Passion for Cruises Led Her Here — A $3 Million Travel Agency

Amy Madson, of Madson & Associates, a Dream Vacations franchisee, wasn’t necessarily looking to become a travel advisor, although she had a feeling she’d probably be quite good at it after years of taking cruises and being ingrained in the planning process. It piqued her interest enough, though, that she spoke about it with her travel advisor at the time—some 20 years ago—and said, “You know, I’m thinking of trying this on a part-time [basis].” Her travel advisor’s response? “You’d be so good at it. I’d leave my clients with you right now because you know so much about the business.”

Riviera River Cruises to Debut 3rd Ship for Duoro River Voyages

How to Sell to Millennial & Gen Z Travelers

How are Millennial & Generation Z travelers the same? How are they different? What makes them tick when it comes to travel planning and booking? Are these two generations that sit side-by-side looking for the same travel experiences and destinations? What role does social media and technology truly play in their travel decisions? 

For your business to continue to grow well into the 21st century, these are the questions you need to be asking yourself. Millennials, even with a growing family, aren’t leaving the travel scene behind, and Generation Z, those born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, are being called “Millennials on steroids” when it comes to their travel plans. Two generations; two mindsets—here, we’ve got some of the tips and tools you’ll need to effectively serve these dynamic, globally minded, travel-smitten generations. 

For this report, we reached out to tour operators who sell to these specific demographics, as well as travel advisors, including some who are Millennials themselves; and we conducted a Millennial & Gen Z survey on to get your take on what’s happening with these demographics. 

Millennials and Gen Z travelers are eager to explore every corner of the globe and are opting for immersive experiences wherever they are. (Intrepid Travel)

Exploring the World Beyond the Road Most Traveled
“Millennials,” says Jacob Marek, founder & chief explorer of IntroverTravels, an affiliate of Tafari Travel, a Virtuoso member, “tend to be motivated mostly by uniqueness and a bit of travel envy. The word ‘authentic’ I think tends to get thrown around too often, but Millennials want to experience the world through the eyes of a local; if there is a scenic, Instagrammable image to go along with it, all the better.” 

In culling through all of the responses we received from both tour operators and travel advisors, you get a sense that both of these generations aren’t afraid to embrace the world and its myriad cultures. They want to explore, not just go on vacation; they want to understand the world, not just eat at the best restaurant. At the core, they want immersion, not just a visit to a destination. Kelly LaSlavic, a sales team lead with STA Travel—a student and youth travel agency—notes that “Millennial travelers, and even Gen Z travelers, that I have worked with seem to be most motivated by their desire to get more out of their travel than just a vacation. A majority of my passengers are traveling to be a part of something bigger and are visiting more remote areas to provide assistance and volunteer.”  

As Adam Cooper, president of Contiki USA, says, “Millennials want trips where they can see the most iconic sites, but also immerse into the local culture and dine at local restaurants, bars, etc. They want to go exploring, but also incorporate relaxation…. Generation Z travels to scope out the most off-the-beaten path and undiscovered experiences, such as sleeping in a floating river hut in Khao Sok, Thailand’s dreamiest yet undiscovered national park, or enjoying some local wine and cheese at a hidden restaurant in the backstreets of Ios, Greece.” Remote and undiscovered are indeed key motivators, with Leigh Barnes, Intrepid Travel’s director of North America, adding that “Gen Z travelers want the ‘backpacker’ style of travel, truly immersing in a destination and all it offers, whether that’s sleeping in a tent in Botswana’s Khama Rhino Sanctuary surrounded by zebras, giraffes and wildebeest, or sitting on the ground of a cave to eat with the Berber nomads in a cave in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.” Travel advisor Shelley Oliver, of Holidays by Jane, an affiliate of Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, points out that her last Gen Z booking was “for a young couple to an Icelandic working farm that has been converted into a hotel. They are thrilled to be able to live and eat as locals in this trending destination. Not your typical pub crawl.” 

Travel designer and Recommend contributor Susan Farewell goes even further, explaining that “travel plays a much bigger role in the lives of Gen Zs than Millennials. Gen Z’s parents got them a passport when they were born. They’re growing up with friends around the world and it’s expected that many study abroad (or will study abroad)…multiple times. This generation is also motivated to understand the world more, to build bridges, to help with world problems. There is a real passion for traveling and a natural tendency to think and live globally.” 

It’s All in the Experience
Experiences, experiences, experiences—that’s been a buzzword in the travel industry for quite a number of years, with Millennial travelers giving new meaning to the word in terms of how it relates to travel. Says travel advisor Cassandra Harris, with Accent on Travel, “As a Millennial-aged traveler myself, I value experiences over material things. If it means sacrificing a nicer hotel for more room in my budget to enjoy certain tours and attractions, that’s something I’m willing to do. It’s not enough now to just go to Cancun and swim at the beach or chill by the pool. Millennials want to take tours riding ATVs, go parasailing, swim in cenotes, they want to visit Chichen Itza.” 

Travel advisor Blaire Kochar, an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso member, concurs, stating that, “My parents and their friends feel that their time to travel is when they are empty nesters and retired. Before then, their paychecks went towards their big houses and country club memberships. Millennials feel differently. They don’t want to wait to experience bucket list destinations and don’t need big houses or fancy cars. They are putting their bonuses towards a safari to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, or a trip to Italy to celebrate their 30th birthday. They are realizing the importance of experiencing the world at a younger age.” 

Money, too, comes into play, of course, with travel advisor Allison Kobasky, owner and co-founder of Over The Moon Vacations, saying that “most Millennial travelers are motivated by price—they are researchers who want to know they are getting the absolute best price for something vs. being value-driven.” Gen Z travelers, she adds, “are going on smaller-budget trips with friends, or even solo backpacking trips.” 

Says Tiffany Harrison, senior marketing manager for STA Travel, “Compared to Millennial travelers, Gen Z travelers are even more conscious of budget; they are just as keen as Millennial travelers to have authentic, localized experiences, but they also want to make sure they’re being fiscally responsible about it.” And with Millennials now starting to have children, they, too, are looking for great deals, which is “one reason,” according to Connie Miller, v.p. of business development for Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, “Millennials like using travel agents who have access to certain upgrades and unique experiences. They want to explore without breaking the bank. They have worked hard and want to have experiences to show for it.” 

Millennials don’t want to wait to experience bucket-list destinations.

Sharing the Experience
Social media plays a role before, during and after a trip for both Millennials and Generation Z. They use social media to decide where to take their next trip, whether because an Influencer has been there or because it will resonate on their feeds, and for them it’s second nature to share their experience during and after the trip.  

As travel advisor Samantha Schultz, a Cruise Planners franchise owner, says, “You have to go where your clients hang out—Millennials love being on social media sharing their lives with the world, attending events and enjoying new experiences. There is a massive influence from social media, so I believe this trend will continue with future generations as more platforms continue to evolve. However, because Gen Z has never known a world without technology and social media, it’s even more important to have a presence; the challenge is that Gen Z can be harder to target because they aren’t as engaged on platforms like Facebook, but are very comfortable with Snapchat.” 

Social media plays a role before, during and after a trip for both Millennials and Generation Z.

Social media plays a role before, during and after a trip for both Millennials and Generation Z.

Emily Mikus, G Adventures’ 18-to-Thirtysomethings brand manager, adds that “Gen Z followers are more particular about who they choose to engage with. They are shifting toward content that is more visual, as everything is on their mobile devices. They are doing travel research through social and are heavily influenced by social media during the trip inspiration and planning phases. We think they are inspired by the opportunities to experience places like some of their favorite personalities on social media do, and to then show those experiences off to their friends to boost their own reputation.” 

STA Travel’s Harrison notes, too, that “being able to showcase their [Gen Z] experiences in a visual format (think: Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube) is one of the main reasons they want to get out and see a place for themselves. Like Millennials, they don’t just want to read about what’s out there, they want to capture their travels to share with friends and family during and after the fact.” Travel advisor Kochar points out, too, that Generation Z’s travel choices are influenced by social media in that they want to go to “hotspots they see on Instagram.” 

In fact, according to Cooper, Contiki USA’s president, “Gen Z is far more attuned to and influenced by social media, paying close attention to the lifestyle Influencers they follow…. When an Influencer recommends a certain travel destination or they see someone’s beautifully filtered picture, they are more likely to make that a future travel destination and change any preconceived notions.” 

“Gen Z,” says travel advisor Kasra Esteghamat, of Eden for Your World, an affiliate of Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, “desires to stay somewhere cool but inexpensive, and will use technology for many of their travel components in the belief that they can better become local on their own by finding things on Instagram and other social media sites.” But, says Harrison, “Gen Z won’t fall for marketing tactics that don’t feel personalized or resonate with their tastes. Just because a place or tour looks cool in an Instagram ad, doesn’t mean they won’t do their research first to make sure it suits their budget.” In fact, travel advisor Oliver says she’s seen some social media backlash as of late. She says clients are saying that they don’t want to consider areas or destinations when it appears that a resort (or destination) paid for celebrities or the “Internet famous” to promote.  

Unlike their older counterparts, Millennial-aged parents aren’t waiting to become empty nesters to discover a new destination, instead opting to travel with their children.

Unlike their older counterparts, Millennial-aged parents aren’t waiting to become
empty nesters to discover a new destination, instead opting to travel with their children.

The World is Their Oyster
With ages that range anywhere from 12 or 13 to about 23, Generation Z isn’t going all-solo on vacation. Many are still quite young and are still traveling with their parents and immediate family. But remember what travel advisor Farewell mentioned, these young teenagers had passports as soon as they were born, and their recommendation plays a big part in where the family goes for vacation. In fact, says Rainer Jenss, president & founder of Family Travel Association, “52 percent of U.S. parents say that their children are involved in the vacation-planning process. The bottom line is that kids today have more of a say than they used to, which is a good thing because it helps ensure the kids will enjoy the trip as they were involved in the decision-making—thus are more invested and engaged in the experience.” Adds Farewell, “Kids are calling the shots. They are smart travelers and see the world as their backyard. They’ve learned so much about the world through social media that they have clear ideas on where they want to go, what they want to see and how they will spend their time when they travel.” 

Since they live on the web, the knowledge they are receiving can’t be ignored by parents, and, says Max Ali, SITA World Tours’ director of group operations, “The information and knowledge that Gen Z acquires from the Internet will naturally, to some extent, affect and enhance their families’ travel planning; for example, which destination to choose.” With that in mind, it makes sense that you, as a travel advisor, include them in the vacation-planning conversation, because “Gen Zs are digital natives,” says Jared Alster, v.p. of marketing for Cox & Kings, the Americas. “They are much more well-researched when it comes to choosing a destination due to the enormity of information on the Internet.”   

Miller, of Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, points out, though, that Gen Z’s influence is greater felt during the vacation, “the activities and experiences that are selected. For example, Gen Z’s influence would be shown by a teen’s desire not to visit places that affront their value systems.” 

Tips from Millennial Advisors
Millennial-aged travel advisors have shaken up the travel industry; they are brash, confident, have traveled extensively, know the ins and outs of social media, and know exactly what their peers want. And because they are Millennials, they understand the mindset of young travelers.  

Millennial travel advisors recommend having a pulse on the latest trends, because, as Kobasky notes, “Destinations are constantly evolving. The best restaurants, buzzworthy places for Instagram pics, the coolest hotels to stay at are not the same now as they were 20 to 30 years ago. They might not even be the same as they were two years ago.” Marek says, too, that it’s important for travel advisors serving Millennials to “create innovative types of experiences.”

And with Millennials and Generation Z thriving on social media and apps, knowing how to use these tools to attract clients and keep in contact with them throughout the process is key. In fact, Kochar mentions that someone recently told her that, “‘your social media is your digital storefront,’” and Marek communicates with his Millennial-aged clients “on WhatsApp or Skype while they are on their trip.” Harris says, “Instagram is a great tool, because it’s so image-heavy. I enjoy promoting tourism on that social channel with pictures of my travels or of my clients’ travels.” 

That said, many of the advisors we spoke with mentioned that email is a fundamental part of how they communicate. “I’ve found that our younger clients are more inclined to communicate through emails and chats rather than on phone calls,” says STA Travel’s LaSlavic. “Email allows,” says Schultz, “both parties to communicate any time of the day and night.”

Young advisors also suggest creating several access points to clients, too, whether that’s creating a “communication inquiry link on a website, a quick text to answer outlying questions or providing access to a smartphone app that has integrated your personalized itinerary,” says Kochar. Kobasky even says that she works out of Google docs “so that clients can see changes as they’re being made in real time, and can also contribute comments, feedback and edits in one living document. Millennials LOVE planning this way.” 

But perhaps Schultz says it best: “At the end of the day, they want an expert, they want you to know as much or more than they do, and they want you to be engaging because that is going to shine through with what you can craft for their trip.” 

 * For this report, USTOA assisted Recommend in gathering responses from some of its members, including Cox & Kings, The Americas; Intrepid Travel; and SITA World Tours. Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel polled its 400+ employees and independent contractor travel advisors for insight to our questions. 

For the Millennial & Gen Survey, which we conducted on, we reached out to Recommend readers to see what’s happening in their agencies when it comes to Millennial and Gen Z bookings: 

•48% of survey respondents said that their Millennial clients are motivated to travel to visit a new destination, with FIT tours being the top request. 

• 25% of respondents say that their Generation Z clients are looking for adventure travel.

• 55% of respondents said that their Millennial clients are taking 1 to 2 trips a year, with 33 percent of respondents noting that their client base in this age group is taking 3 to 4 trips a year. 72 percent of respondents, meanwhile, said that their Generation Z clients will be traveling 1 to 2 times this year, not surprising given that many are still in college and are less financially sound. 

68% of respondents say that they are finding Millennial clients through word of mouth, with 17 percent stating that social media is the channel that leads this age group to them. 

40% of respondents said that for their Millennial clients, social media plays a very important role in their clients’ travel planning, with 47 percent of respondents saying it is very important for Generation Z. 

63% of respondents note that younger-aged Generation Z travelers (those 17 and under) have a moderate influence on family vacation planning, with 23 percent saying it’s actually quite high. 

Where are They Going?
Interestingly, according to our readers, both age groups are going to the very international destinations that always poll high on “must-visit destinations”: Caribbean, Mexico and Italy, although many of our respondents also pointed to Croatia, Ibiza, France, and Vietnam/Cambodia as places of interest for Generation Z. For Millennials, Australia, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greece are a top draw. When it comes to their own backyard, both Millennials and Generation Z have an affinity, according to the survey respondents, to Florida, with Generation Z also heading to California, Las Vegas, and New York City. Millennials are jetting off to Hawaii, as well as Las Vegas and New York City, and they are interested in exploring the national parks, perhaps because they are starting to grow their family and this is a great option for parents with little ones.

Don’t miss the full Q&A interviews with the agents highlighted in this feature for more insight on how they got started, how they run their companies, and how you can reach their peers to increase your bookings.


Travel Advisor Corner: Charge Ahead: The Importance of Fees

Travel Advisor: The Importance of Fees

Susan Farewell

Many traditional travel agents I meet talk about the “old days.” The days when they got big commissions from the airlines, the days when agencies supported themselves on the commission system. Of course, those days are long gone. It’s a challenging new world for travel agents, and many of the storefront agencies have been shuttered. 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for travel agents. The smart ones have survived and in many cases, have thrived. How do they do this? Simple answer—they charge fees.  

Call them what you want, but in our agency, we have travel design/management fees which cover access to our extensive knowledge, ongoing research, booking and handholding throughout the planning process as well as while travelers are on the road. 

Our choices—whether they be finding the most tasteful, family-friendly small hotel in Zermatt or arranging a bike tour through Santiago—are the result of careful cultivation. We have not only tested these experiences and visited these properties, we have invested countless hours nurturing our relationships with local partners, hoteliers, outfitters, adventure companies, you name it. When our clients pack their bags and head to the Greek Islands, we have 100 percent confidence that they are going to be happy with our choices and the services we offer on the ground. 

And that, my dears, is why we charge fees.

So what do you do about the tire kickers who balk at having to pay fees? Quite simply, we move on. We don’t work for free. “Sorry I can’t help you” is a phrase I have uttered more than once. Or what about the old-fashioned clients who grew up with the idea that travel agents worked exclusively for commissions? Time to educate them. They want to go to Ireland for two weeks, stay in small authentic hotels, do some riding, fishing, visiting distilleries? Send them to your local travel agent’s shop on Main Street.

So just how much do you charge? This is an individual agency decision that has to work with your targeted demographic. As an agent or agency owner, it’s important to develop a policy that compensates you and your team adequately. Remember, you are not asking your clients to pay for keeping the lights on or to cover your rent. You are simply asking that they respect the time you are dedicating to their trip. 

Our fees are based on the length and complexity of the trip and the number of travelers. If it’s within six weeks of travel, we charge more for expediting. Air processing fees are a separate charge, as are special rail and ferry bookings.

For the people who come to us and just want a straightforward hotel booking, we don’t charge. But if they come to us saying, they want “someplace warm over the holidays,” we charge for what inevitably will be many hours of research.

It’s very important to understand that when you charge fees, you will likely have more demands from your clients. You have to be ready for that and have a policy in place
as to how to handle it. It’s also important to make it clear to them how available you
are. Many travel agents/advisors/designers today are basically on call 24/7. This alone is very valuable.

In fact, I have to go now. Just got a WhatsApp from my client staying at a farm
in Northern Norway. They want to stay another day.

Susan Farewell is the owner of Farewell Travels LLC (, a travel design firm based in Westport, CT. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @FarewellTravels.

Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo Unveils Enhancements

Peninsula Papagayo, a 1,400-acre premier resort and residential community on the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica that’s home to Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo and Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo, has unveiled the next phase of a more than $100 million community-wide transformation with new adventures, amenities, and enhancements, including a bike-share program, discovery-based explorations, resort enhancements and more. The peninsula, located 25 minutes from Liberia International Airport, is home to 11 miles of coastline, eight miles of bluff edges, seven sandy beaches and one of the few tropical dry forests on the planet.

Peninsula Papagayo

Bird’s-eye view of the peninsula. (Photo: Allen Kennedy)

All-new peninsula-wide enhancements that are being introduced through 2018 include:

  • Papagayo Explorers Club Programming Papagayo Explorers Club, the destination’s program of exclusive land, ocean, aerial and cultural immersion adventures that debuted earlier in 2018, has added new eco-adventures that showcase the nature, culture and spirit of Peninsula Papagayo and the surrounding Guanacaste region. Led by local expert guides, biologists, naturalists and translators, Papagayo Explorers Club now offers more than 25 only-here adventures. New experiences include a Cacao Volcano Expedition that grants rare access via 4×4 vehicles to a protected crater of an inactive volcano that houses Costa Rica’s lowest-altitude cloud forest and a guided naturalist hike to an active research station on the rim of the crater.
  • Four Seasons Resort Enhancements – The luxury resort will debut new and reimagined spaces in November 2018, including a new private concierge lounge that will feature a moss art wall that weaves in the peninsula’s lush landscape and interactive screens that showcase activities and explorations at the resort and across Peninsula Papagayo. The re-imagined spa will offer a serene arrival experience with illuminated lanterns; a new pre-treatment relaxation lounge and post-treatment indoor cabanas; elevated men’s and women’s locker rooms with new steam rooms, private showers and an outdoor terrace with hydrotherapy pools; spa treatment rooms with options including waterfall showers, private sauna and steam rooms, whirlpool tubs and ocean views; a Hammam room for unique Turkish bath experiences; new Ayurvedic spa treatments and much more. Additional resort enhancements include a new poolside juice bar and a revitalized fitness and wellness center with enhanced exterior space for ocean-view classes.
  • Papagayo Bike-Share Program – Peninsula Papagayo’s new bike-share program launched in August 2018 and features a fleet of 60 electric-assist bikes that make it easier and more fun to explore the peninsula from end-to-end. This new peninsula-wide mobility program is in partnership with Bewegen Technologies and offers GPS-enabled pedelec bikes and seven docking stations across the 1,400 acres.
  • Peninsula Papagayo Golf Clubhouse Renovation – A newly imagined golf clubhouse and signature restaurant—marking more than 10 reimagined dining destinations soon available across Peninsula Papagayo—will open in November 2018 following a renovation. The new design will pair rustic and geometric shapes with rich materials including teak, leather and stone to create a casually elegant environment that evokes the local Costa Rican culture.

    Family pool at Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.

  • Andaz Resort Enhancements – Launching in time for festive season, Andaz Costa Rica Resort will transform a vintage Volkswagen Kombi van into an Instagram-worthy poolside bar at the resort’s main pool deck. A new Nimbu water taxi will also transport guests to the recently opened Andaz Beach House and offer private boat tours and sunset cocktail cruises for groups, special events and weddings.
  • Marina Village Enhancements – A new gourmet market and reimagined Dive Bar will open in November 2018 at the marina village, which is an emerging hub and gathering spot overlooking Culebra Bay. The marina village is just steps from Marina Papagayo, the destination’s 180-slip premier superyacht marina.
  • Camp Jaguar– This new daily outdoor nature program is tailored for explorers ages 12-16 and encourages self-discovery and confidence, meeting new friends and establishing meaningful connections to the undiscovered wilds of Peninsula Papagayo. Led by trained local experts, Camp Jaguar offers extreme forest adventures, ocean sports excursions, survival training, water safety courses and more. The Camp Jaguar program is available from November to April as well as in July and August.

For more information, visit For more on luxury hotels around the world, click here.