During ILTM, we met Marybeth Hillier, a senior travel advisor with Travel Edge, based out of Orange County, CA. Her motto is: “I’ve probably been where you want to go. When you are ready, I’ll be here to help you get there.” Love that! She has been to ILTM seven times and has been a travel advisor for 35 years. We asked Hillier about her experience at this year's event, as well as for some insight on travel trends coming up. Here's what she had to say:
This was the largest ILTM in the history of the show; how did it feel to you?
I was surprised by the energy. ILTM has always been an energetic show, but this year, everyone was so very excited to be engaging with each other. I was also surprised by the number of general managers and CEOs who took the time to go to Cannes, talk with advisors and “take our pulse” about where we are in our bookings and offering assistance.
What was your typical day like at ILTM?
My first appointment started at 9:10 every morning and my last appointment finished at 6 p.m. I have been fortunate to have lunches with hoteliers, cruise lines and tourism offices. There was excitement in the air. Even my last appointments were enthusiastic to the last moment.
Any particular hotels you are excited about?
I was fortunate to spend some time with General Manager Marc Langevin of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. During the closure of Grand Cayman, Marc led the hotel through a total reimagination and transformation. In our meeting, he explained in detail how they used $50 million to reinvent the 16-year-old property. His enthusiasm was infectious. The images are stunning, and I can’t wait to visit in person and see the modern coastal design and how they’ve kept the British mid-century vibe. Of course, being from the West Coast, I am thrilled that Cayman Airways started non-stop service from LAX to Grand Cayman in November.
Overall, how do you rate ILTM?
As a travel advisor, I honestly love ILTM for several reasons. Firstly, the long appointment times. This year, we seemed to use the entire time to learn about each other, having missed meeting in person during the pandemic. Second, I get to meet with suppliers from all over the world—how wonderful and convenient to be able to do this in one place. Finally, I keep returning because I always make such great connections and nothing can replace learning from suppliers firsthand. It is so important to me to be able to reach out to suppliers on behalf of my clients. Being able to say that “we met at ILTM” reminds suppliers of who I am and that I care enough to go to ILTM to learn more from them. The fact that the meeting is held in beautiful Cannes is an added bonus.
In general, what trends are you seeing clients booking post-pandemic?
Prior to 2020, we were seeing a trend in family travel; however, following the “opening of the world” in 2022, families wanted to travel together especially to celebrate milestone birthdays or anniversary celebrations. Luxury clients are willing to spend money in order to be sure that they have the perfect journey together. In addition, many clients are looking for heritage and genealogy trips. They want to find out more about their roots. Some family experiences include FIT journeys, small group escorted trips or exclusive family trips, such as Tauck Bridges and Disney Cruise Line. Luxury clients have been willing to spend on travel for upmarket experiences since COVID, but now I am seeing requests for authentic experiences. “Carpe Diem!” is the new motto.
The genealogy boom is interesting; what kinds of trips are you finding for clients?
I have sent clients to Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, Sweden and Italy who say they have ancestors from one of these countries and want to visit it and experience the culture. I am in the process of doing research for specific genealogy requests. I have found that there are several destination management companies in both Ireland and Scotland that offer personal genealogy and heritage-focused tours. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Avalon Waterways are offering Jewish heritage-themed cruises for 2023. Tauck is offering a 14-day escorted tour to Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna and Prague, honoring the Jewish heritage.
What are booking windows like at the moment?
Travelers are also planning ahead. I am seeing requests come in for 2024.
What advice and tips are you giving clients at the moment in relation to air travel?
We all know that airfare is more expensive. My suggestion for my clients is to be prepared for schedule changes and cancelations. If they don’t belong to an airline club or receive club access with their ticket, then I suggest that they buy a day pass or one-time entry to a lounge, such as Priority or Aspire. Having a comfortable place to relax between flights can help relieve stress from schedule changes and long connections. If clients can allow more time for connections and try to enjoy the journey as well as the destination, then my opinion is that they will return home with good memories and feel more fulfilled.