Helena Iorio was working for a top travel agency where she consistently ranked among the top three advisors for sales and service when she was told by her employer that she helped her clients “too much” and developed “too many repeat clients.” The call-service agency valued quantity over quality, and so in December 2010, Iorio had enough and walked out. Within a week, she received a friend request on Facebook from a 70-year-old, tech-hesitant client asking if she could still help plan his vacations; two days later, another client called looking for her. On January 1, 2011, HMI Travel Consulting opened its doors.
Iorio joined Travel Edge four years ago. Despite all of the trips she plans, Iorio tells us her charity work for the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital is the most important thing she does each year. For this, she secures luxury travel experiences for St. Jude’s Dream a Little Dream Fashion Show and Four Stars of Chicago Restaurant Extravaganza, which are auctioned off.
Iorio’s revenue in 2016 was $2 million, and she’s on pace to surpass that this year. “A lot of my clients are affluent world travelers, who have ‘been there and done that,’” Iorio says. Some of her clients are CEOs of global companies; others come from the entertainment industry; all are looking for off-the-beaten-path experiences. Two examples of trips that she has planned include an elephant safari in Sri Lanka and truffle-hunting in Croatia.
A self-proclaimed “die-hard romantic,” Iorio particularly enjoys putting together romance packages. She let us in on a secret of hers: When she has a couple traveling on a honeymoon, she takes their wedding song, translates it into the language of their destination and transcribes it onto homemade “centuries-old” paper (coffee and an oven will do the trick, we’re told). She includes a few destination-specific accoutrements, “and the recipient is always blown away.”
It’s one thing to create the perfect vacation ahead of time, but true trendsetters have the ability to think on the fly. Point in case: One of Iorio’s client’s daughter was going to take her dog to school with her in Malaga, Spain but decided to send the dog at a later date. The family already paid $400 for cargo shipping and they would be charged a possible $4,000 had they canceled. Iorio had the dog sent to her, where it stayed for a few days, before she flew the pooch to Spain herself.
The combined abilities — to plan a vacation that suits her clients perfectly and to act on her feet — have earned Iorio the honor of being one of Travel Edge’s top performers; for this, she has been awarded a trip to the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
Iorio also tells us she is currently the only operator of her business, and that adding an employee will be the key to her growth, albeit strategically. “I want to be the best, not the biggest,” she says.