|Owners of Avenue Two Travel: The Bush Family: Joshua Bush, Jennifer Bush, Debbie Bush and Craig Bush.|
Everything about Avenue Two Travel screams start-up. Set in a posh location in Villanova, PA, along Philadelphia’s Main Line, the agency’s new 5,000-square-foot digs sport shiny hardwood floors, sliding Japanese doors and a flat-screen TV that welcomes clients by name. And that’s just the lobby. From there on, it’s as if the Avenue Two Travel client has arrived at a luxury hotel; they’re offered a beverage (wine or beer if it’s getting dark out) by a client concierge who summons their dedicated travel advisor to escort them to a high-tech Travel Collaboration Lounge. There, a huge 147-inch projector screen greets them, as do four 52-inch HDTVs, a wet bar and a series of stylish moveable tables and chairs. An alternative space provides a conference table and a Smart Board for plotting out bucket-list options and trip itineraries. Behind reception there’s a spacious work environment, including executive offices and large cubicles for the team of 35, who work at Avenue Two Travel. Within easy reach on countertops, there’s slick, fresh collateral promoting the agency’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest accounts.
In fact, everything at Avenue Two is 21st-century cutting edge, custom designed for planning travel in an exciting and holistic manner for clients seeking to fulfill a lifetime of vacation needs in the same manner they plot out their financial strategies.
“I wanted to develop a sophisticated but comfortable space, a place that advisors looked forward to coming to work each day. I wanted an office that we could all be proud of and one that we wanted to share with clients and suppliers,” says Debbie Bush, founder of the agency. She’s been in the business for more than 30 years, but you might associate her name with another agency, Park Avenue Travel, which she founded three decades ago in nearby Swarthmore, PA.
|Starting Fresh: Joshua Bush is shown here with colleague Jamo Ladd during the construction of the new offices.|
You’d be right to make the association, but take note: Park Avenue Travel has been phased out and replaced by Avenue Two Travel. All that remains are strong memories of a successful Virtuoso travel agency that was reaping a healthy $12 million a year in revenue and growing 20 percent annually.
Who completely reinvents a thriving business? The Bush family (Deb, Craig and son, Joshua), that’s who. They recognized that in order to grow, to bring in new clients and fresh travel advisors, and to sell travel in a way that has layers of meaning to its affluent clientele, they had to rethink the way they did just about everything.
The need for change didn’t come overnight. As Park Avenue Travel morphed from a cozy Main Street business to an international enterprise with a sturdy foothold in the luxury leisure segment, its physical headquarters became less and less bearable.
“We had 12 in-house employees crammed into 1,000 square feet,” says Joshua Bush, CEO of Avenue Two Travel, who has been a part of the business since May 2006. “To break through to the next plateau, things had to change drastically.” The space issues didn’t just mean colleagues were working uncomfortably close to each other, new talent couldn’t come into the business; there was no room for them to sit.
Then there was that name, Park Avenue Travel, which for many evoked an image of a Manhattan location, not the Philly area. It confused many suppliers, and even worse, other agencies had similar names, leading to commission-payment chaos.
Fueled further by the fact that its customers were no longer just from the neighborhood but from varied generations from all over the world, all with different views on how and where to travel, the Bush family realized a dramatic move was necessary.
It wasn’t just about geography, however. It was about the next 30 years and how the company would evolve over that time. To begin the change process, or what Joshua Bush refers to as “opening the lid on Pandora’s Box,” the Bush family in early 2013 commissioned a marketing firm to run separate focus groups with existing clients as well as potential future clients. The takeaways?
“We found that our current clients would stay with us no matter what our name was and that our new clients were looking for something more contemporary and wide reaching,” reports Bush.
What To Call It?
The first step was selecting a new name for the company. It was a challenge, since the Bush family wanted a moniker it could completely own and future proof. They wanted no more confusion in the marketplace with other agencies. That eliminated a lot of options; most of the good names have been taken, and so have their URLs, by agency owners or suppliers or simply those who make a living out of securing great web addresses so they can resell them at a hefty price. Avenue Two Travel proved to be a safe selection on all these fronts and was also accepted by the focus groups.
|Planning In Africa: The Bush family began its initial discussions on how to design the travel agency of the future while on a trip in Botswana.|
Perhaps because it seemed so safe, the new name felt “more like an arranged marriage, with a deep love that has grown over time,” says Bush, who admits Avenue Two Travel didn’t spark fireworks for him at first. But now, it feels right. “It’s a fresh start that signifies excellence, innovation and our unique advantage that clients receive when traveling through us,” he says.
The focus group intel helped the owners map out a growth strategy, and it quickly became apparent that it was either go big or go home. Changing the name from Park Avenue Travel was only a small piece of the puzzle. Citing the Jim Collins book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don’t,” Bush says the decision was made to approach the project as the start-up of a brand new company, not merely as a rebrand.
As a result, a proprietary sales process was crafted, called “The Avenue Two Advantage,” based on six phases of the trip process (explore, collaborate, create and customize, anticipate, experience and reflect), from planning to providing feedback after the return home that will enhance the next experience.
|Room to Learn: Craig Bush delivers a presentation to a group of Avenue Two Travel staff in the Travel Collaboration Lounge.|
To plot out the internal and external client-facing processes, the Bush family hired a battery of consultants to assist with issues such as marketing, human resources, interior and space design, technology and overall business strategy.
“We needed the proper office, technology, training and image,” says Bush, adding that long days and nights were spent mapping out the changes in the name, logos and colors to be used in the new branding which would impact travel documents, agency stationery, a new website and marketing collateral. Even the new office’s interior design concept was developed from the look of the new brand standards.
It was all quite a daunting task, but consider how overwhelming it was to roll out the changes to the Park Avenue Travel team, which was about to be presented with a brand new canvas on which to do business. The Bush family decided to make the announcement at a three-day company retreat in the summer of 2013 at The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, just after Virtuoso Week in Las Vegas. Joshua Bush says the team looked to his mother, Debbie Bush, who had founded Park Avenue Travel 30 years earlier. “When they saw she was 100 percent onboard, it paved the way for everything else,” he recalls. “Avenue Two Travel was born.”
Finding it a new home was next on the agenda. The Bush family scoped out 64 properties in the Philadelphia area, ultimately choosing Villanova, considered the epicenter of Philadelphia’s Main Line. It was also close to the agency’s current clients and could be considered a hotbed for prospective affluent customers.
|A2T First Class Grads: In July 2014, the Avenue Two Travel staff graduated from their “First Class” training, commemorating their new offices and their new company.|
Landlord negotiations were challenging, says Bush, but the back and forth was well worth it, as an entourage of contractors, architects and interior designers began to execute the family’s vision. For inspiration, Bush visited two fellow Virtuoso agencies that had already moved their locations to “uber client showrooms,” Brownell Travel in Birmingham, AL, and Largay Travel in Waterbury, CT. “Those trips were critical to us completing our vision. It really reinforced the value of being part of the Virtuoso family,” says Bush.
Meanwhile, everyone in the company took ownership of the change by participating in a variety of work teams, divvying up such tasks as branding, document presentation, client interaction and training processes.
Moving day last summer turned out to be an emotional one as the team of 35 packed up to leave their charming Swarthmore neighborhood.
“As exciting as the new space was, the old space held so many memories, fostered so many relationships, it was sad to see it empty and let go,” Bush recalls.
“That being said, however, after about a week or so, I don’t think anyone missed the old space,” he adds.
That’s totally understandable when you realize that Avenue Two Travel’s new headquarters is all based on the concept of making travel buying fun again, of enjoying an in-person client consultation. Bush reports that in the few short months the company has been in its new location (remember that nifty Collaboration Lounge?) his advisors now have been able to close more business at higher price points.
“Since our move, our advisors have had more face-to-face interactions with their clients than they’d had in the last few years in our old location,” Bush says.
Capping it off was a Client Grand Gala in October when Avenue Two Travel literally rolled out a red carpet for 200 of its affluent clients and its top suppliers. Once inside, it was easy to get the vibe of the new company, that purchasing travel is all about the experience and more than just a transaction.
“They loved the name, the look and the feel,” says Bush. “More importantly, they saw the difference in how we’ll approach travel planning with them.”
On display that night in the Travel Collaboration Lounge were the five workspaces where clients consult with their advisors by reviewing hotels and destinations on those 52-inch HD screens. The room is especially useful for visiting suppliers who can use that 147-inch HD projection screen to train agents. During the gala, the room’s layout was ideal for attending suppliers to exhibit in a mini tradeshow format.
“Gone are the days where clients and their advisor sit huddled in front of paper brochures,” says Bush, who adds that Avenue Two customers, through virtual tours, are now immersed in imagery that will inspire them. “Selling travel is an emotional experience,” he adds.
Trips are no longer planned as just one-offs, rather, Avenue Two Travel is working with its clients to plan, budget for and build lists of dream destinations for clients' futures; their travel advisor then helps them to curate the list. The agency is being assisted by Virtuoso to execute the program.
Investing in the Future
It’s too early to tell just when the $250,000 capital investment by the Bush family into Avenue Two Travel will be recouped, but with the number of client meetings and events on the rise and that these encounters are encouraging those customers to “buy up,” Bush is optimistic it won’t take too long.
His advisors report they are also facing a sunny future.
Says Avenue Two Travel advisor, Tracy Federico: “The new space contributes to the perception of credibility in what we do. There’s an increased level of professionalism that makes selling confidently a more natural function, and it feels like everyone has upped their game.”
Her colleague, Jane Edwards, concurs: “Our new office space is really terrific. The Travel Collaboration Lounge is unique in the retail travel sphere. Not only does it allow us to move away from our desks to focus fully on supplier presentations, it also affords us a place to meet with clients both individually, when collaborating on a vacation, and in larger groups to showcase specific destinations and preferred suppliers.”
Advisor Brigitte Feinberg says the entire new vibe at Avenue Two Travel definitely makes her feel more “in the game.”
“I think that when you are in an office like ours, you feel much more professional,” she says. “Whether in person or on the phone, I think I’m accepted more quickly as a professional, and my skills are more readily appreciated. And that makes it much easier to handle sensitive subjects, such as fees. I just feel more valuable.”
Watch for more from Avenue Two Travel as the Bush family and their inspired team of advisors grow their new brand. Joshua Bush says the agency is actively seeking new associates, affiliates and even looking to acquire existing companies beyond the Philadelphia area.
“We know that our services, style and philosophy can help other agencies, and it’s all easily replicable,” he says. “We will look to help other travel agencies and agency owners, who want the independence and benefits of ownership but are no longer having fun managing their business. We can help with a number of tasks that owners don’t like, while preserving the best parts of why they started in travel in the first place.”
For now, there’s a very tangible sign that growth is in the making. On Avenue Two Travel’s Facebook page is a post that the agency is hiring: “At Avenue Two Travel, we don’t just plan trips for our clients, we use our expertise, experience and contacts to make their travel dreams come true,” says the entry. “Whether they want to explore the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu or experience the rugged terrain of Africa, no dream is off limits. If you are an experienced travel advisor or are looking to get into the luxury travel industry and you are passionate about travel and experiencing the world, we want to talk to you!”
While expansion is top of mind, Bush says that Avenue Two Travel’s existing advisors and staff get the credit and thanks for delivering the company to its present phase.
“None of our growth and success would have been possible without our entire team of associates and affiliates,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “Our team is committed to doing things at a higher level and has a devout commitment to their clients. A2T’ers are very special and have been the backbone and foundation to allow us to make such a difficult transition.”
Avenue Two Travel
CEO: Joshua Bush
Chairman and CFO: Craig Bush
President and Luxury Travel Advisor: Debbie Bush
Headquarters: Villanova, PA
Annual Revenue: $20 million
Staff: 35, 30 of whom are advisors
Programs: Ritz-Carlton STARS; Four Seasons Preferred Partner; Starwood Luxury Privileges; Belmond Bellini Club; Rosewood Elite; Abercrombie & Kent 100 Club; Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts’ Passport to Luxury
Advisory Boards: (Past and present) Ritz-Carlton; Classic Vacations; Fairmont Raffles Swissotel; Tauck Tours; Trump Hotel Collection; Park Hyatt