Popularity of ILTM underscores changing and growing advisor role

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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

With the seemingly endless boom in luxury travel, shows like International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) that connect top advisors with luxe suppliers have also enjoyed phenomenal growth.

Their increasing popularity not only underscores the expansion of the sector, but also the evolution of the role played by advisors and the rise in the number of new entrants to this once thought to be dying but now clearly revived and growing field.

At the recent ILTM North America, held in Mayakoba, Mexico, organizers said the size of the show had tripled since it opened eight years ago. And a full 71% of the 360 buyers from 153 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico were there for the first time.

"It has been growing about 5% year," said Simon Mayle, event director for ILTM North America. "This year we passed 10%, which was our target. It's the North American market. It's the power of that market. It's the biggest market in the world."

He said the fact that they are so many new luxury advisors who have the sales and references to qualify for an invitation to the show speaks to that power, as well as to the evolution of the agents and their role.

I met millennials who were just starting their careers in travel, veterans from well-established agencies and a number of independent contractors, some of whom who were launching second careers. No matter their experience level or agency affiliation, the common thread was their hunger for connections and information.

They want more than databases and web sites to search. They want real human connections and in-depth knowledge so they can craft truly personalized, quality trips for clients who want experts who can help them navigate the overwhelming amount of travel information on the internet

Among those attending for the first time was 27-year-old Lauren Shook, a travel concierge with the The Stein Collective, who became an advisor last year with the Ovation Travel Group affiliate in New York after working in lifestyle management.

ILTM, she said, provided her "wonderful exposure" to luxury travel companies from around the globe.

One of the best parts, she said, is the amount of time advisors get to spend with exhibitors. Llike other shows, the format is similar to speed-dating, but ILTM appointments are 15 minutes each, compared to four minutes at Virtuoso.

"I've gotten so much to take back to my team," Shook  said. "We pride ourselves on really staying current and up to date and kind of having our hands on the best of the industry."

Ovation Travel Group luxury advisor Harlee Rosenberg, who says he has been in the business "forever," said the show provided key access to new and existing suppliers he needs to know well in order to find the right trips for what he describes as a very sophisticated clientele.

"Our roles are certainly changing," he said of the agency world. "We're more consultants, walking clients through the destination, getting the clients excited for their trips."

And while Rosenberg said suppliers visit Ovation's offices often, and that he and industry friends travel and constantly share information about destinations and products, keeping up with the fast-growing luxury sector is "hard... Every market is so saturated."

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