HOLLLYWOOD, Fla. — It is a warm and breezy Friday afternoon on the beach here, but Jennifer Kellum, owner of Neverland & Main Travel, isn’t on that beach. Instead, she is at the Diplomat Beach Resort, where the ballroom is humming.
More than 300 people, many of them travel advisors who produced at least $1 million in annual sales, are with her at Global Travel Marketplace (GTM), engaging in six-minute, speed-date-like meetings with vendors representing all kinds of travel products, from cruises to flights into space.
This year’s event largely attracted advisors amid metamorphoses: Many recently started their businesses or are trying to restructure their agencies for the postpandemic era, according to Jacqueline Hurst, director of trade recruitment and engagement for Travel Weekly Events (GTM is produced by Travel Weekly parent Northstar Travel Group).
That’s why Kellum is here, at Booth 54, sitting with a new vendor every six minutes. She’s navigating a rebranding and trying to pivot from selling theme park vacations to luxury travel. She began her career in 2014 exclusively selling Disney at a theme park-focused agency before she launched her business in 2017. She started small by selling what she knew best, but she said she was pigeonholing herself.
“Disney will keep you busy all day long … but what I was learning was we were not growing with our clients,” she says. Customers would come to her for Disney but go somewhere else for a river cruise or a trip to Alaska. “We wanted to evolve with our clients’ vacation needs, and we wanted to be their one-stop shop.”
Kellum began shifting her business to offer more luxury travel in 2019 by reaching out to other agents for supplier recommendations.
Then she wanted to rebrand her agency, but the pandemic hit and she was afraid that change would give clients the impression her business was financially unstable. “It was just not a good look at that time.”
Highlights from Global Travel Marketplace
Now that travel demand has revived, she’s ready to introduce a luxury arm, Aire Luxury Travel, to her agency. Before she does, she is looking to find more vendors she can trust to care for her clients.
The buzzer sounds, and Kellum exchanges business cards with Erick Garnica, the associate vice president of global leisure sales for the Palm Beaches Florida, with resorts in a dozen Florida cities.
After asking him a few questions, she thinks one of his resorts would work for a client’s group of 21 travelers and her eyes widen. The group spans three generations from five families spread out throughout the country: The grandfathers want to golf, grandmothers and moms want the spa and they need beaches for the kids.
“This is why I came here,” Kellum says as she plops down her pen on the table. “We wanted to check off a lot of boxes.”
This meeting probably saved her an entire day of research, she adds as she turns to greet the next vendor quickly sitting down before her as the timer restarts.
Some agents have other agendas. Down the next row is Morgan Graybill, a luxury travel advisor from Greenville, S.C. She gets settled at her table, complete with a silver table runner of sequenced peacocks, which she hopes vendors will remember her by.
There’s a lot she’s looking for at this conference: a French destination specialist, a golf specialist and a supplier of yachts in Croatia; plus, she wants to reconnect with the cruise suppliers she sells.
But what she’s just as focused on is their levels of service.
Graybill launched her luxury agency, MorningStar Luxury Travel, after Covid hit. Starting a new business was tough, she says, but it’s starting to grow. A supplier may have an excellent product, she adds, but if they are poor communicators, she won’t do business with them.
“Luxury is not just the glitz and the glam. It’s the service,” Graybill says, mentioning the long vendor hold times spurred by labor issues. Other suppliers have been poor communicators, she adds, hampering her ability to provide her customers luxury service. “I can’t afford to be mentally tired,”Graybill says.
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