How does one become a travel agent to the
rich and famous? Being in the right place at the right time and
having a background that opens a few key doors help, of course. But
above all, said Gary Mansour, "those who don't take 'no' [from
suppliers] will be successful. I don't take 'no.' "
requires very good relationships with owners or managers of
high-demand hotels, restaurants and other products. Mansour, who
called himself "gregarious and easygoing," says he cultivates these
relationships with relative ease.
"I do it in my
sleep," he said.
rich-and-famous clientele does not take pedigree. Mansour, who
cofounded the Mansour Travel Co. in Beverly Hills, Calif., along
with his wife, Kay, describes himself as "just a kid from
That kid left
Youngstown, Ohio, spent a few years abroad and then went to
California where, when working for Hoffman Travel, he got his first
taste of the agency business and of tending to demanding clients in
the entertainment field.
He started his own
business in 1980, and Kay joined soon after. The pair aren't big on
titles, but she is the administrator and he is the salesman, the
one suppliers see.
Although he is
available to any client 24/7, "I'm more friends with people in the
industry than with my clients," he said.
It is those
supplier relationships that make it possible, even easy, to deliver
what his demanding clients want, he added.
the agency with a handful of individual clients in the
entertainment business and a few companies. Referrals by clients
fostered growth. Mansour Travel still does not promote its
services, relying on word of mouth.
Today, the agency's
mix is about 70% individuals and 30% small businesses that buy
high-end travel and are generally owned or operated by people who
first were clients for personal travel.
In the last five
years, Mansour Travel has charged clients an annual fee ($10,000
initially, $15,000 now) to, essentially, join the club. That has
changed the type of clientele somewhat, Mansour said, by
diminishing the entertainment share and bringing in those from the
world of finance and the like.
The entry fee also
creates a tighter and businesslike bond between agency and clients,
he said. Also, if clients need an in-person meeting, they make an
The agency also has
birthed a sub-niche or two. For the past 20 years, Mansour has
charged all comers a fee of at least $500 to get rooms at the
Cannes Film Festival. He blocks many rooms for theBerlin, Cannes,
Sundance, Toronto and Venice festivals. His fee is $500 to $1,500
for a room in Cannes, the rate determined by the room. Fees are
less, $250 and up, for other festivals.
provide the only circumstance when nonclients, those "outside the
club," can book. "And they get a taste of what I do, what I have
access to," Mansour said.
The agency's other
niche is acting as a broker for clients who want to travel on
private air charters, something Mansour took on when seeing more
customers opt for private flying after 9/11.
clients that using the agency as a broker was in their interests.
He told some clients that they "paid more attention to their choice
of hairdressers than to those who fly their planes."
This niche spawned
the Avion Private Jet Club, a membership-based business that
operates two roundtrip Los Angeles-New York flights a
Making the changes
necessary to start this operation, as well as providing the funding
himself, was the hardest thing he has ever undertaken in business,
Mansour said. Service was launched 18 months ago, and he projects
it will pay for itself by second-quarter 2007. The club has 60
members, not necessarily all clients of the agency, now paying
$18,000 to $75,000 a year plus $7,000 one-way on flights. A
member's guest pays the $7,000 plus a nonmember's premium. Annual
renewals are half the prevailing entry rate.
Avion, like the
travel agency, has grown based on word of mouth. Now, investors are
looking at Avion. Mansour aims to grow the business with
additional routes and will need those
investors to make that happen. With outside investment, he said, "I
could really bust out."
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Versailles, with jet-set style
Gary Mansour, travel agent to the rich and
famous, routinely plans client trips that include over-the-top
elements combined with the pleasures of a great destination.
Mansour doesn't put together group trips, but Travel Weekly asked him to
put together an FIT itinerary that reveals something of what he
might book for a client. Here is what he came up with: A three-day
trip to Paris.
Fly Air France
first class, nonstop from New York to Paris. Make your home for the
next three days at the Plaza Athenee in an elegant one-bedroom or
junior suite facing Avenue Montaigne with a view of the Eiffel
Dine at Hiromatsu.
Despite the name, it is French, not Japanese, and it is just
fantastic. Previously located on the Ile St. Louis, it is now in
the Eighth Arrondissement. On another evening, eat at Comptoir, one
of the hottest bistros in Paris. There is normally a three-month
wait to get in.
For a very special
experience and unforgettable memory, have lunch at the Parliament
Building, hosted by the president's wife, in a room where major
French policy is decided.
For fun during the
day outside the French capital, have your chauffeur take you into
Champagne country. Alternatively, or in addition, have a picnic in
royal style, delivered by horse-drawn carriage a la Louis XIV on
the grounds of Versailles.
For a night in
Paris, go to one of the popular nightclubs, Pache. And, of course,
be sure to drop by at the bar off the Plaza Athenee lobby; it is
one of the hippest in Paris.
Return by Air
France to New York, perhaps in time to catch our Avion Private Jet
Club to Los Angeles, if that is your next destination.
Itinerary is an example of an itinerary an agent crafted his or
herself, not available anywhere else, but can be duplicated by
other agents to sell to their clients. To send an example of an
itinerary you've customized, e-mail to [email protected] with "Perfect Itinerary" in
the subject line.