Passages of Distinction hosted a virtual roundtable of industry experts in mid-October to get their take on the current luxury landscape. They shared strategic initiatives, insights and optimism for the future. Moderated by Passages of Distinction founder and CEO, Sari Freeman, the panel was comprised of Jack Ezon of Embark Beyond; Fernando Gonzalez of First in Service; Roe Naccache of Boca Express and Eric Hrubant of CIRE Travel. We grabbed these snippet of conversations, which we hope will inspire you to move into 2021 with strength and a clear strategy.

Sari Freeman, Passages of Distinction: Looking back at this time in history, what would you say are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned, and what words of advice can you share with the audience moving forward?

Jack Ezon, Embark Beyond: Every crisis brings its opportunity. Seize it, go with it, dive into the wave. It’s not easy, but what’s easy that’s worth it? Just own it, have the grit. It’s a long journey. You need to have tenacity to get through it. I don’t see this ending anytime really soon, but I think it’s a tremendous opportunity if we look at every day as a new one.

We have created “today” teams and “tomorrow teams,” and we have people focusing on the today stuff and focusing on tomorrow stuff. I have been working with both teams to tie it all together. But be very sure that you listen to what you hear, listen to what people are saying or what they’re not saying...don’t think just about the immediate profit because you want to make sure that whatever you’re rolling out will attract the right clients. So, try to really think first about who that dream client is and how to get them because there’s never been a better time for great client acquisition.

Fernando Gonzalez, First in Service: Patience. We’re all coming around to the eight-month mark of this, and we all realize that it’s still going to be here for a little bit. It’s the new norm, really. It’s a new way for all of us to interact and live our lives, so you’ve got to be patient. I always say First in Service is not about our contracts or contacts. Obviously, they are important, but the core of our company is our people. And that has gotten us through this so far, and what continues to bring us closer together is transparency. It’s communication.

You’ve heard it many times, you find the solutions, you find the energy, you come together, and you make a success out of this difficult time. So be patient, communicate, don’t be afraid to tell it like it is and be very transparent. There’s a lot of sunshine on the other side of this journey.

Eric Hrubant, CIRE Travel: As a typical born-and-bred New Yorker, I’m always high strung and nervous. All of my life, I’ve been what if-ing. What if I lose the account? What if someone leaves me? I’ve had 20 years in the business of what if-ing. And then, March came along, and the worst-case scenario happened and we’re getting through it, and we’ll be stronger for it. I think that when things are better, or a little bit more normalized, I’m not going to have any fear. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, it just did. Move forward and make sure you have money in the bank, just in case.

Roe Naccache, Boca Express: A teammate and I just did a self drive up along the coast. We ended up at Amelia Island and the Montage Palmetto, we did Savannah, we then went to Sea Island in Georgia, documenting everything along the way. The response from clients, and even advisors who weren’t comfortable traveling, was remarkable. 

Everybody has to feel the level of comfort first and this showed them that “I think we can do this.”

[As for lessons learned,] one of the biggest things that we took out of this is, don’t fear charging planning fees, cancellation fees or revision fees because in the long-term, what has held us through this are the fees. Can I tell you that after getting clients vouchers, and refunds, and writing out checks left and right, what was left was our planning fees and our cancellation fees. Not one client out of the entire office has asked for that back. They knew our worth. They knew we worked for it, whether it was a month, three months or six months in the planning. Don’t be afraid of charging fees.

The other thing I would recommend highly to everyone is to go over terms and conditions. Many of us were hit with things that we didn’t even expect, where, now, we have to cover ourselves. With the terms and conditions, we’ve actually increased our planning fees and service charges. We’ve had a few inquiries that have come in already, and we’ve quoted them the fees, and not one person even blinked at it. So, don’t be afraid.

Another huge lesson that we learned here is that relationships in our business are still important. Don’t be afraid of competition with your travel advisor friends. I would recommend getting together with and creating a coalition with other travel agencies or other travel advisors, do marketing campaigns together. We’re all in this together.

Jack Ezon, Embark Beyond: The rising tide rises all boats. If we really all work together, we’re going to all stay in business together.

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