What We Learned: SmartFlyer CORE 2020
Collaboration, Originality, Relationships + Education…this is CORE.
As a tribe of avid travelers, our advisors are spread across a dozen time zones at any given moment. Gathering our Smarties together in New York to kick off the year together is our answer to this geographic challenge, ensuring that we have the facetime needed to continue honing our craft. This year, we hosted over 120 travel agents and 40 partners as a part of our program centered on our shared passion for creating meaningful client experiences around the world.
First things first. Venue, please!
For our third annual CORE event, we chose to host our crew at Equinox Hotel Hudson Yards. As one of the sexiest hotel openings of the year, we were thrilled to make this lifestyle hotel our homebase. The ethos of the property is aligned with its fitness club partner, Equinox, empowering guests to activate their desires to live a high performance life. From the moment you check-in, not only are you a member of the club with access to its creative classes, but you also have the tech-forward spa, the mini-bar of dreams and heaps of plentiful healthy eats at your fingertips. | Book Your Stay >>
…this is the one time we all – agents, hoteliers, destination management companies, representation companies, etc. – get together to simply discuss the industry.
In the spirit of continual innovation, analyzing common threads amongst our community 0f advisors and partners is at the heart of this annual gathering. We checked in with some of our agents to learn more about why they make the trip to New York, beginning with Chicago-based travel advisor Lauren David who shares, “I find CORE an important event to attend every year because unlike the trade shows, where hoteliers are presenting and the schedules are crazy, this is the one time we all – agents, hoteliers, destination management companies (DMCs), representation companies, etc. – get together to simply discuss the industry. New trends, challenges we’re facing, how we’re booking and ultimately, how we can improve together. It is a great meeting of the minds and leaves everyone excited to execute the year ahead.”
Beyond the ‘Gram
Our day one itinerary was a series of breakout sessions tailored to the various interests of our advisors’ unique clients. We paired DMCs with some of our experiential product partners (think: riding through the Rocky Mountains by rail, biking through wine country with tastings along the way, heli-skiing near the Arctic Circle and so much more) for a discussion on what truly goes into making a trip a lifelong story. NYC-based advisor Xavier Cano moderated one of the panels, noting that, “Moments like winding through Tuscany to learn pasta-making techniques from ‘nonna’ or executing a highly personalized Iceland adventure to see the Northern Lights are the special memories that our clients come to us to curate. As travel advisors, it’s our job to create relationships with partners all over the world who are plugged in to the local landscape. They are the key to making these exciting moments possible.”
Let’s Set Sail
Meanwhile, some of our top cruise advisors Sue Bradley, based in Vancouver, and Deborah Director, based in Boca Raton shared some meaningful takeaways in the way of trends across the high seas.
- Private Islands: Cruise lines are upping their experiences on their proprietary islands! For example, when it comes to cutting-edge Virgin Voyages, Richard Branson’s Beach Club at Bimini blends the best of the Maldives and Mediterranean beach clubs. This private beach club experience will be available only to guests on the Lady ships.
- Phenomenal F&B: From collaborations with celebrity chefs to nods to local culinary culture, cruise kitchen teams are sourcing fresh food from local purveyors. In some cases, guests can even take an excursion with the cruise team to visit the local markets
- Wellness: Cruises have partnered with spas, personal trainers and fitness instructors to really elevate the on-board experience. We’re now seeing spin studios and on deck yoga, ensure that a sense of improved wellness is souvenir!
- Access: With the many options for cruising – yachting, expedition, sailing, river and ocean – cruisers can access geographic regions not accessible by land. This adds an element of excitement even for those who wouldn’t traditionally gravitate towards cruising.
This level of environmental consciousness adds to the overall client experience, allowing them to return home with a better understanding of the impact their travel makes on the broader ecosystem.
Finally, tying together our cruise sessions with our hotel and experiential partners, NYC-based travel advisor Tom Bartholomew shares how both sides are committed to sustainability. “Reducing and eliminating single use plastics on board and within hotels is where it starts, but it goes deeper than getting rid of water bottles. For example, some newer cruise ships feature hybrid, electric engines that are more fuel efficient, complete with LED lighting and reinforced insulated windows, reducing energy demands. And boutique lines are even partnering with conservation organizations to take guests out to witness unprecedented breakthroughs in scientific understanding of marine biodiversity. This level of environmental consciousness adds to the overall client experience, allowing guests to return home with a better understanding of the impact their travel makes on the broader ecosystem.”
It Takes a Village
After CORE, I think we are all acutely aware that our clients not only benefit from our own knowledge and expertise but from our collective experience and curation.
Beyond the exciting talk around product, our independent contractors come together to collaborate in ways that extend into their approach to their own businesses. Manhattan-based advisor Susan Andrzejewski shares, “I spent three days thinking about the age-old saying that ‘it takes a village.’ My biggest takeaway was that the energized and passionate village we are a part of makes our life – and those of our clients – pretty sweet. After CORE, I think we are all acutely aware that our clients not only benefit from our own knowledge and expertise but from our collective experience and curation. SmartFlyer is truly unique in the way we support one another and also in the way that we interact with our fantastic partners.”
Mental Health Matters
As we crafted the programming for CORE 2020, one of the topics that kept coming up was juggling our professional and personal lives. Perhaps in opposition to the widely held belief that establishing boundaries allows for one to separate office life from home life, in a business where the vast majority of our Smarties have their office in their home, we tend to agree that there is no such thing as “work-life balance.” So, instead, our conversations on topic centered on how we find our own version as entrepreneurs, working parents and people who genuinely love what we do everyday. To facilitate these breakout conversations, we were fortunate enough to bring in Melissa Brenner, Executive Vice President of Digital Media at the NBA and Dr. Donna Demetri Friedman, PhD, Executive Director at Mosaic Mental Health.
…we’re a team and a support system, all working to do our best in the job we love for the clients we love!
Upon sitting in on the session, ‘The Struggle is Real” led by Dr. Friedman and Miami-based advisor Kyle Seltzer, Newport Beach based agent Taylor Methfessel shared, “My biggest takeaway from CORE was the recognition that we all struggle with balance and boundaries, and the constant flux between our work lives and our personal lives. Mental health is something that isn’t often discussed, so the Mosaic Mental Health panel that we had that week was incredibly informative and appreciated. Most importantly, I felt as though it really brought our agents together and allowed us to bond in a new way – which was bonding in the reminder that we’re a team and a support system, all working to do our best in the job we love for the clients we love!”
Your CORE Story
Moving on from chatting through our strategies around mental health, our partners and Smarties broke out into storytelling sessions. These one-on-one conversations helped bring the unique value of each partners’ product to life. We loved seeing our team continue to deepen existing relationships as well as tap into ones, networking with the magic-makers who ensure our clients are cared for from takeoff to touchdown, and everything in between. As we broke out into evening activities, our advisors grouped up into sixteen hand-selected dinner groups designed to not only make sure they got a taste of some of New York’s hottest spots, but also to continue the conversation.
Climbing the Vessel when it was privatized for the SmartFlyer team symbolized the way we kind of work as an agency. We are always climbing, each through varying professional and personal paths, but we connect with colleagues in various parts of the path through collaboration and teamwork.
Early bird gets the worm, right? We were thrilled to kick off a frigid day two with VIP access to Hudson Yard’s main attraction, the Vessel, before it opened to the public! We couldn’t imagine a better way to start the day than with a breathless climb up its 154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs, encompassing almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings. Manhattan-based travel advisor Mauricio Buenaventura shares, “As someone who has lived in New York for a long time, this new neighborhood and interactive art piece are a place of discovery and showed me how this city is constantly transforming and evolving in front of our eyes. New York is never static. Climbing the Vessel when it was privatized for the SmartFlyer team symbolized the way we kind of work as an agency. We are always climbing, each through varying professional and personal paths, with different views and perspectives, but we connect with colleagues and friends in various parts of the path through collaboration and teamwork. In the end, at the top, we always rise and come together united, headed in the same direction, pushing for excellence in the travel industry.”
Leaning into the education pillar of CORE, we were fortunate enough to welcome a lineup of inspirational speakers to motivate our team as we dove into day two. Liz Taylor, Global Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett, joined our Managing Director (and her travel agent!) Erina Pindar to discuss creativity in its many forms. We learned how she approaches her work in the advertising space in addition to how travel is her self-proclaimed ‘greatest luxury.’ From an economics perspective, we were fortunate to have Ben Trodd, SVP of Global Sales and Hotel Marketing at Four Season Hotels and Resorts alongside Shaiza Rizavi, Partner, Managing Member and Money Manager at Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co, moderated by our CEO, Michael Holtz.
…every person you come in contact with, you can learn from to better your business and yourself.
To close the speaker series, author (and long-standing SmartFlyer client!) Mark Jeffries took the stage. His dynamic presentation delved into “The Art of Business Influence” and shared the importance of self-awareness in all that we do. He discussed how to engage with people, pay attention to their body language, and ultimately how to sell yourself. Walking away from the speaker series, New York-based agent Meg Dube shares, “Travel planning isn’t limited to hearing about destinations and hotels – the beauty of this industry is learning from the likes of Chief Creative Officers, stock market experts and motivational speakers who can help translate their knowledge in to better serving our clients. Everyone is a potential client and every person you come in contact with, you can learn from to better your business and yourself.”
With a crew of highly competitive professionals, we couldn’t resist working in some good old fashioned trivia into the program. But, of course we flipped the script and made sure the questions reflected the incredible stories behind the forty brand partners we had in the room. Some of our favorite facts we learned along the way? We’ve rounded them up below ICYMI.
- J.K. Rowling finished writing “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” while at The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel in Scotland
- The Karl Lagerfeld Apartments at Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel have a room dedicated the iconic designer’s beloved feline, Choupette
- COMO Hotels and Resorts is owned by the wealthiest family in Singapore with the brand acronym being an ode to their family members, Christina Ong and Melissa Ong
- At Belmond Hotel Cipriani, the architect mistook the feet for metres and the pool accidentally became Olympic-sized, ensuring lots of room for laps while in Venice
If you ask us, any effective gathering ends with an epic party. But, in our business, it’s all about the details; so, we were sure to work with some incredible partners to make the magic happen. Our friends over at floralbrook set the tone with stunning arrangements while our favorite West Village hangout, Left Bank, kept delish bites flowing. And to really up the ante, we brought in a special guest set the tone for the night; DJ Philippe Paris, the man behind those legendary Sunday sessions at St. Barth’s Nikki Beach, got us all on the dance floor.
Thanks! Grazie! Merci!
We’d be remiss not to give a shoutout to each and everyone of our incredible partners in attendance this year for making CORE 2020 such a success. Special thanks to 1 Hotels, Abercrombie & Kent, Accor, Belmond, Celebrated Experiences, COMO Hotels and Resorts, Crystal Cruises, Dominique Debay Hotels, Resorts & DMCs, DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co., Eleven Experience, Equinox Hotels, Experience Morocco, Faena, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Luxury Brands, House Collective, Hyatt, Israel My Way, J.K. Places, Leading Hotels of the World, Lush Experiences, Luxury Retreats, Mandarin Oriental, Montage Hotels & Resorts, Noble House, One&Only, PrivateFly, Provenance Hotels, Queen of Clubs, Rascal Voyages, Rebecca Recommends, Ritz-Carlton Yacht, Rocco Forte Hotels, Rocky Mountaineer, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Seabourn, SeaDream, Singita, Six Senses, The Harlowe Group, Viking River Cruises and Virgin Voyages.
Until next year!