The luxury travel agent has never seen such chaos

  • Stacy Fischer Rosenthal is president and owner of luxury travel agency Fischer Travel
  • We have never seen delays and cancellations of the magnitude we are experiencing post Covid. Lost bags are part of life
  • This is the story of Stacy Fischer Rosenthal, told to writer Amber Gibson.

This narrated essay is based on a conversation with Stacy Fischer Rosenthal, president and owner of luxury travel agency Fischer Travel who has been in the business for 40 years. Its customers pay a $100,000 initiation fee to become members of Fischer Travel, which has already won seven new customers this year and is considering raising the initiation fee. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of chaos.

Covid has left long-term negative effects on all aspects of travel: airlines are facing staffing issues, hence cancellations, and there is a huge shortage in general in the hospitality sector – hotels, restaurants, guides, drivers and hostesses. The demand for travel is there – there is just a shortage of supply.

We are used to delays and cancellations, but never on the scale we are experiencing. The reason people come to us is because they want to feel supported, have flexibility, and have options.

Recently my team planned a freelance trip for a new client.

We arranged French lessons for her in Provence, hiking and biking guides, and people to dine with her for casual French conversation. Then, after two days, the hiking and biking trails were closed due to the heat, so she decided to go to Paris instead.

I felt bad for the vendors we found, but understood that she would rather be in a city, be indoors, and have a museum experience. And so now we’re creating this completely different itinerary for her for Paris; we arranged chocolate and baking classes, and professional buyers to take her for a fashion day, and we were able to arrange this with only two days notice.

Before Covid people traveled for maybe a week to 10 days. What we are seeing now are families and multi-generational individuals traveling for four to eight weeks this summer.

The intensity of planning a trip of this magnitude is enormous. Sometimes when they leave, we haven’t even finished the trip back yet because we are still waiting for customer responses and supplier confirmations because everyone is so late. Even in the best hotels in the world, concierges are understaffed.

Lost bags are also a huge problem that is more prevalent than ever.

On another recent trip, a client’s daughter, who is an equestrian, traveled from London City Airport to Nice and checked her medication and riding gear. Her bag didn’t arrive in Nice and it was Queen’s Jubilee week.

She was offering a £5,000 reward for the bag. We sent people to both airports and no one could find him. It was Monday. Tuesday, when they hadn’t picked up the bag, I thought, what if we packed another bag in New York and hauled it to Nice with someone.

I couldn’t spare one employee so I called a friend of mine to see if she had her vaccination card and passport. She was on a 7 p.m. United flight from Newark. The client’s assistant packed a bag in New York, had a driver pick up my friend from New Jersey with €500 and $500, and a driver met her in Nice and they delivered two bags to the hotel of Cap-Eden-Roc. My friend spent two nights in Nice, then returned on Friday.

She literally dropped everything to get on that plane, and our client’s daughter got her things and her medicine on Wednesday.

Covid is still an ever-present problem, too.

At least three times a week there’s a 411 about someone who has to get off a yacht, or get staff off the boat or bring in new staff, because someone has caught Covid.

We had a new client who was at a bachelorette party in Exuma Bahamas in May when she tested positive for Covid. Her parents called and wanted to take her home or else she would have to go to a quarantine hotel in Exuma for a week. I remember reading about the Rosewood Baha Mar taking people home if they tested positive, so I called the general manager, and within three hours we had him on a private plane to Miami, through Trinity Air Ambulance for $15,000.

Having a human travel agent right now is more important than ever.

We have amazing connections to make it right. We oversee our customers’ every movement, register them, facilitate reception, car and driver, and constantly monitor airport closures, flight cancellations and entry and exit requirements. It’s a continuous process of reconfirmation two or three times to make sure everything is going well.

We are the single point of contact for the entire trip and we do not pass it on to other people. If there was one thing I would like to change it would be that the service levels would be back and the response time would be much faster.

We see the most interest in Europe right now. It’s not that people haven’t been going there for the past few years, but it’s so popular right now and people miss it. Large families travel for weeks to one or more destinations. It’s not just about getting the villa, it’s about staffing the villa and providing the sightseeing, activities, restaurants, etc. There are so many different facets to each trip.

Creating magical and memorable moments is the best part of our job. Travel is not one size fits all. I try to stay in the moment, to welcome the new venture and to welcome the challenges and opportunities. We work so hard and when people appreciate what we do for them, there’s nothing like it.

We hired because of demand and we know it will take time for people to learn our trade.

I just hired five students from amazing colleges like Cornell University School of Hospitality Administration.

I am looking for a passion, an ability to listen and an openness to creativity. Obviously, you also need to be very thorough and you need to have a very open mind to work in a team because that’s how you will succeed here. We all bring our travel skills and knowledge into the equation to help our clients.