|I’m shown here (center) with Monika Weinsoft of Jet Set World Travel (left) and Deborah Barth of Brownell Travel. We’re at The Waikiki Edition on Oahu at the Hawaii Travel Exchange, which Luxury Travel Advisor and Travel Agent magazines hosted in October.|
About five-and-a-half years ago, I was aboard the Crystal Symphony, attending Virtuoso’s annual Symposium. We had just launched Luxury Travel Advisor and I was spending my time meeting suppliers and travel advisors, telling them all about our new publication, which sported a dapper Bill Fischer on the cover. Actually, I was walking around, handing out the magazine to everyone I met. The responses were mixed: Either I’d be greeted with the most polite and distant of smiles or else I’d be warmly heralded by someone who had just received their first issue ever. It wasn’t an easy task for a shy person like me, but it was a task that needed to be done and one that forged a number of great business relationships in the ensuing years.
The trip marked my first intensive dip in to the world of Virtuoso, where hoteliers, tour operators and other purveyors mixed easily with top travel advisors in the warmest of ways. There was a great spirit to the entire event, heightened by the fact that we were on board one of the most luxurious ships in the business.
When I’d boarded the Crystal Symphony for this trip, it marked my first voyage with Crystal Cruises, and I still remember my first “aha!” moment on that cruise. It occurred one morning as I ate breakfast in the main dining room. We’d already been served our entrees and as I sipped my coffee, I realized that, after all, I would like some toast, even though I hadn’t ordered any. As this thought entered my mind, I believe I raised an eyebrow half a centimeter. I may have also moved my head ever so slightly as I pondered the thought of just what type of toast I might like.
Across the dining room, a waiter, en route to the kitchen, sensed that I needed something and stopped dead in his tracks. As he walked over to me with a concerned expression on his face, I admit being startled, but also pretty tickled to be treated so well. I was enjoying the beginning of my dive into luxury quite well.
Spending this time with the folks from Crystal and from Virtuoso has been one of my top Luxury Travel Advisor moments, and, happily, was just the first of many quality times I’d spend with each group.
In our cover story on Crystal Cruises, which begins on page 80, Thomas Mazloum, senior vice president of operations for Crystal, explains how the cruise line always demands that the land operators it uses present a different view of how they deliver a destination. This brings me to Sarande, Albania, which was included on a Mediterranean itinerary Crystal offered two years ago. I had signed up for an excursion to the Castle of Lekures, which was built in the start of the 17th century. Just sitting and enjoying the views of the Ionian and Adriatic seas from the castle’s extremely high location was enough of a treat for passengers, who were also served refreshments, including some good Albanian beer. However, within moments of arriving, we’d all realized that Crystal had decided to intensify the experience by supplying a trio of folk singers to greet us; to top it off, we were then entertained by a host of local dancers who charmed the entire crowd with regional Balkan dances. The group of young Albanians seemed just as keen on meeting us as we were them. It’s one of the most exciting travel moments that I cherish.
Lessons learned overall from Crystal? Always hire those who are bent on providing luxury service in the most natural spirit (hence the waiter who sensed my desire for toast) and always strive to delight and surprise guests, even when the most basic experience is likely to satisfy them well enough. In other words, go beyond the obvious, shoot for the best. Not a bad dose of advice for luxury travel advisors, suppliers (and travel editors) all around. For more on Crystal, read on.