Ralph Iantosca, owner of Iantosca Travel in Irving, Texas, has been a successful high-end travel advisor for many years, with a portfolio of loyal affluent customers. But the pandemic threw his business into disarray—with his having to repay commissions while some suppliers did not offer refunds to clients. “I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Iantosca, “but after I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, I decided it was time to redo the way I do business.”
What Iantosca did was create a new business model—a subscription plan under which he charges a minimum of $3,500 a year for his services—with that charge dependant on the amount clients spend and the complexity of their trips. More—clients are selected by invitation only. While Iantosca had always charged for his time and invoked cancellation fees, this was something new. And so far it seems to be working well.
“I had to stop and think about my value,” said Iantosca, “and what I actually do and what it is I can bring to the table.” He looked back at destinations and hotels and figured out who had been “naughty and nice” as far as their flexibility during the pandemic and who has the best policies around COVID-19. With that research, said Iantosca, “when things come back I know who I will play with. If you have all that knowledge, clients who want to go can go with confidence.”
Iantosca realized that in the new world, advisors will need to look at their work differently. Will it be more difficult? More time-consuming? They will have to ask questions like: How are hotels checking people in and social distancing? Do they have elevators? Where is the nearest hospital?
“How do you get a commission out of researching all that?,” asked Iantosca; “you don’t, so I had to come up with a new way to earn money.”
The advisor considered other names for his plan—retainer, membership, access fee among them—but decided “subscription” fit the bill best. He and his attorney worked on a program—figuring out how much he worked per week and how many weeks he wanted to work per year. They came up with an hourly fee—and then a yearly subscription. Iantosca will continue to collect commissions and charge cancellation fees and with these combined revenues, he said, “I can have a sustainable business.”
As for the invitation-only policy, Iantosca said, “After 30 years I deserve to work only with those I want to.” When you build a new house, he said, “you deserve to be happy.” Also, the advisor brings some strong credentials, including Conde Nast Traveler top travel specialist in Rwanda and Gorilla trekking for 2020. He has been on many safaris and gorilla treks and is a certified Virtuoso Wanderlist advisor.
When he completed his plan, the advisor called his best clients one by one, explained what was happening, how the current model failed and how the new one was sustainable. He said they all came on board. When interviewing subscribers, Iantosca assesses their current and future travel ideas and goals, and discusses all the inherent risks associated with each trip. He will then follow the traveler throughout the journey.
Iantosca wants to spread the word about his new model, saying, “I want the agency community to know they have a way to create a business model that is not dependent on commission.” He said that for $3,500, a client can get quite a bit of planning. However, if they opt not to travel, they will not get a refund.
The new model, said Iantosca, also allows him to avoid booking groups, which he had in the past used to generate revenues.
Iantosca has made other post-pandemic changes—closing his office and now working from home and working with just an assistant rather than a small team. He is an affiliate of Travel Experts, a Virtuoso agency.
Business is picking up, said Iantosca, with clients seeking privacy-centric trips that include private jet travel, private home with staff and customized activities. There is no international travel yet but he is booking private jet trips to national parks and other areas.
“I think I will like the new world,” said Iantosca. “I won’t be so overwhelmed. If I see an article about a place that sounds interesting, I’ll have the time to pick up the phone and tell the client they might be interested as well.”
If an advisor wants to consider a similar approach, said Iantosca, “they need to be able to explain themselves. You have to tell customers what value you bring to them.”
Iantosca said he has had IC’s calling him to help coach and implement a subscription program. He will work with them at an hourly fee; he can be reached at [email protected]
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