'Booking conduit' Four Hundred by Design links advisors to luxe properties: Travel Weekly

A new platform for travel advisors, Four Hundred by Design, hopes to connect agents with luxury properties and offer them increased earnings, payout 10 days after client checkout and more.

The product, which goes by FHxD, is the brainchild of Tony Abrams and Tony Shepherd, the founder and CEO, respectively, of the luxury-focused travel agency Four Hundred. The pair launched FHxD last October, after Shepherd said he and Abrams wanted to create a business that helped other travel advisors.

FHxD acts as a “booking conduit” between agents and properties, Shepherd said. It is free for agents, while suppliers pay FHxD to be part of the platform.

Its target user, he said, is a small, boutique agency owned by an independent contractor that books luxury travel but might not have access to supplier programs with higher commission payouts that are based on volume.

“They don’t do enough business to be in a preferred-supplier program, but they might have two or three unicorn clients that travel on huge trips each year, and they want to see if they can maximize their revenue,” Shepherd said.

Tony Shepherd

Before Shepherd became the CEO of Four Hundred, he was a consultant for Virtuoso, helping it expand into Europe and onboarding some 80 agency members there. Prior to that, he was the COO of Protravel International for more than 25 years, before its sale to Internova (no. 7 on Travel Weekly’s 2021 Power List) — his family founded the agency.

The leadership team at FHxD is rounded out by Karen Goldberg, formerly Virtuoso’s managing director of hotels and resorts, and Robert Eastman, formerly of Villas of Distinction.

Right now, there are about 150 hotels and 250 villas in the program, Shepherd said, with that number growing. The average daily rate of FHxD bookings is $1,600, and half of bookings are suite inventory.

What attracts advisors

While Shepherd initially thought higher commissions would be the draw for advisors, the team is finding that more are interested in the faster payout and the fact that they don’t have to chase a commission. Travel advisors also benefit from the FHxD team of six agents who actually make the booking for them (they simply fill out a form on FHxD’s website), saving time and effort.

While FHxD does the actual booking, the advisor remains the agent of record for the transaction and controls everything else relating to their client’s travels. Users must provide a valid IATA number or similar code identifying them as a travel agent. That information is used to process commission payments.

Shepherd encouraged agents to register and check out the platform’s offerings, even if they don’t book anything.

“They can use us once a year, they can use us 10 times a year, they can use us no times a year — it’s up to them,” he said.

FHxD also offers marketing assets, a quarterly magazine featuring a number of properties on the platform and a quarterly white paper about industry trends.

Right now, FHxD has between 500 and 600 registered users. So far, Shepherd said, he is encouraged by use of the platform.

“We were pleasantly surprised at how many people have been reaching out to us for help,” he said. “And, of course, every request doesn’t turn into a booking. That’s true of every client request. But we’re pretty happy that the look-to-book ratio is very strong.” 

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