Travel consultants in demand as business travelers return to skies

air travel
Photo credit Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As business travel begins to pick up, agencies are discovering new post-pandemic expectations.

"This 'bleisure' theme is definitely coming back," said Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

"Bleisure" is a portmanteau of "business" and "leisure," which grew in popularity as people enjoyed working remotely from scenic getaways and vacation hotspots.

"We've seen companies want to have culture and community and focus on their core values. And they're doing it with offsite meetings. They're doing it with retreats."

Valerie Wilson Travel noticed the owners of small and medium-sized businesses were among the first to fly again.

"(Small business owners) were the first ones to get back on the road, because they wanted to see their customer. They wanted to look them in the eye, shake their hand, thank them for their business," said Wilson-Buttigieg.

The Manhattan-based firm employs a team of industry specialists working day and night to cater to corporate clients.

"We have employees that work on different accounts or different businesses like leisure, corporate, cruises, safaris," she said. "And then we have independent contractors who run their own business under our umbrella. And as an independent contractor, they certainly could work 24/7, but we do also utilize a 24/7 service."

VWT's corporate and individual clients turn to its advisors for more personalized service, which is at the roots of the business.

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"Knowing that time is the most precious commodity, whether you travel for business or vacation, you want it to be the experience you're planning," Wilson-Buttigieg said. "And no differently than having a professional help you on a will or sell a home or do your taxes, the role of the advisor has been elevated."

Her mother Valerie Wilson started the company in 1981 after she could not find a travel consultant who would give her trip across Europe the individual attention she desired. Wilson returned home and launched Valerie Wilson Travel.

"We're in the business of serving and we love the travel industry," said Wilson-Buttigieg.

Valerie Wilson Travel was acquired by another family-owned business, Frosch International Travel, in April 2021 because the Wilson family did not want to lay off any employees during the height of COVID when its business was down as much as 95%.

"We were so excited to bring these two powerhouse brands together, but with the goal of saving as many employees, jobs and benefits during this very challenging period, because we knew travel would eventually rebound and we're going to need them," the second-generation president said.

Research suggests 60% of family-owned businesses fail to transition to the second-generation, while third-generation businesses fail nearly 90% of the time. For VWT, the bond between sister co-presidents - Wilson-Buttigieg and Kimberly Wilson Wetty - leading the second-generation appears strong.

"We try to text each other as sisters and we email each other as colleagues," said Wilson-Buttigieg.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images