wetty, Valerie Wilston Travel and Stephen Blackburne, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts


Jerry Greenberg and Albert Herrera
Jerry Greenberg, Cassis Travel and Albert Herrera, Virtuoso


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