Martha King and her business partner Susan Whitson have come up with an idea about why this time of year reliably brings a boatload of business to their high-end travel agency.
"Our theory is people get together over the holidays and sit around saying 'What do we want to do next year, where do we want to go?'" Whitson says. "This is the 15-hour-day time of year."
The first few months of the year bring in about 40% of the agency's total annual sales, which added up to more than $5 million in 2019, King says.
"We're designing trips for winter getaways, spring break, summer vacation," she says. "A lot of people travel when kids go back to school in the fall, and we're planning those, as well. People are also booking now for the holidays — we have bookings into 2021."
In the age of internet travel searches and online booking, the support of a travel adviser is more important than ever, despite the common misperception that the industry has moved to self-serve and online planning, King says.
"People are overwhelmed by all their options on the internet," she says. "What we want to do it take all that stress and all those decisions off people's plates."
What has changed is the nature of the role travel advisers play for people who rely on them, she says.
"Back in the day, the work was very transactional — you took orders for flights, booked hotels," she says. "This model is completely opposite. We want to be a part of the client's trip from the moment they reach out to us."
And a good travel adviser can make sure the inevitable delays and travel snags don't derail your whole trip, she adds.
"We just had clients going to Australia, and their connecting flights kept getting delayed," she says. "Before they had landed, we knew what was going on, we had changed their transfer and changed their connection."
King & Whitson Travel, launched in 2014, offers a travel-planning tool that surveys the members of a group to understand their interests and then pulls together recommendations based on the results.
"We can pull out their data and that allows us to do long-range planning for clients, and then people are excited, they have their budget, they know what they're doing," she says. "It's a big trend for people to be so much more about wanting to collect experiences and memories rather than things."
Their clientele tends to be people looking for custom-designed experiences, and the connections King and Whitson have cultivated all over the world make that a fun prospect, King says.
She recalls one client who joked that she hoped to run into George Clooney on a trip to Lake Como, Italy, where the actor lives. The travel team couldn't make that happen, but King did make a call to her friends who run a hotel there and arrange to have a George Clooney pillowcase waiting on the bed for her client.
"We joked with her that she would get to sleep with George Clooney," King says. "It's fun to have these relationships. That's the part of the job I love so much."