From Hotelier to Travel Advisor: Why Liana Made the Switch
In a business that’s all based on relationships, we hold ours with hoteliers – that is, the behind-the-scenes magicians who make your stay extra special – near and dear.
So, when one of the finest in the business, Liana Merriman, was ready to make the jump from the hotel side to become a SmartFlyer agent, we were honored. This transition isn’t one that happens often and particularly not with the sophistication with which Liana has demonstrated – as noted when she was our first ever agent to be recognized as a SmartFlyer Rising Star before reaching her first full year as an advisor. To learn more about how she did it, we sat down to chat with her on the switchover.
We understand that your obsession with luxury hotels began as a teenager. What do you think it was about these properties that immediately had you hooked?
I’m not sure exactly when or how my passion for travel and luxury hotels began. I do remember that as a kid, I would study the Travel + Leisure issues that got sent to our house periodically. When the internet became more available, I recall staying up late with my lights out and my screen dim, looking up hotels online when I should have been sleeping or studying for my exams! The first property I discovered and became obsessed with was the Four Seasons Nevis. And the first brand I truly swooned over was Aman Resorts (then only a handful of properties) which to me, seemed like the most perfect and beautiful places on earth. Fast forward many years later and I ended up honeymooning at Amanwella and Amangalla in Sri Lanka!
…I was fortunate enough to have parents who took us on an annual family vacation; they believed in the power of travel and the importance of that time spent together as a family.
While no one in my family worked in hospitality or in the travel business, I was fortunate enough to have parents who took us on an annual family vacation; they believed in the power of travel and the importance of that time spent together as a family. When I was sixteen, my biggest success as an “amateur travel agent” was convincing my parents to take my two siblings and me to Tahiti. It was the most lavish trip we ever went on as a family and I couldn’t believe how my powers of persuasion had paid off! I even did a rookie site inspection of the Hotel Bora Bora and brought home brochures that to this day still hang on the wall of my childhood bedroom.
You have a Master’s degree in hospitality management from Cornell…that’s pretty impressive! How do you find yourself applying your education from one of the most prestigious schools in the country to your business?
One of my favorite stories about my time at Cornell goes back to my freshman year when I wrote a 5-page essay to my parents begging them to allow me to transfer from the College of Arts and Sciences to the School of Hotel Administration (where my roommate was enrolled). In the end, I ended up remaining in my original program and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History. But, I never wavered from my wish to somehow, someway, work in hotels. I was fortunate enough to have been able to spend a fifth year at school to complete my Master’s degree in Hotel Management leaving university with (finally!), the hotel-specific education that aligned with my passions.
My biggest takeaways were how to have thoughtful conversations, write eloquently, to always follow-up…
While it’s truthfully hard to remember the exact things I learned in school (it was a long time ago!), I think some of the most important things I gleaned from my time at Cornell weren’t in the curriculum. My biggest takeaways were how to have thoughtful conversations, write eloquently, to always follow-up and how to put your best foot forth while networking. Today, I really value access to the incredible alumni network; I’m forever grateful to be a part of the Cornell community. Go, Big Red!
Initially, you began your career in the travel industry on the hotel side working at prestigious brands like Rosewood Hotels and Four Seasons. What was your most valuable lesson learned during your decade of work on the hotel side?
Sometimes I catch myself wishing I had found my career as a travel advisor earlier, knowing now that it’s the job I was born to do. But then I think about how much I learned during my decade working in hotels…and I quickly take it all back. Working on the property side in operations, revenue management and sales – particularly participating in the opening of Four Seasons New York Downtown – taught me so much about what makes a hotel work from the inside-out.
My experience “on the other side” truly makes me a better travel advisor, both in building authentic relationships with my clients, my colleagues and my hotel partners.
These projects gave me personal, hands-on experience with property management systems, sales and revenue tools, pricing models, operational strategies, housekeeping plans and more. In my career as a travel advisor, I feel that because of this background I better understand how my clients’ reservations look in the hotels’ system. This way, when I book them, I know exactly what goes on at the property in the days leading up to their arrival and how their stay should go once they check-in. My experience “on the other side” truly makes me a better travel advisor, both in building authentic relationships with my clients, my colleagues and my hotel partners.
As a hotelier, you forged relationships with travel industry professionals much like yourself today. What inspired you to go out on a limb and switch to the other side of the business?
I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to have a career in travel and hospitality, but with my limited access to the ins-and-outs of the luxury travel industry, I thought my only option would be to work for a hotel. When I graduated from college, I went door-to-door to every luxury hotel in New York City and Boston with my resume, in my nicest suit and applied for any job I could get! I ended up working the overnight shift at the front desk of the Gramercy Park Hotel. It was such a fun first job and it got my foot in the door to allow me to work my way up within the New York hotel industry. I absolutely loved working on property at several well-known hotels in NYC, but once I started working with travel advisors as a Sales Manager with Rosewood Hotels and Four Seasons, I realized that planning trips for other people was a real career I could pursue. I knew it was only a matter of time before I switched sides!
You’ve created your own brand under the SmartFlyer umbrella, with a fun social footprint that constantly takes us along on your adventures. What does “Swoon Travel” represent to you?
My clients appreciate that I often share destinations, hotels and experiences that are unique and off-the-beaten path.
To me, Swoon Travel means so many things, but one of the pieces of feedback I often receive about my social media presence is that my clients appreciate that I often share destinations, hotels and experiences that are unique and off-the-beaten path. So, for example, I love learning about and sharing the latest on glamping tents, limited-time wellness retreats, glass igloos, exclusive-use ships that can take you to untouched islands, geodomes in the middle of the desert…things like that. I view part of my role as an advisor to be an educator, so I love sharing new products with my clients.
Your husband is from the U.K. which means you’re often traveling across the pond. Any tips for exploring the English countryside like a local?
I think my biggest tip is to find a partner who will willingly drive you on the “wrong” side of the road and not kill you in the process! Also, have a traditional (room-temperature) ale in a proper pub, get your fish & chips with mushy peas, make sure you wear your wellies and go for a walk along the many national footpaths that snake through the countryside. Expect to get very muddy and rained on! I’ve loved visiting the Cotswolds and Leicestershire where my husband is from, but I still have places like Cornwall, Yorkshire and the Lake District on my U.K. bucketlist!
With over 40 countries visited, it’s certainly near impossible to pick a favorite, but which destination do you find yourself returning to again and again? Does any particular hotel fall into the “repeat offender” category?
Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands! I cannot wait for it to reopen in March 2020. I truly think it is one of the most magical places on earth and it’s going to come back even better than ever! My biggest tip to clients staying here is to be sure to visit “The Baths.” This iconic BVIs rock formation allows visitors to hike through caves, discover rock pools, see secret beach and climb on giant boulders. It’s so much fun!
We know that the nature of this business is that you’re forever adding new destinations to your bucketlist. What spots are calling you most right now?
Going on an African safari is high on my list! I’ve been working on so many once-in-a-lifetime trips to South Africa and East Africa for clients lately and their photos are giving me major FOMO! A few other experiences that are pulling on my heartstrings are chasing the Northern Lights in Scandinavia, sailing the Komodo Islands in Indonesia and oyster/wine tasting in Tasmania.
You’re an avid reader. Do you ever choose books based on your travels? Any favorites as of late?
I just got back from Greece where I spent a week exploring the island of Crete. While I was there, we visited an island called Spinalonga which sits just off the coast from the resort town of Elounda and has a long and interesting history as a fortress, port and one time, even a leper colony. Just before we arrived, I started reading “The Island” by Victoria Hislop, which is a fictional account of a family and its ties to Crete and Spinalonga. It brought our visit to life and I was enthralled both by the destination and the book! Gearing your reading around an upcoming trip is one of my favorite travel tips; it’s perfect way to enhance a visit to a historical destination!
In your view, what’s the hottest new hotel opening set for 2020?
Have you seen the new Arctic Bath Hotel opening next year in Swedish Lapland? Swoon!
Ready to start chatting about your next swoon-worthy vacation with Liana? Get in touch to begin the planning process.