SmartFlyer CORE: It's All About Relationships

Contributed By Kayla Douglas

As industry thought-leaders and natural-born trendsetters, Smarties take hospitality seriously. Our passion goes far beyond making a booking; instead, ensuring that our discerning guests depart their destination with a story to tell for a lifetime. SmartFlyer CORE is our annual opportunity to further hone our knowledge as we collaborate not just with our partners, but with one another to help create these unforgettable moments for our clients.

Putting the “R” (for Relationships) in CORE

With Collaboration, Originality, Relationships and Education as the tenets of this annual agency-wide conference, we focused on the “Relationships” piece as our overarching theme this year. That being said, each session in the three-day programming was crafted to further enhance our agents’ relationships both with one another and with the hotel partners from across the world in attendance. By strengthening the relationships between our advisors and the suppliers who make the magic happen for our clients, we better ensure that we deliver on the personalized service SmartFlyer is known to offer guests.

Charitable Giving

Instead of hosting a kickoff cocktail party, we welcomed our agents to this year’s event with a volunteer activity at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. We were so happy to work with our partners (and clients!) at JDJ Foundation to organize the activity. Much the way our clients lean on us to execute all the finer points for their trips, we loved that JDJ acted as a conduit to our charitable giving. In addition to contributing to our shared donation, their relationship with Holy Apostles is long-standing, so we were able to lean on their expertise when it came to all the details.

HQ team members Yani Checo, Michael Holtz and Xavier Cano

As the largest soup kitchen on the East Coast, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen’s mission is “to feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, seek justice for the homeless and provide a sense of hope and opportunity to those in need.” We were fortunate enough to have 30 SmartFlyer volunteers stationed all around the church during our meal service, doing anything from greeting guests, serving coffee, clearing trays or handing out bread to take home. If you’d like to learn more about Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen or even volunteer yourself, feel free to reach out to JDJ Foundation for more information.

Telling The Story

After our volunteer activity, we crossed the Hudson River for what we called our “Instagram Safari,” led by our dear friend Leila, founder of Leila Brewster Photography. We chose to dedicate time to this interactive photography lesson because if you ask us, travel is less about checking off boxes, but more about creating stories to tell for decades to come. As a part of our SmartFlyer CORE programming, we wanted to be sure to pass on some of the tools to taking better images so that our agents can tell the stories of their personal travels and business trips even more flawlessly.

When it's freezing and all you want to do is be back in 1 Hotel...run, don't walk!

Our session with Leila, held in the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge‘s stunning Riverhouse Suite, covered everything from lighting and composition to the patience often needed when snapping a photo. While we believe that it’s super important to be in the moment while traveling, it’s also incredibly powerful to capture the moment. Our business is about experiencing the world first-hand so that we can offer it to our clients, and in being able to show travelers exactly where we’ve been, we’re able to better paint the picture of where guests want to go for themselves.

Thanks to the incredible hospitality of 1Hotel, we held our Instagram Safari in the Riverhouse Suite

NYC Hotel Tours

With the official kickoff for the next day’s activities at the Roxy Hotel downtown, our group gathered bright and early to discuss their first assignment. As with all things SmartFlyer, we can’t do a hotel site inspection the “normal” (dare we say, boring?) way. So, we had our agents embark on our own version of a scavenger hunt through some of the top luxury hotels in NYC.

Kicking off our Smartie Hunt at the Roxy Hotel, HQ team Erina Pindar, Kayla Douglas and Ashley Melchiorre

With small groups of three to four agents each, our advisors visited three properties per group, all with the mission not only to learn more about some of our favorite partners, but also as a lesson in social selling. Our hotelier friends showcased the essence of their properties in the most unique ways! Uptown, we saw an etiquette class held at The Plaza Hotel, high tea at the Baccarat and fresh bellinis served in the Four Seasons New York‘s Ty Warner Penthouse suite, perfectly positioned on the 52nd floor.

Meanwhile in midtown, our friends at 21 Club gave us a sneak peek at their ‘hidden’ underground wine cellar boasting some 20,000 labels. Available only for private dining only, we loved getting a glimpse into this special space. Downtown, our advisors found themselves checking out some of the coolest properties in the most fun ways. The Beekman showcased their incredible Turret Penthouse Suite, while The Greenwich exhibited their famous Shibui Spa.

Social Selling

At the end of the day, one of the main differentiators that set our agents apart is that they weave social selling into their everyday life. It’s just what happens when you love what you do as much as the Smarties! But what really is social selling? How is it different than social media? We invited a panel of industry and non-industry experts to help us talk it out.

Our Social Selling panelists, Tiffany Dowd, Leila Brewster, Kelly Eastwood and Albert Herrera
Our social selling panelists from left to right: Tiffany Dowd, Leila Brewster, Kelly Eastwood and Albert Herrera

“I believe in quality over quantity. It’s not about the amount of followers you have, it’s about how relevant they are to your business.” – Leila Brewster

Our panelists, led by moderator Erina Pindar, for this session included Albert Herrera (Virtuoso Travel, SVP Global Product Partnerships), Leila Brewster (Leila Brewster Photography, Founder), Tiffany Dowd (Luxe Tiffany, Founder) and Kelly Eastwood (The London Chatter, Influencer). Together, we discussed everything from personal branding to staying authentic with your audience and loved how each panelist brought a bit different perspective to the conversation.

At the heart of everything, we discussed how a connection may start behind a screen, but fostering real relationships offline is what’s really important when it comes to social selling. Engaging with avid travelers via engaging content matters, but what truly sets a SmartFlyer advisor apart is that we offer clients a human touch when crafting their bookings. To us, it’s all about making their lives easier and ultimately cutting through all the noise they see online. Social selling is a slow process rooted in providing value to your network, whether or not their is an immediate outcome for your business; we see that it’s the long-game and authentic relationships, that truly make an impact.

After hearing from our panelists, we turned the mic over to our audience. We loved the curiosity brought by NYC-based Suzy Xiu
After hearing from our panelists, we turned the mic over to our audience. We loved the curiosity brought by NYC-based Suzy Xiu

Learning from the Best in the Business

We feel strongly that in order to continue enhancing the bonds within our tight-knit SmartFlyer community, we have to recognize the different crossroads at which every agent finds themselves. So, we had the group of over one hundred agents in attendance split in two, choosing to listen either to our [simultaneous] Rising Star or SmartFlyer ONE panels. With our Rising Stars made up of advisors with three or less years excelling in their business and SmartFlyer ONE panelists being comprised of our top ten agents, each brought a different perspective.

Our Rising Star panel moderated by Erina Pindar, from Liana Merriman, Addie Bell, Katie Mohammed and Lauren Tulp
Our Rising Star panel moderated by Erina Pindar, from Liana Merriman, Addie Bell and Katie Lee

In the Rising Star panel, we heard a few common threads over and over again. For instance, while destination specialties are prevalent – for instance, panelists are experts in places like Greece or the Maldives – our top agents are specialists in their clients above all else. A recurring theme amongst the SmartFlyer ONE panelists was a keen awareness of current events. To provide optimal value to clients, it’s crucial that our community is dialed into information coming directly from our suppliers all over the world. Ultimately, it’s our job to be a sounding board and offer expert guidance, backed by in-destination hoteliers and ground operators.

Our SmartFlyer ONE panel, moderated by CEO Michael Holtz included Rebecca Alessia, Jean Pickard, Courtney Beaver and Betsey Brown
Our SmartFlyer ONE panel, moderated by CEO Michael Holtz included Rebecca Alessia, Jean Pickard, Courtney Beaver and Betsey Brown

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

It goes without saying that the theme of our conference was woven throughout the entirety of the event, but none of it would have been possible without our incredible suppliers. One of our favorite components of the programming was what we called our “relationship dinners.” These small, intimate groups of three to four found our agents and partners all across the city taking part in some of the best culinary experiences offered in New York City.

Kristin Diehl, Anna Sperato, Monica Masila and Maureen Esses, hosted by Caroline Wilson-Kent of Dorchester Collection and Jeremy Bieuron of Plaza Athenee Paris, joined by Chef Eric Ripert at Le Bernadin
Processed with VSCO with g6 preset

From the chicest room service in The Greenwich’s Penthouse Suite by Andrew Carmellini’s Locanda Verde to a tasting menu at Le Bernadin with Dorchester Collection (accompanied by conversation with Chef Ripert and master sommelier Aldo Sohm!) to proper omakase in the Upper East Side with Hidden Doorways, we find that these small settings are where the real magic happens. And meanwhile downtown, the highly anticipated EQUINOX Hotels dined at hot spot Le Coucou while Canyon Ranch showcased how a healthy private chef experience and beautiful wines go hand-in-hand, while Perry Street Chef Cedric Vongerichten prepared the ultimate chef’s table experience in his kitchen with our friends at La Réserve Hotels.

Out-of-Industry Experts

We were thrilled to kickoff our final day of conferencing at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. Forever in the pursuit of personal development, we wanted to ensure that CORE included some non-travel industry thought leaders’ wisdom to bring everything home.

Juice Press Chairman, Michael Karsh, shared insights on his preferred travel style with Dr. Diane Dillon of Canyon Ranch

“For the first time in a long time, people are now looking at places to stay first before they choose a destination, which hadn’t happened in the past.” – Rafat Ali

So, the day began with a conversation between Juice Press Chairman, Michael Karsch and Dr. Diane Dillion, PhD and Life Management Therapist for Canyon Ranch. Their chat covered how to manage work-life balance in a digital world, a topic very relevant to our entrepreneurial group.

The following session was a conversation between SmartFlyer Founder and CEO Michael Holtz and Skift CEO Rafat Ali. A highlight was Rafat’s perspective that travelers are now changing their approach to selecting a destination. His assessment was that for the first time in awhile, people are choosing their hotel first and destination second. As hotel-obsessed travelers ourselves, we couldn’t agree more; where you stay truly shapes your experience.

Erica Keswin captivated our audience as she related her work to our industry flawlessly

To complete our trifecta of enlightenment for the morning, we brought in workplace strategist, author and SmartFlyer client of over a decade, Erica Keswin. She helps top-of-the-class businesses, organizations and individuals improve their performance by honoring relationships in every context, always with an eye toward high-tech for human touch. In her talk, Erica shared some of the wisdom from her book, “Bring Your Human to Work.” She reminded us all how important it is to honor your relationships and put people first.

Working Together

This brought us to lunchtime, but that didn’t mean we took a break from learning and connecting with our fellow Smarties and hotel partners. As a nod to the collaboration element of CORE, we had dozens of breakout groups throughout 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge work through case studies and discuss how they would approach the situation. We loved hearing how at the root of every problem, leaning on our relationships is what help expedite a solution for our clients.

EDITION Hotels' David Solis leading his group including St. Louis-based advisor Rob Merlin, NYC-based Barrett Hollo, Birmingham-based Carol Lin England

Hoboken-based advisor Claire Eastwood led her breakout group through some solid brainstorming
Hoboken-based advisor Claire Eastwood led her breakout group through some solid brainstorming

Active Recovery

No SmartFlyer get-together would be complete without a sweat session, so we found ourselves divided up into four different exercise groups. Our agents who needed to pause enjoyed some zen during mindful meditation, a session sure to restore the focus and energy that can so easily be drained as we navigate our hectic lives. Meanwhile, we had our yogis sweating it out in the POE infrared studio in 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. For those of us who felt like we needed some sculpting to break up the day, Fithouse whipped us into shape. And finally, our really hardcore athletes found themselves throwing some jabs (not at each other!) at SHADOWBOX.

Until Next Year…

Long story short, CORE was nothing short of epic. We can’t thank each and every attendee enough for bringing such an open-mind to the event. Your energy, enthusiasm and of course, smarts, is infectious. Needless to say, we’re already counting down to next year.

This is how feel about CORE in a nutshell, courtesy of Joanna Kuflik, Erina Pindar, Michael Schertz, Betsey Brown + Cydney Lembersky

You May Also Like

Industry Intel

7 Out-of-This-World Experiences to Get Grounded

Sometimes it can take a truly exceptional — perhaps far-flung — travel experience to bring you back to yourself, right where...

Industry Intel

Sustainable Travel: Tangible Ways to Go Beyond Greenwashing

In a globalized world where seemingly anything can be delivered with the touch of a button, what does it mean...

Industry Intel

Chef Jean Imbert’s Dubai

In a city built on extravagance, how does a new hotel that’s designed to be understated make a splash? Enter:...