Wido Schaefer, chairman and CEO of TravelStore, Inc., nailed it in 2007 when we interviewed him for our June cover. “Because of what’s happening in the world we are moving ourselves away from material goods to more meaningful things to do with our lives. People are looking for an experience and travel is all about experience.”
Being so cognizant of that shift in human behavior then has no doubt fueled TravelStore’s growth over the past eight years; annual revenue has grown from $240 million to $300 million and over that time, the company has planned many over-the-top experiences for its clients; a recent itinerary brought a family to Scandinavia where they stayed in the top suites of design hotels in artistic neighborhoods, toured cities with private guides and drivers, went mountain biking along the fjords; they even went kayaking and on glacier hikes.
TravelStore, founded in 1975, is an employee-owned company also adds to its success; it has a very low employee turnover rate. “This directly relates to our retention rate of existing clients, who experience an unbroken chain of high level, personalized service, plus a corresponding high level of referrals,” says Schaefer, who set up the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) in 2005.
Since we flew to Los Angeles to meet this industry icon in his beautiful Los Angeles offices in 2007, Schaefer’s zooming travel business has continued to focus on providing exceptional luxury vacations to help its clients explore the world, their way, he tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “The way we use our web presence, SEO, as well as pay per click and the various social media channels has extended our ability to reach clients way beyond our geographical footprint in California.”
Since 2007, he’s also switched to the Signature Travel Network, which Schaefer says has greatly enhanced TravelStore’s buying power, as it leverages its worldwide partnerships even more.
This world traveler, who was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, and launched his travel career with Lufthansa, holds a commercial pilot’s license and doesn’t hesitate to seek out those ends of the earth he has not yet seen. He’s just back from Royal Malewane at Thornybush Game Reserve in South Africa. “We loved every minute there. In addition to the outstanding cuisine and service, we were most impressed by the guides and trackers who made every game drive a huge success with their can-do attitude and their intimate knowledge they were more than eager to share. It was truly the best,” Schaefer tells us.
He’s also in love with Parrot Cay on Turks and Caicos. “Great service, an amazing spa, excellent cuisine and no bling. No marble, fancy chandeliers or anything resembling traditional opulence. The isolation and privacy are soothing and welcoming; we can’t wait to go back,” he says.
And, on the personal front, Schaefer, who is extremely proud that TravelStore is now in the ownership of its employees, was most humbled to be honored with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2012. The award pays homage to the immigrant experience and the contribution made to America by immigrants and their children. Past medalists include presidents, Nobel Prize winners and leaders of industry, education, the arts, sports and government.