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A-List: World's Top Travel Agents 2011

Ilustration for top travel agents a list in Europe.

Photo: Bo Lundberg

Anne Morgan Scully **
Known For: “Travel experiences form a sort of wardrobe,” Scully says. And in this respect, her repeat-trip record with clients makes her their personal shopper. She carefully assesses taste, style, and comfort levels to craft trips that fit to a T. As such, Scully recognizes that often the tried and true trumps the new—to wit: she’s been a champion of London’s Goring hotel for two decades, long before Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (then Kate Middleton) chose to stay there the night before her wedding.
Trend Watch: The rise of knowledgeable tour guides—an increasingly crucial part of almost any trip, Scully says. For her clients, this might mean being matched with a local professor who can put every site into historical context.
Fee: Varies.

Pallavi Shah *
Known For: Her in-depth expertise on India and Italy, with a focus on art. Shah can get access to cultural sites and private collections that aren’t open to the public. She’s fast becoming a master on Turkey as well, and will guide you through the back rooms of Istanbul’s bazaar and to the ruins of Laodicea.
Trend Watch: The Golden Chariot train routes, which traverse the southern Indian state of Karnataka. A few highlights: private tours of the Hoysala complex at Belur and the Jain pilgrim site of Sravanabelagola, as well as visits to organic farms.
Fee: $450.

Jim Strong ** and Nancy Strong
Known For: The Strongs know first impressions count: that’s why in Dallas, where Strong Travel Services is based, their VIP clients are brought to the airport in a customized Mercedes-Benz van decked out with a 32-inch television that plays a personalized video detailing their upcoming trip. Signature suites, top guides, and airport escorts are par for the course, all the product of understanding how to maximize every experience for people with limited time—what Jim Strong calls “sophisticated editing.”
Trend Watch: Laucala, the island resort in Fiji. According to the Strongs, the property outdoes the competition in almost every regard, from the top-notch cuisine (all of the produce is grown organically) to the array of activities on offer, from deep-sea fishing to yoga classes.
Fee: $250.

Valerie Wilson
Known For: Wilson runs one of the country’s most prestigious agencies (which this fall celebrates 30 years in the business), sits on half a dozen corporate travel advisory boards, and just reissued a comprehensive guide to the world’s best hotels (to be published in November and sold on Amazon), but her calling card is still hardworking agent. She’s more than willing to pick up the phone herself to ensure that her clients’ needs are met, whether that means getting a hotel upgrade or snagging a hard-to-book restaurant reservation. trend watch The South Pacific islands are seeing a spike in interest (and not just from honeymooners). Wilson recently booked a family at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, with on-staff marine biologists for science lessons for the children. She’s equally impressed by Bora-Bora’s St. Regis Resort, where kids can take Polynesian arts-and-crafts lessons.
Fee: $200.

Joel A. Zack *
Known For: Creative and experiential itineraries that get at the heart of the communities that make a destination. South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Turkey are the pillars of his company, Heritage Tours Private Travel. Activities run the gamut from cooking lessons at Babylonstoren, in the Cape Winelands, South Africa, to exploring religious architecture in Fez and Essaouira, in Morocco.
Trend Watch: Eastern Turkey—still off the beaten path, Zack says, and Arab culture is far more in evidence here. He flies clients out from Istanbul with East Turkish guides for two- and three-day excursions. For an authentic seaside escape, Zack loves Alaçati, on the Çeşme Peninsula, a less-touristy alternative to Bodrum.
Fee: None.

Icon Key

* Tour Operator
** T+L’s Travel Agent Advisory Board, 2011
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