Recent breakthrough voyages by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin have lots of people talking about commercial space flight. Josh Bush, the CEO of Philadelphia-based Avenue Two Travel, a Virtuoso network agency, was one of the first travel advisors to gain certification from Virgin Galactic as an Accredited Space Agent well over a decade ago. Senior editor Robert Silk recently spoke with Bush about selling the Great Beyond.
Q: Why is there a need for a travel advisor to become specially trained to sell space?
A: I should be very clear that I don't work for Virgin Galactic. I can offer my personal opinion on the space industry. The objective was to have travel advisors experience and understand the very complicated nature that it's going to take to sell a specialized product like Virgin Galactic. And while their goal has always been to open up space to as many people as possible, obviously at its price point, customers are going to have a lot of questions. We took a lot of time to go through the science that is involved but then also the unique technology and how different the Virgin Galactic model and technology is over what you saw with Blue Origin. It is about understanding the technology behind Virgin Galactic and how it is an air-launch system that is very different than the traditional ground-launch rocket system that we have become so accustomed to seeing.
Q: What did it take to become certified?
A: It was through Virtuoso. They had hundreds of applications, and they looked at your ability to sell, your passion toward the product, your ability to reach in-network with potential Virgin clients. We went through a number of interviews with Virtuoso and Virgin Galactic personnel, and then at that point in time 50 of us were chosen.
Q: I have read that Virgin Galactic has booked 600 reservations at $250,000 or more. Have you sold any of these?
A: We had three of those sales. The clients are in various stages of deposit. And just about two years ago, Virgin Galactic, for a very short period of time, initiated what is called the One Small Step program. And I signed up at that point.
Q: Does that mean you get to go to space?
A: Yes. I'm one of hundreds that are on the waitlist and put a deposit down in order to buy a ticket at a future date. One Small Step was focused on not selling an actual ticket but, again, having additional interest in the program and capitalizing on a lot of the test flights that Virgin Galactic was doing. I would say we're probably going to be your 1,000th passenger-and-beyond type of thing depending on how many tickets have already been sold.
Q: Would you be paying full price?
A: Absolutely pay full price.
Q: OK, so you are selling space travel, and you are also willing to pay for it. Why is it worth spending that enormous sum of money?
A: Travel is a force for good. It has transformative properties. And whether it's hearing Richard speak or talking to other astronauts about what they experienced when they are able to look back at the Earth and see where they come from, it gives you a different outlook, a different perspective. To me this is kind of the ultimate travel opportunity, and to be a pioneer at the dawn of a new industry, to be able to have this unique perspective of being able to see the globe in a way that only a handful of people have, I think that it will just enrich me and enrich my life and hopefully pave the way for many, many more to come in the future.
Q: What is your advice to other travel advisors who might want to get involved in selling space?
A: I think it will be quite some time before we'll be able to open up to a huge market, but for those of us who plan to be in this career for the next 20 or 30 years, we've got some really exciting things ahead of us as far as different products to sell. We've always sold the world, and now we can sell beyond it, as well.