Annie Davis of Palm Beach Travel On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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What brings people back for more — A personalized experience always makes the difference. We had clients stay at Jumby Bay in Antigua. It was a multi-generational family. This family became so close with the staff, that they have returned for years. In addition, the chef, has come to visit their home with his family. They felt a connection and that connection has brought them back year after year.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Annie Davis.

Annie Davis is the president and founder of Palm Beach Travel, a full-service travel and lifestyle agency located in Manalapan, FL. She has been recognized as the world’s only American Express Travel Insider for the British Virgin Islands and is also the American Express Travel Insider for Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Annie has been an active member of the travel industry for many years, including when she was the founding member of both Jet U.S. and Midway Airlines. After launching Jet U.S., she moved from Detroit to Chicago where she spent over 10 years with Midway Airlines. While there, Annie held a variety of management positions, specializing in in-flight services, training and hospitality. During her tenure with Midway Airlines, Annie was recognized with numerous honors and awards.

After her career at Midway Airlines, she had the unique opportunity to join American Express as an elite Platinum and Centurion Travel and Lifestyle Consultant. In this capacity, Annie quickly rose to the exclusive Centurion Team 3, which worked with the top 10% of the American Express Centurion Card Members.

Always ahead of travel trends, Annie saw an opportunity to service the residents and visitors of Palm Beach by opening the storefront travel agency, Palm Beach Travel, in 2013. Palm Beach Travel is an affiliate of Altour/American Express, specializing in a diverse, but select, clientele. Since opening, Palm Beach Travel has doubled in size, with its staff consisting of American Express Centurion Travel professionals, each with more than 20 years of travel experience.

Palm Beach Travel has been awarded the Avoya Travel Best of the Best Agency twice and has been awarded the prestigious Magellan Award. Annie has also received numerous awards including Executive Women of the Palm Beaches, Women in Leadership Award Nominee; Women of Worth, Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist; and was Woman of Grace nominee.

It is her work philanthropically that fulfills her though. When the world was at a standstill, even for just a few, she leaps into action and does everything she can. She regularly gives her time and talent to our local community as well as those in need abroad. And her more than 20 years of experience in the travel industry, have awarded her numerous opportunities to help families.

In 2017, Annie founded a 501 c 3 called Travel Cares a nonprofit organization to support rebuilding efforts in these vulnerable islands. Following the disastrous effects of Hurricane Irma Annie worked to provide relief to people and areas affected by disaster alongside local agencies and governments. She leaped into action to do all she could to help individuals and areas who rely on the tourism of their areas to survive. In 2018, she supported efforts to rebuild major areas of tourism in the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, who were both severely hit by massive and lifechanging storms.

She has stepped in and created a relationship with the Palm Beach Area Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Blood cancer has affected her in so many ways and touched so many people close to her. She regularly supports the nonprofits events, works to create awareness of the disease and those less fortunate. Annie expanded her efforts to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County. In just a few months, she helped the organization raise thousands of dollars in support of their programming for children and teens across the community.

Through all of her professional and philanthropic work, family remains a priority for Annie. She credits her family in shaping who she is today. They regularly remind her that her mission to help the local community, and those abroad, is making an impact.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I feel like I was born with jet fuel in my blood. I knew I had always wanted to travel. I had no idea that that dream would lead me to owning Palm Beach Travel. I had an amazing job as a Centurion Travel Agent for American Express working for the top 10% of the wealthiest card holders. This included celebrities, politicians, Forbes list card holders and so on. We never knew who was on the other end of the phone when we picked up a call.

Two things always stood out to me during that time. Demographics, and the cardholders mention of missing face to face meetings with their travel agent (or at least having one single agent to handle all their travel!). I also noticed that many of the card holders lived or owned a second home nearby my own home in Palm Beach.

During that time, I would drive past an elegant shopping center daily. Something always called me to it. The day that American Express announced it was closing its storefront locations, I knew that my heart was leading me to that location, and I decided to make the leap and leave American Express to open Palm Beach Travel.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

As a travel agency owner, I am almost always on my phone or have my phone with me. This includes wading in the water in Bora Bora with sharks and stingrays at my feet. In this line of work, you need to be available at all times. As a celebrity travel agent, it also means you must pay attention to area codes. One afternoon I was having a picnic lunch on a motu (island) in Bora Bora. I see an area code from Los Angeles pop up. I answered the phone and it was an extremely important agent on the line wanting information on my agency. For privacy, the only place I could go, was in the water wading around with the little sharks and stingrays.

The one question he asked me was, how do I know you will always be available for me and my clients. I simply said, do you have Facetime? We switched over to Facetime, he saw that I was in the water {with sharks} and I still took his call. He has been a client ever since.

An even funnier happening though is that last year when I was exploring Belize for clients, I was swimming with sharks and almost the same exact thing happened. They must really think I swim with sharks a lot! I must say though, swimming with giant manta Rays at the Four Seasons Laanda Giraavaru, swimming with whale sharks at Turtle Inn in Belize, and swimming with turtles at Jumeriah Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi are seriously great perks of the job!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made was early in my career while planning a couple’s honeymoon. They were flying first class on Emirates and staying at the famous hotel, Burj al Arab, in Dubai. We planned every detail, including a romantic sunset desert safari, before they were off to the Maldives. I had been in contact with their butler for weeks in the Maldives. The day prior to their departure to Dubai, the butler called me and said, “Annie, I do not see the reservation in our system for your clients. Perhaps it is a problem on our end. Will you kindly give me the confirmation number?” I looked through my computer and could find no reservation number. I had forgotten to make the actual reservation! Everything was arranged; every tiny little detail, except the biggest one. And it was their honeymoon! Fortunately, because I had been in contact with the hotel, the room had been blocked off for my client. It ended up being a simple fix and thankfully my clients never knew that they almost did not have a honeymoon in the Maldives!

I have learned a few things from that mistake. Number one is that communication is key. Since I had been in contact with the hotel, they had the clients flight information and details, and we had a great relationship that we were able to get that reservation in place ASAP. Number two was creating a Trip Planner Checklist. I now have software that I can enter each segment of a trip as well as confirmation numbers and documents. I have a copy and the clients have a copy. It is a great way for all of us to be aware and to notice if something is missing. I also ask the clients to take a final look to ensure I didn’t miss anything that was lost in communication.

It also builds a relationship with clients.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

It is nearly impossible to start a successful small business on your own. I was fortunate to have had a cheerleader who encouraged me while I was still at American Express. His name is Mike Belston. Mike was a top Centurion travel agent like me. We shared a cubicle. We became work buddies. Better yet, he believed in me. During our breaks, we would take walks and talk about opening an agency. He supported me during a health crisis while working at American Express that nearly cost me my life. He was the reason I had the courage to open Palm Beach Travel. He believed in me when no one else in my life did. My kids loved me, but they were small. They thought it was fun. Mike was with me every step of the way and I am forever grateful. Two years after opening, Mike left a stable and promising career at American Express to join me at Palm Beach Travel. As the Vice President of Palm Beach Travel, we built a company that is full of integrity, trust and values. Our colleagues are like family. In fact, some of them are family. Our cruise department has a great name, “Sail with Yale” because it is run by Sharon Yale, her husband Art, and her daughter Mindy. If you need a great cruise, call us! My son, Jack Davis, joined Palm Beach Travel in 2020. He handles a portion of our social media and is also a travel agent geared towards the college aged market. Max Davis, my other son, runs our IT department. In addition to his other duties, he is currently working with our web designer on our new website to launched in early 2023. Please make a note to check it out!

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Palm Beach Travel is actively working on innovations to assist our clients when it comes to booking travel and working with our hotel, airline and tour partners. One of the first things we did was make ourselves more accessible. We went virtual. We opened a virtual office in Seattle which also expands our office hours. Today, we have virtual offices in Dubai, New York, Palm Beach, Los Angeles and Seattle. In person meetings can be arranged in Palm Beach, Seattle and in New York with Dubai by appointment.

The second innovation is a brand-new website with an integrated booking engine that will be completed by early 2023. We are adding an online chat session so you can instantly reach one of our agents for a real time consultation.

On the hotel and airline front, we are constantly attending conferences and virtual meetings to learn the most effective ways to integrate new technology into our platform. You may not notice the change; however it makes your travel experience more effortless.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

Travel and hospitality companies are used to adjusting to changes. Covid — 19 was a big one that affected travel greatly. We have always been able to adjust quickly to events. From 9/11 to the pandemic to constantly changing regulations. It is what we do.

Over the next five years we see more people wanting private experiences and accommodations. Our travel partners are busy adding additional villas to their properties as well as creating smaller boutique hotels, which are becoming more and more requested. Our hotel partners are recognizing the evolution of travel after the pandemic and are working to meet the expectations of our clients. So many clients are couples with weddings and honeymoons that were postponed, or multi-generational families that can finally come together. Also, private jet and business and first-class travel has become the new norm. People want to more room or even total privacy. They want that social distance from one another.

We also see our airline partners adding in more first and business class seating and premium economy. Private transfers instead of taxis or Ubers are also increasing in requests. Travelers want to be social but in a more open-air environment.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

As a “Travel Insider”, my travel experience is easy to describe. It begins at my doorstep. I am already well packed with the help of my “Travel Insider”, I step into my pre-arranged transfer to the airport. I’ve already checked into my flight or have the necessary documents needed to check in at the airport. I drop my bags and proceed to the nearest airport lounge, which my “Travel Insider” has provided me the locations of. I enjoy my favorite beverage prior to boarding then I am off to my dream destination. This year anyways! You see, so many don’t understand the importance of utilizing a travel agent, especially a travel insider, and the difference it makes in your travel experience.

After enjoying my flight with the expert seat selection provided by the airfare specialist at Palm Beach Travel, I deplane and have a “Meet and Greet Service” waiting for my arrival. This expedites my arrival into any destination and can assist with visa, customs and baggage. From transportation — whether a car service, seaplane or yacht — to my accommodations, thanks to my “Travel Insider” I am greeted by name and everything is set. My slippers and robe size are perfect and meal preferences and tastes on point. By the end of my trip, I barely know how to do anything on my own. I am relaxed, rejuvenated and invigorated! I don’t want to leave, and I am already planning my next vacation.

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience?

Travel to escape is fine. But traveling to connect is a whole other experience. I recently had the opportunity to experience a full immersive journey to JOILI BEING, an immersive wellness resort, in the Maldives. I have taken a lot of my personal and business time to explore these options for my clients. In fact, I even went to yoga instructor training this year! After the stresses of the last few years, so many clients are looking to be more wellness aware, and I want to ensure these experiences are what they desire.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. What brings people back for more — A personalized experience always makes the difference. We had clients stay at Jumby Bay in Antigua. It was a multi-generational family. This family became so close with the staff, that they have returned for years. In addition, the chef, has come to visit their home with his family. They felt a connection and that connection has brought them back year after year.
  2. A seamless travel experience. — When you travel, you never want any added stresses. Even the most complicated of trips (which include several flights) can be seamless. By utilizing the checklist I mention above, having an open line of communication with the both the client and those they’ll encounter each step of their trip, helps to reduce the stresses and aim for an incredible trip.
  3. Use a trusted travel professional. — Don’t always try to find a deal. There are none out there right now. Go with someone who knows you or wants to know you. Someone who has the time to listen to what you are looking for. This may cost you a little bit up front, but I promise it pays off in the long run. PLUS, by using a travel advisor, many times we can build in extra amenities, save you time and have inside relationships with our partners that will make your vacation special. We can make you a VIP!
  4. A unique environment or experience. — Who want to go to the same all-inclusive who’s commercial you see on TV all the time? We work to give our clients the extra experience and to get them to a place where others are dying to go. Our clients return to a hotel or resort for its uniqueness or an experience they cannot have anywhere else. Some of the best memories were made at places like Ritz Carlton Cayman Islands when guests went sailing to Stingray City and swam with the Stingrays, then over to Starfish Island and seeing the most amazing starfish surrounding this unique little island. It is something they may not have known about without someone helping to coordinate their trip!
  5. Ease of Travel. — Flying with several stops is not for everyone. Have you looked in your own backyard for travel destinations? Find what is near you, or even within driving distance, that will help alleviate some of the stops to get you to that perfect trip. Or what is within driving distance that may not have ever experienced. For example, I live in Palm Beach, Florida. we are driving distance to the Florida Keys, and some of the best beaches in the country. You may not even realize but you may have amazing options closer by!

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve been blessed in my success in the travel business. I am fortunate that Palm Beach Travel can partner with our hoteliers and airlines to raise money for nonprofits around the world. By turning our work into good for others we can change the trajectory for some. I always try to find the good in everything and everyone and work to make connections.

Palm Beach Travel also has its own nonprofit called Travel Cares. Our entire staff supports this effort. We support small islands in need after natural disasters, work on turtle rescue around the world, and hurricane relief where needed. This has even turned in to a family affair. My children are very involved in Travel Cares and work to do good through the travel industry. No one really thinks about it, but travel is a huge industry and the livelihood of so many depends on it. We must do what we can to continue it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could start a movement, it would be simple “To be good to one another.”

During the pandemic, I nearly lost everything in an instant.

There were good people that stood by my side, that were nice, who realized how hard my business was affected and helped me save my employees jobs, have patience when I had to work on hundreds of reservations being cancelled, brides crying, our bank account dwindling and so on. We persevered though thanks to the kindness of others.

From the sushi chef who lived in my building that realized I wasn’t eating and dropped of food; to my neighbors across the street who are accountants who helped me through the paperwork; to my clients who didn’t blame me for the pandemic (even though some did), supporting each other is a must. I thank my children for their patience, especially my son who didn’t have a high school graduation but cheered on his brother when he graduated this year.

The last few years have truly made me be more aware of the kindness in this world and to continue to spread it.

I may be busy traveling the world but, truly my only goal is to be good and kind.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor