Selling Travel in 2018: The Art of the Launch Party

Photos by Javier Echecopar

On a restored 19th-century schooner in the Upper New York Harbor, looking towards the Statue of Liberty at sunset with approximately 30 guests, Katherine Wabler officially launched her brand, KW Travel.

In reality, she has been selling travel as an IC for Protravel International since May but August 30 marked the date for Wabler’s “launch party.” For the evening, she chartered a boat, Pioneer, and invited around two dozen influencers, as well as industry sponsors to get a taste of what KW Travel is all about.

Experiencing it, the launch sure seemed like it was a success, but Luxury Travel Advisor caught up with Wabler afterwards to gauge the success from her point of view. Here’s what we learned:

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Where Did the Idea Come From?

“I’ve always just really loved gathering people together,” Wabler tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

Wabler has some history with hosting events. Separate from selling travel, she helps run the New York City chapter of HER, a “community of women who value authenticity, empathy and genuine connection.” It hosts events to “bring together a diverse group of women to learn from and support one another,” according to its website.

She adds, recalling several of the events hosted by HER, “I definitely think this is what I need to do to really make a splash.”

Utilizing the boat as the location served multiple purposes. First, it was simply something Wabler had discovered and enjoyed; and, second, as Wabler says: “What better place to throw this launch party than an actual travel vessel, kind of giving people a taste of what I can bring to the table?"

The boat left from Pier 16 and toured for a couple hours through New York Harbor, getting up close to the Statue of Liberty during sunset. It then turned around and sailed under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. It provided plenty of great content for the influencers who Wabler had invited to share on social media.

“I had a lot of attention and activity on social from the launch,” Wabler tells Luxury Travel Advisor. In addition to a few direct messages, comments and texts congratulating her on the launch, she says she received a few inquiring about her new position. “It ended up being a really successful event,” she says.

Before Being an Advisor

Prior to becoming an independent contractor, Wabler served as the digital marketing and social media manager for both Protravel and Tzell Travel Group. Earlier this year, when Protravel launched its mentorship program, Wabler expressed her interest. As the program developed, they chose her to be one of the first to test it out. Josh Alexander, who is a big advocate for mentorship programs and making the industry younger, jumped on the opportunity to take her under his wing.

Wabler tells Luxury Travel Advisor that the biggest change from the marketing side to the selling side was simply getting used to all the new tools that she never worked with directly. At St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, she majored in business and accounting, so she already had a firm grasp of how she wanted to run her business and, as a marketer, she knew how to reach her audience.

“I think that one of my biggest strengths is that I have that experience in the marketing and social media world, and so I’ve been able to really use those—even just for throwing the event,” Wabler says.

Nailing Your Brand Identity

Wabler made her brand a priority when transitioning to an advisor role. “I got a good brand identity down first, which a lot of people do later, but because I had the time and the passion to do that, I made sure I was doing that on the side as I was beginning to learn the tools,” she says.

In fact, defining your business and building an identity is something Wabler strongly believes in, especially given the times we live in, with so many people searching the Internet for any service. “I think that having a presence and a strong brand identity that people want to relate to and that people can recognize is super important in this age,” she says. “It's definitely served me well so far.”

Planting the Seeds

When Luxury Travel Advisor met with Wabler following her event, it was still too soon for any bookings to come, but we’re told that “there's been some talk with a lot of people that were on board [regarding] managing their travel.”

The benefit of inviting the influencers was two-fold, Wabler admits. On one hand, they could share the content with their followers, putting Wabler’s name out there, but they also travel quite a bit on their own. “I definitely got a bunch of the influencers that are constantly traveling abroad to different fashion weeks, and they're all really interested [in working together],” she says.

As guests disembarked, Wabler and her team gave everyone a “gift bag,” which included a special code for the influencers’ referrals to use, good for a percentage off their first booking with Wabler. Influencers, in return, would receive a dollar amount off of their travels for each referral they sent to Wabler.

While Wabler doesn’t want to limit her potential clientele (“it would almost be a disservice to myself to rule out a ton of people”), she tells us that there can be an advantage to working with a select demographic at first, “so finding that sweet spot is what I’m looking for.” Wabler tells Luxury Travel Advisor that she’s already booked several honeymoons and that she works very well with 20- to 40-year-olds. She adds, however, that she has also worked with Baby Boomers—clients she’s met through her parents.

Getting the Sponsors Onboard

Wabler tells Luxury Travel Advisor that she was selective of the brands/properties she reached out to. Despite the connections she has available through Protravel, Wabler says she reached out to everyone personally to help build a relationship with each of them.

Sponsors included 1 Hotels, Andaz 5th Avenue, Baccarat Hotel New York, One&Only, J.MAK Hospitality and Duvine Cycling + Adventure Co.

A raffle onboard saw guests win amenities and stays from the sponsors, bringing additional exposure for the brands through the influencers. “It was a two-way street,” Wabler says of the partnership with the suppliers, which will hopefully lead to a better relationship going forward.

Still new to the industry, Wabler seems to have a clear picture of what she wants for her business. So, what piece of advice would she offer others looking to make a splash in the industry, as she intends to?

“I would say to stay true to yourself and what you believe to be what's going to bring you to success,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “Being young in this industry, you'll hear conflicting opinions by working and talking with so many people—I mean everybody has great things to say—but at the end of the day, I always just sit back and say, ‘What feels right for me?’

“You're not going to get everyone in this industry saying social media and digital marketing is where you want to focus your efforts. I think there's a lot of different places to focus your efforts, but I think just staying true to my path and where I think success lies has been really beneficial for me. No one would've told me to throw a launch party, so I think just following your North Star and making sure it's your own has been really beneficial.”

From Becky Powell, President of Protravel International

Luxury Travel Advisor reached out to Becky Powell, president of Protravel International, to learn more about its mentorship program and the launch of KW Travel.

Simply enough, the goal of the mentorship program is to provide a training opportunity for new entrants into Protravel, although the program is only available for ICs. Powell tells us that Wabler was one of the first who approached Protravel about participating in the program.  

Regarding the launch party, Powell says, “I was thrilled at Katherine’s out-of-the-box thinking and instantly said yes to supporting her. It is so fun to watch new entrants think differently on how to attract new clients—inviting social influencers to launch her business was brilliant and a first for a Protravel advisor.”

As for the advice Powell offered Wabler, she says “My advice to Katherine has been to not take on more than she can handle. The last thing she wants to do is not deliver quality service to luxury clients. Referrals are a big part of a luxury travel advisor’s business, so she wants to ensure clients speak highly of her. 

“The great thing about her mentor, Josh Alexander, is he can help with any booking Katherine is not comfortable with. We owe a big thank you to Josh for his agreement to help and guide Katherine during her learnings.”

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