What started out as something of an accident, as Annie Davis described it, has turned into an innovative concept: a luxury travel agency in Manalapan, Fla., next door to an art gallery, both serving the same clientele and presenting opportunities for cross marketing and promotions.
Annie Davis, owner and president of both Palm Beach Travel and Palm Beach Art.
Davis is the president and owner of Palm Beach Travel, an American Express affiliate, and Palm Beach Art. She started her agency in 2012 with one agent. Since then, Palm Beach Travel has expanded into a larger location and will have seven agents by year's end.
"Our business is continuing to grow," she said. "In our market here and in the luxury market, people are excited about a storefront travel agency."
Davis — who wears several other hats as the American Express Travel Insider for the British Virgin Islands as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — said her location is ripe for a luxury agency, with many clients having a connection to Palm Beach County, whether it's as a second home, a favorite vacation spot or having parents who live there.
Palm Beach Travel also offers something many leisure agencies have shied away from: a full-service air sales department.
"We've found that … the more fees, the more changes, the more restrictions that the airlines have, the harder it is for clients to [efficiently plan] their travel," Davis said. "They're confused about all the options, so we do have an amazing full-service air department."
Last October, when Palm Beach Travel expanded with a new location in the Plaza del Mar shopping center, Davis took more space than she thought she would need. Sheila Payne, owner of Sheila Payne Art, a gallery that was originally located next to the agency, was planning to sublet part of Palm Beach Travel's new space.
"We share the same clients," Davis said of herself and her friend. "Anyone with a disposable income of more than $10,000, they're either going to spend that $10,000 on art or travel."
The agency and art gallery are next door to each other in the Plaza del Mar mall in Manalapan, Fla.
In December, with the threat of a hurricane, Davis and her sons moved the gallery's art into the new space, which had hurricane-proof windows.
A week later, Payne was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She left Davis with her gallery.
"I knew nothing of art, except I know the travel industry, and I know what's trending in travel," Davis said.
After a recent trip to the International Leisure Travel Market in Cannes, France, one of the biggest trends she saw was hotels either opening up as museums or galleries where people could stay, or hotels that positioned themselves as art galleries.
"I felt that most of our clients, when they traveled, wanted an art aspect, so the more I kept thinking about the connection of art and travel, the more I was intrigued by linking the two," she said.
Davis had not yet closed off the wall between Palm Beach Travel and what would become Palm Beach Art when she was given the gallery, so she left the two spaces connected. She hired an art director to help identify the pieces that the gallery houses, which are often travel-related.
"Art inspires travel, and I think that travel, for a lot of our clients who are artists, travel inspires art," she said.
Some of the gallery’s artwork, which sometimes will be related to a travel event.
Now, the travel agency and the art gallery coexist, linked by their owner and clientele. Davis said she often holds travel events in the gallery space, switching out the art so it's related to the event (for example, images of Ireland during an event about the country).
Especially within the luxury market, Davis said, her travel clients are interested in in-destination activities that go deeper than the norm — especially in destinations that they've traveled to multiple times — and that often leads to something related to art.
"Now they're looking more for that immersion with that art aspect," she said. "For us as travel agents to be able to speak with a little more knowledge about the art — [like] about the Louvre opening in Abu Dhabi in a few months — while we're standing within an art gallery, I think that really gets them excited about their travel experience."
The art community runs deep in Palm Beach County, too, Davis said, and her agency/gallery is now linking artists with the larger travel industry.
She said Palm Beach Art is currently working with several hotels, as well as an airport and an airport lounge, on curating their public art.