Leigh Elizabeth Israel
When Leigh Elizabeth Israel joined the family agency in 2013, it was in the process of rebranding. Her father, Louis Black, started Jacksonville, FL-based Avondale Travel (now an affiliate of Valerie Wilson Travel) in 1974, bought Orange Park Travel in 1980 and built the agency “into an industry titan” before selling all but one office in 1989.
Among Israel’s first key tasks were returning Orange Park Travel to Avondale Travel and bringing the agency into the 21st century. Today, the agency is thriving under her leadership and Avondale is up to two offices — the original location in Jacksonville and the nearby Orange Park.
Out of college, Israel began her career managing sales, marketing, advertising and client relationships for a business marketing company. She then found her way into the fashion industry before joining the travel business, bringing all her know-how with her.
To continue building Avondale Travel, Israel says she is “focusing on networking and community outreach to bring us to the next level.” Of note, Israel currently sits on Episcopal School of Jacksonville’s Alumni Board and is an active member of Riverside Rotary and captain of the Working Women’s tennis team at the Florida Yacht Club.
She also utilizes the services offered by Valerie Wilson Travel (VWT). “The global connections and attachment to Virtuoso is invaluable [to] me and my clients,” Israel tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “For example, we can arrange a private tour of the Vatican prior to opening or a private dinner in front of Michelangelo’s David.”
She also commends Valerie Wilson Travel for how the agency is run, saying, “We are large enough to maintain fantastic relationships with high-end properties and air contacts but still run as a tight knit, family business.”
Tip: Israel is currently reading “a fantastic book” recommended by Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-owner and co-president of VWT: “WhoNotHow” by Dan Sullivan. “It is a great read with a leadership focus,” says Israel.
When it comes to planning travel, Israel says hotels are her passion. “Finding the perfect property for a client, whether they prefer traditional, ultra-modern or somewhere in between is, to me, a quintessential part of being a travel advisor.”
While she doesn’t have one “true client,” she focuses on Millennials and Gen Z clients and specializes in “off-the-beaten-path destinations and experiences.” In total, she pulls in $1.25 million of the agency’s $7 million annually.
Israel is just back from the English countryside (which she loved). There, she toured through London, Bath, Cornwall and Devon. Growing up in the industry, Israel had “traveled and cruised most of the world” by the time she was 18 years old. In fact, “My dad told people I could cruise before I could walk,” Israel tells us.
This year, Avondale is celebrating its 45th anniversary (“something we are very proud of,” she says). Although it wasn’t a direct path, Israel tells us that she always knew her career would lead her back to the travel industry.
“I love the fact that I have had the opportunity to resurrect Avondale Travel, and we are always looking for ways to innovate,” she says. “Especially now that my dad is no longer with us, it’s his legacy and an empire we are successfully rebuilding.”