This year marks the 35th in business for Avenue Two Travel, based in Bryn Mawr, Pa. The agency has come a long way in those four decades, with a 33% increase in team members so far this year, but remains a family operation at its core.
Avenue Two's story begins with Debbie and Craig Bush. Today, Debbie is the president and founder of the agency, while her husband, Craig, is its CFO. Their son, Josh, is CEO.
When Debbie and Craig were first married, Josh said, they traveled extensively. After Josh was born, friends and family always asked for Debbie's advice about travel. She decided to turn that advice into a career and went to work for Park Avenue Travel in Swarthmore, Pa.
Josh Bush, CEO of Avenue Two Travel. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Avenue Two Travel
After Debbie worked as an agent for around three years, she and Craig approached the owner and bought Park Avenue Travel in 1987.
While Craig did payroll on the weekends, Debbie "was the consummate salesperson," Josh said, and she helmed the business. Meanwhile, Josh grew up in the business, but decided to embark on a career in consumer finance for several years.
During that time, Josh said, "The business changed. It changed from being the local travel agency serving a local community to much more upscale."
Park Avenue Travel joined API Travel Consultants, the precursor to Virtuoso, and enmeshed itself firmly in the luxury space.
Meanwhile, Josh began working in commercial and investment real estate.
"The trips that I'm taking are domestic and checking into the Doubletree and getting my warm chocolate chip cookies -- that's my idea of what an amenity was," he recalled. But Debbie and Craig were off to South Africa and Machu Picchu and the like.
The elder Bushes began talking about future planning in around 2006. At the urging of Virtuoso, they decided to talk to Josh about taking over the business; the agency had four advisors at that point, including Debbie.
Making some changes
Wanting to reclaim the kind of travel he remembered doing as a child and spurred by some strategically placed photo albums of Debbie and Craig's adventures, Josh said yes.
"They brought me on in order to grow the business to be able to make it sustainable, so that we could provide a livelihood for other people," Josh said.
The agency started onboarding employees and independent contractors (ICs). They worked to find the right mix and refine the business; Josh was named CEO in 2014, and the agency moved from Park Avenue to a larger space and rebranded to Avenue Two Travel.
"That's really where the growth plan started," he said.
The agency went from 25 to 50 employees and ICs -- and kept growing. Going into the pandemic, its headcount was around 93. And its focus was clear: Avenue Two would be a host agency, but also carry a balance of corporate business.
"We had gotten really good on the value proposition, on what it is that we offer an independent contractor," Josh said. "We truly see them as our own, internal clients."
Navigating the pandemic
Then, the pandemic happened. Avenue Two was fortunate in that its office lease was up in May 2020. The agency did not renew it and saved quite a bit in real estate costs. Josh said Avenue Two totally embraced going virtual and stayed in constant communication with its employees and ICs.
"It was completely weird, but by getting rid of the physical space, it actually brought our team closer together," he said.
In the past two years, Avenue Two has realized quite a bit of growth. Today, the agency stands at 70 ICs and 65 employees. In fact, Virtuoso recognized Avenue Two's company culture with the Virtuoso Culture Award in 2021.
Josh said Avenue Two is focused on supporting ICs by taking away the friction of selling travel and letting them do what they do best: storytelling with clients. For instance, Avenue Two offers marketing support and a full-service air department.
"We've put a lot of programs in place in order to make the job of the independent contractor easier, faster, better, as well as allowing them to reinvest and redeposit a lot of their hard-earned money into growing and expanding their businesses," he said.
Moving forward, Josh has his vision firmly set on sustainability and what the agency community can do to move the needle (especially when most clients aren't asking for sustainable travel).
Avenue Two is working with consulting firm Sustainable Wanderlust, which focuses on the luxury travel industry. The agency has also started the process of becoming B-Corp certified, which establishes interest in social responsibility as a company priority. In fact, Bush said, the agency is on target to be the first U.S.-based agency to achieve that certification.
Avenue Two has also implemented a training program for advisors to have meaningful, nonjudgmental and nonpolitical conversations with clients about sustainability.
The agency recently held its first The Collective event at the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia, giving advisors a chance to meet, network and connect with each other and suppliers.
Things continue to look bright, as well. Sales numbers are "way beyond" pre-pandemic numbers right now, Josh said, and Avenue Two's model seems to be working for both its employees and its ICs.
"It's a fabulous time to be in the business, and quite frankly, I think that we deserve it," Josh said. "We've all gone through some really, really difficult times. But those who have been able to persevere, and that's definitely our team, are now reaping the rewards of it, and we're on a growth trajectory as a result of it."