Forbes Travel Guide’s Richard Lebowitz Elevates Commitment to Travel Advisors

In less than two years since joining Forbes Travel Guide (FTG) as senior vice president, travel industry outreach, Richard Lebowitz has developed and implemented significant new programs for travel advisors. Luxury Travel Advisor recently met with Lebowitz and several travel advisors at the invitation-only Forbes Travel Guide Summit, held February 27 to March 1 in Las Vegas, to discuss these new initiatives for travel advisors.

Lebowitz, an industry veteran, joined Forbes Travel Guide in 2022 and was tasked with enhancing engagement with the travel advisor community. Shortly after his arrival, he launched a comprehensive program featuring three key strategies: travel agency endorsements, a web portal/app for travel agencies and opportunities for recognition and invitations to the annual FTG Summit—for high-level networking with industry leaders, hoteliers and suppliers. 

“Forbes Travel Guide launched its travel industry outreach program in 2023 to increase the understanding of Forbes Travel Guide ratings as a reliable third-party verification system that supports travel advisors in their selection of hotels for their discerning clients,” Lebowitz explains. The initiative aims to augment advisors' capacity to collaborate with a wider array of hoteliers.

"While advisors travel extensively, they can't be everywhere at once," Lebowitz continued. "Forbes Travel Guide’s rigorous, independent rating system supports them in making well-informed decisions for their clients based on an objective, global standard for excellence. We find that agencies are grateful to have this resource and find it valuable in sorting through the clutter and inconsistency of online research and consumer reviews.”

FTG Agency Endorsements

The FTG endorsement is by invitation only and has two components: the agency must demonstrate leadership in the industry and the agency must complete an FTG training course.

“Our endorsement means the agency demonstrates a strong commitment to client service and that its network of advisors is well-versed in the integrity of FTG’s Ratings and the use of the Ratings to make informed choices for their clients,” The first endorsed travel agency was Avenue Two Travel; since then, FTG has added several more for a current total of 44.

Like hoteliers, travel advisors are benefiting from FTG consumer clout and brand awareness. “Endorsed Agencies are rightly very proud of their association with Forbes Travel Guide. Agencies use the designation on their websites, in email signatures, in newsletters and on social media to promote their recognition.”

FTG also has a close partnership with Virtuoso; many of the endorsed agencies are members, but this is not a criterion. Lebowitz shares that they are “constantly evaluating new agencies for consideration.” Additionally, keeping the FTG endorsement is evaluated ongoing.

FTG Portal For Travel Advisors

FTG travel advisor portal
A preview of FTG's new web portal for travel advisors. (Photo by Forbes Travel Guide)

Equally exciting for advisors is the FTG web portal, which was rolled out in 2023. This new piece of tech is getting raves from advisors, who use it daily. Stacy Small of Elite Travel Club loves using the portal and even whipped out her phone to demonstrate the user-friendliness. “It’s fabulous," she tells us. "Hotels are listed in a dropdown menu in the app and I simply input my client’s stay details. Shortly after, I'm notified by FTG that the process has begun." This indicates that FTG is proactively reaching out to the hotel's general manager on behalf of advisors. The hotel then directly informs the advisor that their clients will be well taken care of. "It removes a lot of the stress for advisors," Small adds. "It benefits everyone involved. It's advantageous for FTG as it showcases their connection with top advisors, beneficial for hotels to forge new connections, and fantastic for me to effortlessly expand my network through the portal."

Lebowitz concurs with the positive impact on all parties, noting, "Through this process, travel advisors become more engaged with the FTG collection, which in turn helps drive business." He emphasized that the FTG portal is neither a booking channel nor a means for advisors to communicate guest preferences; instead, advisors continue to use their standard processes for these tasks. "It’s important to understand that we neither replace nor interfere with any brand's Preferred Partner program for high-end travel advisors or luxury consortia," he explains. This reinforces the notion that FTG’s travel industry outreach is intended to complement—not replace—luxury consortia or any brand’s preferred partner program for high-end travel advisors.

FTG Summit and Awards

Attracting over 650 hoteliers, business executives, travel advisors and other leading luxury travel professionals from more than 85 countries, the annual FTG Summit held over two days in Las Vegas last month was all about learning, networking and celebration.  There were about 50 advisors invited to the event.

Elite Travel Club’s Small was impressed with the caliber of attendees and the programming, telling us, “It’s been great to connect with GMs from around the world, meet entrepreneurs and hear from thought leaders from other industries.”

Sam Leiberman at FTG Summit
Sam Leiberman, CEO of We Know Hotels, with his award and the 2023 "Travel Professional of the Year," Helena Andrén, Managing Director at Travel Beyond AB. (Photo by Forbes Travel Guide)

Virtuoso’s CEO, Matthew Upchurch, led a session on how hoteliers and travel advisors can be more collaborative. He emphasized that the luxury customer base is more dynamic and varied than ever before, both culturally and geographically. Upchurch advised hotels to view advisors as “an extended sales force that is as diverse as today’s traveler, capable of communicating in the media and languages they consume.” This session was a highlight for Janet Semenova, co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors, who also noted the value of “connecting with so many GMs and other high-quality travel advisors at the Summit.”

Highlighting the focus on innovation, the selection of Sam Leiberman, CEO and owner of We Know Hotels, as the second recipient of the Forbes Travel Guide "Luxury Travel Professional of the Year" title, underscores the commitment to excellence. Lieberman, whose agency was launched just a year ago, has seen rapid success through a combination of high-tech and high-touch service to clients.

“This award is a testament not just to my efforts but to the unwavering dedication of our entire team at We Know Hotels. Together, we’ve committed ourselves to excellence, ensuring every client experiences the pinnacle of luxury travel and personalized attention,” Lieberman shared. We Know Hotels was also one of the most frequent users of the FTG Portal, further reinforcing the success of technology in facilitating seamless connections between advisors and hoteliers.

FTG and Lebowitz are enthusiastic about the early success of these new initiatives for travel advisors, "At Forbes Travel Guide, we pride ourselves on bringing FTG's travel and hospitality community together for the benefit of customers and highlighting the outstanding contributions of our Star Rated winners, Lebowitz says. He also hinted to some future plans: "Educational programs and further enhancements will be coming soon.”

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