A-List 2009: The 129 Top Travel Agents
We know what you’re thinking: with flights and hotels just a click away, it’s never been easier to plan your own trip. But at a moment when your time and money matter more than ever, a trusted expert can take all the hassle out of travel planning—whether you’re looking to snag that seat on a sold-out flight, book that elusive corner room with a view, map out a complicated itinerary, or secure the best guides, upgrades, and (yes!) deals. T+L has evaluated thousands of agents to come up with this highly selective list of the best in the business. Scroll down to see who made the cut. Plus Tips from the experts, great values, travel trends, and what’s on the horizon for 2010.
U.S. and Canada
T+L A-Listers cite the growing appeal of Canada’s Rockies and British Columbia as closer-to-home alternatives to New Zealand or Alpine Europe (B.C.’s Clayoquot Wilderness Resort was a particular favorite). Meanwhile, Alaska is going strong for small luxury cruises.
Harold C. Jenkins Years as agent: 21. Other specialty: Skiing. Consulting fee: Varies.
Margret Propper Years as agent: 34. Other specialty: European river cruises. Consulting fee: From $100.
Carolyne Brandon Years as agent: 27. Other specialty: River cruises. Consulting fee: Varies.
Julia Kostenko + Years as agent: 4. Other specialty: Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Consulting fee: From $150.
Darlene Mulkewich Years as agent: 22. Other specialties: European river cruises, Alaskan cruises. Consulting fee: $150.
Maria Guerrieri Years as agent: 26. Other specialty: Canada. Consulting fee: $100 per person.
New York City
Amy Glass Years as agent: 30. Other specialty: Soft adventure travel in the U.S. Consulting fee: Varies.
Deborah Trevino Years as agent: 15. Other specialties: Australia and New Zealand. Consulting fee: Varies.
Mark Hoyer Years as agent: 20. Other specialties: Costa Rica, gay and lesbian travel. Consulting fee: Varies.
* tour operator
+ New to list
** T+L’s travel agent advisory board member, 2009
The U.K., Poland, and Sicily are seen as great values. Travelers are interested in lesser-known areas such as France’s Périgord region.
Ellen LeCompte Years as agent: 20. Other specialties: Western U.S., Canada. Consulting fee: From $250.
Tammi R. Van Volkinburgh Years as agent: 18. Other specialty: India. Consulting fee: From $250.
Susie Worthy * Years as agent: 32. Other specialty: Events and celebrations in London. Consulting fee: From $220.
Craig Loupassakis Years as agent: 45. Other specialty: Italy. Consulting fee: From $150.
Clare Seyer Years as agent: 21. Other specialty: Italian countryside. Consulting fee: From $300.
Elisabeth Landry Years as agent: 31. Other specialty: Cruises. Consulting fee: $150–$200.
Kelly Shea Years as agent: 22. Other specialty: Turkey. Consulting fee: From $250.
Christos Stergiou + Years as agent: 5. Other specialties: Culinary and cultural tours. Consulting fee: $65.
Nathalie Nagy Years as agent: 13. Other specialties: Austria, Germany. Consulting fee: From $150.
Carol Cornell Years as agent: 26. Other specialties: Italy, France. Consulting fee: $50–$100.
Margot Cushing Years as agent: 30. Other specialties: Spain, Southeast Asia. Consulting fee: From $400.
Joyce Falcone * + Years as agent: 14. Other specialty: Culinary tours of 10 Italian regions. Consulting fee: From $100.
Deborah Hyte Years as agent: 30. Other specialty: Western Europe. Consulting fee: $375.
Judy Nussbaum Years as agent: 30. Other specialties: France, luxury cruises. Consulting fee: From $100.
Andrea Sertoli Years as agent: 15. Other specialties: Croatia, France.
Marjorie Shaw + Years as agent: 20. Other specialty: Cultural tours of Italy. Consulting fee: From $395.
Sally Watkins Years as agent: 23. Other specialty: Australia. Consulting fee: From $350.
Greg Tepper * Years as agent: 17. Consulting fee: From $250.
Carol Arklind Years as agent: 20. Other specialty: Great Britain. Consulting fee: From $150.
Tor Jensen + Years as agent: 16. Other specialty: Southeast Asia. Consulting fee: From $200.
F. Peter Herff II Years as agent: 35. Other specialties: Italy, the Iberian Peninsula. Consulting fee: From $350.
Claire Schoeder Years as agent: 19. Other specialty: England. Consulting fee: From $150.
Virginia Irurita + Years as agent: 10. Consulting fee: From $130 per person.
Judith Wolf Years as agent: 22. Other specialties: Italy, food and wine. Consulting fee: From $200.
Fred Poe Years as agent: 48. Other specialties: Eastern Europe, Austria. Consulting fee: $200.
* tour operator
+ New to list
** T+L’s travel agent advisory board member, 2009
Our agents report that Argentina, Chile, and Peru topped clients’ wish lists. The region as a whole is remarkably diverse—Patagonian vineyards; Peruvian rain forests; endless Brazilian beaches.
Maita Barrenechea Years as agent: 26. Other specialty: Uruguay. Consulting fee: From $200.
Katie Nelson Years as agent: 7. Other specialties: Costa Rica, Guatemala. Consulting fee: Varies.
Robert Betenson Years as agent: 8. Other specialty: Family reunions. Consulting fee: $50 a day, not above $500 total.
Jerry Greenberg ** Years as agent: 37. Other specialties: Italy, France. Consulting fee: $200.
Rachel Bockoven * + Years as agent: 10. Other specialty: Soft adventure. Consulting fee: Varies.
Tatiana Johnston * Years as agent: 14. Other specialty: Africa, specifically Kenya. Consulting Fee: Varies.
Marianne Braly Years as agent: 17. Other specialty: France. Consulting fee: $100.
Carlos L. Fida * Years as agent: 30. Other specialty: Wine tours. Consulting fee: From $200.
Eric Sheets * Years as agent: 15. Other specialty: Small-ship cruises. Consulting fee: From $250.
Bookings in the islands are moving at a slower pace lately, which means plenty of deals for travelers right now.
Margie Hand Years as agent: 14. Other specialties: Destination weddings, luxury family vacations. Consulting fee: Varies.
Janet McLaughlin Years as agent: 21. Other specialty: Southern Africa. Consulting fee: From $150.
Susan Shevlin Years as agent: 28. Other specialty: South Pacific. Consulting fee: From $100.
Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific
Travelers to this part of the world are booking soft adventure with stays at luxe camps. And for Polynesian bliss, the new Four Seasons Bora Bora.
Catharina Apodac Years as agent: 20. Other specialty: New Zealand. Consulting fee: $150.
Cassandra Bookholder + Years as agent: 3. Other specialty: French Polynesia. Consulting fee: From $250.
Terry Coffey Years as agent: 30. Other specialty: Philippines. Consulting fee: From $200.
Suzy Mercien-Ferol + Years as agent: 16. Other specialties: Fiji, Tahiti. Consulting fee: None.
Susanne Hamer Years as agent: 15. Other specialties: Australia, New Zealand. Consulting fee: $200.
Robin Turner Years as agent: 25. Other specialty: Southeast Asia. Consulting fee: Varies.
Donna Thomas * Years as agent: 38. Consulting fee: None.
* tour operator
+ New to list
** T+L’s travel agent advisory board member, 2009
In China, Shanghai and Yunnan are top-rated.
Karin Hansen Years as agent: 30. Other specialty: Southeast Asia. Consulting fee: From $200.
Guy Rubin * Years as agent: 10. Other specialty: Hong Kong. Consulting Fee: From $100.
Mei Zhang + Years as agent: 10. Consulting fee: None.
Laura Woo Years as agent: 27. Other specialty: Hawaii. Consulting fee: Varies.
Ellison Poe Years as agent: 24. Other specialty: Syria. Consulting fee: From $150.
Ashish Sanghrajka * + Years as agent: 11. Consulting fee: $500.
Noriko Townsend Years as agent: 13. Other specialty: China. Consulting fee: $150.
Diane Embree Years as agent: 33. Consulting fee: Varies.
Sandee Litwin Years as agent: 28. Consulting fee: $150.
Darlene Ravin Years as agent: 12. Other specialty: North Africa. Consulting fee: From $100.
Africa and the Middle East
With all the deals out there, T+L agents say now is the time to book a safari or a trip to Madagascar.
Robert Berghaier * Years as agent: 9. Other specialty: Cultural tours. Consulting fee: Varies.
Katie Cadar Years as agent: 23. Other specialty: French Polynesia. Consulting fee: From $100.
Dana Welch Years as agent: 17. Other specialty: Adventure. Consulting fee: From $100.
Joel Zack Years as agent: 14. Other specialty: Spain. Consulting fee: None.
Sandy Cunningham * + Years as agent: 17. Consulting fee: None.
Jeanie Fundora * + Years as agent: 10. Other specialty: Southern Africa. Consulting fee: From $250.
Malaka Hilton Years as agent: 15. Other specialty: Celebrity travel. Consulting fee: From $500.
Rachel Epstein * + Years as agent: 27. Other specialty: Group tours. Consulting fee: Varies.
Janet Moore * Years as agent: 25. Other specialties: India, Bali. Consulting fee: None.
Laurette de Moro Years as agent: 15. Other specialty: France. Consulting fee: Varies.
Michael Diamond * + Years as agent: 8. Consulting fee: Varies.
Norman Pieters * Years as agent: 37. Other specialty: Botswana. Consulting fee: From $250.
Julian Harrison * Years as agent: 23. Other specialty: Tanzania. Consulting fee: None.
Robert Malmberg Years as agent: 45. Other specialty: Yacht charters. Consulting fee: From $500 deposit plus 25 percent of net cost.
Judy Udwin * Years as agent: 25. Other specialty: Mozambique. Consulting fee: From $150.
Phoebe Weinberg + Years as agent: 38. Other specialties: India, East Africa. Consulting fee: Varies.
United Arab Emirates
Lindsey Wallace * Years as agent: 13. Other specialties: Maldives, Seychelles. Consulting fee: Varies.
* tour operator
+ New to list
** T+L’s travel agent advisory board member, 2009
From cruises to adventure, travelers want authentic experiences.
Kathy Falkensammer ** Years as agent: 30. Other specialty: Europe. Consulting fee: Varies.
Betsy Patton Years as agent: 31. Other specialty: Milestone celebrations. Consulting fee: Varies.
Anne Halsey Smith Years as agent: 28. Other specialty: India. Consulting fee: From $500.
Liz Sutton ** Years as agent: 32. Other specialty: Multigenerationaltravel. Consulting fee: From $150.
Ruth Turpin Years as agent: 31. Other specialty: Riverboat cruises. Consulting fee: Varies.
Claudia Gordon + Years as agent: 29. Other specialty: Africa. Consulting fee: Varies.
Lois Moran Years as agent: 36. Other specialty: Private jet trips. Consulting fee: Varies.
Fontaine Denna Gatti Years as agent: 39. Other specialty: Africa. Consulting fee: None.
Kay Merrill Years as agent: 15. Consulting fee: $250.
Family/Hotels & Resorts
Kimberly Wilson Wetty ** Years as agent: 15. Other specialty: Family cruises. Consulting fee: From $150 per person.
Kathryn Sudeikis ** Years as agent: 40. Other specialty: India. Consulting fee: $50 per hour; three-hour minimum.
Paul Largay * Years as agent: 26. Other specialty: Rafting. consulting fee: From $100.
Kathy Hannon Years as agent: 24. Other specialty: Cruises. Consulting fee: From $150.
Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg Years as agent: 18. Consulting fee: From $750.
Manny Beauregard Years as agent: 37. Other specialty: Small-ship cruises. Consulting fee: From $250.
Bob Watson Years as agent: 24. Other specialty: Small luxury cruises. Consulting fee: $500.
Karen Benson Years as agent: 26. Other specialties: Skiing, adventure. Consulting fee: $150 per person.
Maureen “Mo” Smith Years as agent: 32. Other specialties: Hiking, culinary. Consulting fee: From $100.
Betty Jo Currie Years as agent: 16. Other specialty: India. Consulting fee: From $250.
Culture & Education
Emmanuel Burgio + Years as agent: 7. Consulting fee: Varies.
Margery Hunter Years as agent: 26. Other specialties: Chile, New Zealand. Consulting fee: $75 per hour.
Paul Niskanen ** Years as agent: 36. Other specialties: Cruises, African safaris. Consulting fee: $350.
Gene Lashley Years as agent: 25. Other specialty: Adventure. Consulting fee: $150.
Betsy Donley ** Years as agent: 19. Other specialties: Western U.S. and Canada, South America. Consulting fee: $100.
Lynda Turley Garrett Years as agent: 30. Other specialties: Australia, New Zealand. Consulting fee: From $100.
Katie McCormack Krinkie Years as agent: 14. Other specialty: Europe. Consulting fee: Varies.
David Rubin Years as agent: 13. Other specialty: Milestone trips. Consulting fee: From $250.
Susan Dischner Years as agent: 44. Other specialty: Luxury cruises. Consulting fee: $100.
Jani Miller ** Years as agent: 32. Other specialty: Adventure. Consulting fee: From $50.
Doris White Years as agent: 23. Other specialty: Barge cruises. Consulting Fee: From $250.
Georgia Johnson + Years as agent: 5. Consulting fee: Varies.
Peter Lloyd Years as agent: 20. Other specialty: Group travel. Consulting fee: From $100.
Mollie Fitzgerald Years as agent: 24. Other specialty: India. Consulting fee: From $250.
Janie Bullard Years as agent: 25. Other specialty: Adventure. Consulting fee: Varies.
Mark Nolting * + Years as agent: 23. Consulting fee: None.
Donna Christensen Years as agent: 15. Other specialty: Small-ship cruises. Consulting fee: Varies.
Sara Ryan Duffy + Years as agent: 17. Other specialty: Celebrity travel. Consulting fee: Varies.
* tour operator
+ New to list
** T+L’s travel agent advisory board member, 2009
Priscilla Alexander ** Known for: Her unparalleled black book of hotel, tour, and VIPcontacts that span the globe. Consulting fee: Varies.
Barbara Gallay ** Known for: Her encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s finest hotels,and ability to match them to her clients. Consulting fee: Varies.
Diane Hilliard ** Known for: Smart themed itineraries that take full advantage of adestination’s culinary, architectural, and historic attractions. Consulting fee: $750.
Lisa Lindblad Known for: An eye for undiscovered hotels and sights—a skill guaranteed togarner been-there-first bragging rights. Consulting fee: $3,000.
Mary Ann Ramsey ** Known for: a constantly evolving roster of intrepid finds, from favoredhotel suites to must-visit stalls at exotic markets. Consulting fee: From $500.
Anne Morgan Scully ** Known for: Her connections at the world’s top hotels andresorts, where her clients are invariably extended a personal greeting by top management. Consulting fee: Varies.
Pallavi Shah * Known for: An insider’s knowledge of South Asia and Italy, and aRolodex bursting with equally insider contacts: jewelry designers, vintners, first-rate historians.Consulting fee: $350.
Jim Strong + Nancy Strong ** Known for: Keeping the focus on über-luxury. Thismother-son team has a carefully refined list of the best rental villas, yachts, and private jets.Consulting fee: From $250 per person.
Valerie Ann Wilson Known for: Being one of the travel profession’s undisputed hotel mavens.Wilson is also the mother of Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg and TAAB agent Kimberly Wilson Wetty,co-presidents of the company she founded (both are on the A-List). Consulting fee: Varies.
Harold C. Jenkins
Top Tip: Only 240 miles separate Sun Valley, Idaho, from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Make the most of the drive by taking the scenic Route 20/I-93 east through the high plains, stopping by Craters of the Moon National Park. Years as agent: 26. Specialties: Western U.S., Alaska, Skiing. Consulting fee: Varies.
Years as agent: 39. Other specialties: Alaska, European river cruises. Consulting fee: From $100.
Thanks to her close ties with Hawaii’s top hotels and tour outfitters, Brandon is able to book rooms at sold-out properties and secure popular local guides. She has made more than 70 trips to the islands, and is especially good at uncovering activities for adventure-minded travelers who are looking for more than a beach vacation, such as lesser-known rain-forest hikes and education-based tours.
Excited about: The Ka’ana Kitchen restaurant at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. Sharp design and sunset views set the stage for locally inspired dishes, many made with produce from Maui’s ONO Organic Farms.
Specialties: Hawaii, Cruising
Working with CEOs, multi-generational families, and vacation seekers since 2005, Julia Kostenko of Altour Travel specializes in creating unique travel experiences, from honeymoon tours of India to private family getaways in Maui. One of Travel and Leisure's Top A-List travel agents, Kostenko is also a Master Bellini Ambassador, which means she has access to special rates at Orient-Express Hotels. Her regions of expertise include Mexico's Riviera Maya and Hawaii.
Special Booking: A couple requesting a fun adventure were chauffeured to the top of Haleakala at dawn, and then coasted down on bicycles that had been brought to the summit. They spent the afternoon with a private surf instructor testing out the swells before a beachside dinner at the Four Seasons. Years as agent: 25. Specialties: Riviera Maya, European river cruises, Alaskan cruises. Consulting fee: Varies.
Travel agent Maria Guerrieri has helped Linden Travel develop into one of the most well-known travel agencies in New York. Located on Third Avenue in the Turtle Bay neighborhood, this agency was established in 1969 and merged with Frosch Travel in order to offer even more comprehensive service. With nearly ten years of experience in the travel industry, Guerrieri now specializes in Las Vegas and Canada trips and excels in arranging for corporate travel and business services—her expertise has earned her a spot on Travel and Leisure's A-List of travel agents.
A travel agent for more than 30 years, Amy Glass specializes in New York City, Costa Rica, and soft adventure travel (think biking, bird-watching and safaris) in the United States. Her unique itineraries, which might include the luxury of the Chatwal hotel and the spice of Spanish Harlem’s Latin-Caribbean food for a New York client, have earned her a spot on the Travel and Leisure website’s A-list Top 129 travel agents for three years straight. Amy works for Protravel, an agency that has been praised by the likes of maestro Kurt Masur and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and, according to Corporate Travel Magazine, offers the best discounts for corporate travelers.
Special booking: A tour de force from Sundance to Santa Monica, passing through Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, driving along the Oregon and California coasts to Napa and Big Sur—with fly-fishing, hiking, and yoga at hotels such as Amangani, in Jackson, Wyoming, and Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge, in Gold Beach, Oregon. Years as agent: 19. Specialties: Western United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Consulting fee: $150.
More than 20 years of experience have provided Mark Hoyer with the know-how to guide travelers through the most beautiful places in the world. His areas of expertise include outdoors adventures and historic cities in Canada, including Quebec City, Montreal, and Vancouver, as well as adventurous Costa Rica. As a member of TAG, Hoyer is also familiar with some of the most gay-friendly travel services around the world in popular destinations like Key West, Paris, Hong Kong, Munich, and Sydney. Consulting fee runs from $125.
- LeCompte Travel, an independent affiliate of Brownell, Richmond, Va.
- Phone: 804-510-0608
- Email: email@example.com
LeCompte—who went to school in England and lives part-time in a 17th-century cottage in the Cotswolds—will satisfy even the most zealous Anglophile. She can book special tours of Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed, arrange tea with prominent members of the aristocracy, and secure box seats at Manchester United games.
Top tip: Green-thumbed travelers shouldn’t miss a trip to the Burford Garden Company in the Cotswolds, which carries over 12,000 plant brands as well as garden décor (wrought-iron benches and handmade French planters). Stop in the café for fresh salads—try the roasted butternut squash with spinach and red onions—and the decadent rhubarb cheesecake.
Specialties: United Kingdom, France
Tammi R. Van Volkinburgh
Years as agent: 21. Specialties: England, India, South Africa. Consulting fee: From $500.
If it’s high-end and exclusive activities you want, this London-based advisor delivers: lunch and a match at the Guards Polo Club; private boat parties on the Thames; and front-row seats at the Old Vic with backstage passes to meet the actors.
Special booking: For The Imitation Game fans, Worthy can book a guided visit to Bletchley Park, just north of London, where the Enigma code was broken during World War II.
Specialties: United Kingdom, Paris and northern France
Insider Clout:Loupassakis arranges tours of World War II sites for clients staying at Le Manoir du Quesnay, in Normandy, owned by the family of a French Resistance leader. Years as agent: 48. Other specialty: Italy, Caribbean, Hawaii, France. Consulting fee: $150.
Years as agent: 21. Other specialty: Italian countryside. Consulting fee: From $300. firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to annual trips to her native Germany, Elisabeth Landry travels extensively to other European countries each year, allowing her to offer accurate, first-hand advice in regards to local hotels, restaurants, and tour guides. Landry was also selected to represent Virtuoso on several Silversea, Seabourn, Radisson – Regent Seven Seas, and Crystal Cruises, where she gained valuable information for her clients. She has more than 30 years experience, and her specialties include Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Years as agent 33. Specialties Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Fee from $200.
Years as agent: 25. Specialties: Greece, Turkey. Consulting fee: $250.
A champion of experiential travel in off-the-beaten-path areas of Greece, Stergiou has a knack for introducing travelers to small, independent hotels, private farms and wineries, and guides who have a talent for storytelling. Based in a suburb of Athens, Stergiou—who gave a TEDx talk about entrepreneurship and the founding of his company, TrueGreece—makes a point of meeting clients in person when possible.
Special booking: An over-the-top private sailing from Santorini to the island of Spinalonga, off northeastern Crete, with a wine tasting hosted by winemaker Paris Sigalas, a cooking class with a renowned Greek chef, and a barbecue on board. The trip also included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Acropolis Museum while it was closed to the public.
Specialties: Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and France
Fluent in both Hungarian and German, and a part-time resident of Budapest, Nagy shows her clients an insider’s perspective on well-known places like Prague and Vienna. But she also enjoys introducing travelers to off-the-beaten path destinations such as the vineyard-filled Goriška Brda region of Slovenia or Brno in the Czech Republic, where you can tour the Mies van der Rohe–designed Villa Tugendhat.
New favorite: A slew of hotels have opened recently in Budapest. Among the best: Aria, housed in a 19th-century building within walking distance of the Danube’s iconic Chain Bridge. Contemporary art throughout the property’s 49 rooms pays homage to the city’s musical heritage.
Specialties: Central Europe, Western Europe
Special Booking: For a group of women on a china- and silver-shopping excursion, the table at their private villa was set with different patterns, which were listed on the menu along with the food. Years as agent: 29. Other specialties: Ireland, Italy, France. Consulting fee: From $100.
A member of the FROSCH team, Margot Cushing has been leading patrons on trips throughout Asia, France, Italy, and Spain for more than 30 years. From her Turtle Bay office, she enjoys booking excursions to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, which allows visitors to explore the less frequented towns of Ravenna and Modena. Past trips have included an “opera tour” of Vienna and Salzburg, which was comprised of live performances and visits to the homes of Mozart and Beethoven. Years as agent 32. Specialty The Mediterranean. Fee from $300.
In the past few years alone, Falcone has hiked her way across Elba, skied the Dolomites, sailed from Sicily to Naples, rented villas in Lake Como and Tuscany, and slept in innumerable boutique hotels—all for the sake of delivering exceptional insights to her clients. The dual American and Italian citizen tailors trips to her clients’ interests (Slow Food, art history, design), but also makes a point of expanding their horizons.
Special booking: In Chianti, Falcone can set up a cooking and butchery class with the locally loved Dario Cecchini, known as the butcher of Panzano.
A destination specialist for all of Italy, she makes her focus luxury leisure travel to worldwide destinations (particularly Western Europe, South Africa, and Kenya). As an independent consultant with Unique Travel Services at Altour, Hyte has the inside-industry connections necessary to ensure the desired travel outcome. Years as agent 32. Other specialty Western Europe. Fee from $400.
Years as agent: 31. Specialties: Italy, France, luxury cruises. Consulting fee: From $100.
Whether you are hoping to hit the “Big 3” (Rome, Florence and Venice) with tots in tow, sample phenomenal wines in the alluring region of Apulia, or indulge in a romantic island vacation beside the sparkling Mediterranean, Andrea Sertoli and his Chicago-based agency, Select Italy, can make it happen. From pre-booked museum tickets to private excursions, Italian-born Sertoli manages every travel detail so you can just relax and enjoy the trip. Years as agent 17. Other specialty Croatia. Fee from $100.
Shaw’s Roman roots can be traced back to her grandfather, who moved to the city from New York in 1919 to take up a post at the American Embassy. Shaw was raised in Rome and lives there now with her husband and two children. Their frequent explorations of Italy have made her an expert in family travel, though honeymoon and group trips are also in her wheelhouse. She can pull strings for private food and wine experiences in Puglia and insider art and history tours in Venice.
Excited about: Italy’s Reggio Emilia region is especially famous for its culinary products—Parma ham, balsamic vinegars, and, of course, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese—but the area also has day-trip-worthy cultural sites such as the Ferrari car factory and museum and the Collezione Maramotti, a modern and contemporary art collection at Max Mara’s headquarters.
Insider Clout: For a Caravaggio enthusiast, Watkins enlisted an art historian guide to escort the client to three churches in Rome to admire seminal Caravaggio works, followed by a visit to one of the artist’s former studios, just off the Piazza Fontanella Borghese. Years as agent: 26. Other specialty: Italy, Europe, Australia. Consulting fee: From $375.
While Russia isn’t politically popular in the U.S. this year, Tepper notes that the ruble has dropped more than 50 percent against the dollar, making it more affordable than ever. Tepper specializes in the kind of genuine VIP experiences (curator-led tours of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, a behind-the-scenes look at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater) that require serious connections, which he has in spades. He founded Exeter while working and living in Russia, and now travels to the country at least six times a year. His guides are among the very best in the country.
New favorite: The new wing at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, dedicated to the museum’s world-famous Impressionist collection.
Specialties: Russia, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Croatia
Special Booking: For several Texan clients, Arklind orchestrated a classic Scandinavian Christmas holiday, with an airport transfer by dogsled and an arrival greeting from the Finnish Santa Claus, Rovaneimi. They then attended a New Year's Eve dinner in Stockholm. Years as agent: 23. Specialties: Scandinavia, Hawaii, Great Britain. Consulting fee: From $200.
Special Booking: Jensen creates itineraries such as tours of Greenland’s northernmost reaches above the Arctic Circle by private helicopter and dogsled, or cruises up the Ilulissat ice fjords in expedition-caliber ships. Years as agent: 19. Specialties: Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, and Asian cruises. Consulting fee: From $200.
F. Peter Herff II
Years as agent: 35. Other specialties: Italy, the Iberian Peninsula. Consulting fee: From $350. email@example.com
Schoeder opens doors throughout the country thanks to her network of plugged-in friends and quarterly research trips. Turn to her for private whisky-cellar tours, falcon hunts, and overnights on family estates. Some of her favorite trips, though, are relaxed drives with stops at top restaurants. Visitors with Scottish ancestry should ask about her genealogy and clan-history guide.
Discovery: Hiking the Pass of Killiecrankie, a wooded gorge along the river Garry in Perthshire, Scotland. The walk is especially beautiful in October, when fall colors are at their peak.
Specialties: Scotland, England
A former banker, Irurita founded the Madrid-based Made for Spain as a way to share her enthusiasm for the country’s history, culture, and laid-back lifestyle. Through her stable of nontraditional guides, including professional architects and writers, she is the consummate insider hostess, arranging tapas crawls in Seville, sherry tastings in Cádiz, and atelier visits in Madrid. Her team is always on call, ready to deal with any missed flight or other travel mishap.
Excited about: A rising interest in hiking around Spain. Irurita’s arsenal of experts includes top trekking guides that can take travelers to destinations ranging from the Basque region’s Oma Forest to Majorca’s cliff-hugging trails.
Specialties: Spain, Food and wine, Portugal
New favorite: The just-renovated Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel, in Seville, with its spacious rooms decorated in Castilian, Andalusian, and Moorish styles. "Don't miss tapas at the hotel's Bodega Alfonso bar," Wolf says. Years as agent: 27. Specialties: Spain, Italy, Turkey, France, European Mediterranean, food and wine. Consulting fee: $200.
Insider Clout: Poe’s reach in Turkey is evinced by his many years on this list—and the full-service office he maintains in Istanbul—but his latest coup is beyond its borders: last year he secured visas for an entire group of rank-and-file (i.e., non–diplomatic corps) Americans to travel extensively throughout North Korea. Years as agent: 52. Specialties: Turkey, Algeria, Eastern Europe, Austria. Consulting fee: $150.
Barrenechea is known for helping to cultivate travel to Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. When Argentina had very little travel infrastructure, Barrenechea met with ranchers and encouraged them to convert their estancias into luxury hotels, now common throughout the countryside.Years as Agent: 30. Other Specialty: Chile. Fee: Varies.
Years as agent: 14. Other specialties: Costa Rica, Guatemala. Consulting fee: Varies. firstname.lastname@example.org
Years as agent: 8. Other specialty: Family reunions. Consulting fee: $50 a day, not above $500 total. email@example.com
A travel industry veteran of 38 years, Jerry Greenburg of Cassis Travel Services makes leisure travel his particular focus. Recognized within the industry as a top agent, he provides personalized consulting services reflecting his extensive track record as a tour operator. (Brazil, South America, France, and Italy are destination countries he has particular expertise with.) Cassis Travel Services (CTS) is a premier travel management company with offices in London, New York, and Charlotte, NC, in addition to Los Angeles. A Virtuoso member, CTS has direct access to the finest in luxury travel providers.
Rachael Bockoven Colbert
Years as agent: 13. Specialties: Costa Rica, Soft adventure. Consulting fee: None.
Insider clout: Johnston sends clients to the Antisana Reserve, in central Ecuador, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: seeing condors in the wild. Years as agent: 16. Specialties: Ecuador, Kenya. Consulting Fee: None.
Insider clout: Braly books clients an unadvertised private tour of Río Secreto, one of Mexico’s cenotes (underground rivers), including a hike to some remote swimming holes, followed by lunch. Years as agent: 21. Other specialties: Paris, Mexico. Consulting fee: $100.
Carlos L. Fida
Top Tip: One of Fida's latest discoveries is the Corn Islands, off Nicaragua's northeastern coast. "They have everything-pristine beaches, excellent seafood, and affordable hotels." Insider clout: A longtime proponent of Lima’s culinary scene, Fida keeps a list of favorites, including reliable stalwarts such as Astrid & Gastón as well as lesser-known local haunts such as the innovative haute deli T’Anta. Years as agent: 15. Specialties: Brazil, Honeymoons, Wine tours. Consulting fee: Varies.
Special booking: A surprise two-day excursion as part of a Brazilian honeymoon, involving a private helicopter tour of Angra dos Reis followed by a transfer via yacht to one of the archipelago’s private islands.Years as agent: 17. Specialties: Galápagos, Cuba, Small-ship cruises. Consulting fee: From $250.
Hand has traveled to 15 islands in just the past few years, including Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Nassau, St. Martin. She takes particular interest in planning multigenerational vacations, like a recent trip for a family of 17 in Turks and Caicos. (The men went deep-sea fishing while the women spent a day at the spa.) Hand, an avid scuba diver who first fell in love with the Caribbean on her honeymoon two decades ago, is able to secure room upgrades, private sailing trips and yoga classes, spa credits, and other perks.
New favorite: The Malliouhana, an Auberge Resort, in Anguilla, reopened last November after a three-year renovation. Sitting on a hilltop with 360-degree water views, the 44-room resort now has an Auberge Spa, alfresco cliff-side dining, and a two-tiered infinity pool surrounded by private cabanas.
Specialties: The Caribbean, Destination weddings
McLaughlin has friends in all the right places: hotel managers, gallery owners, chefs, private-yacht captains, you name it. She can arrange a camel safari in Jamaica, swimming with wild island pigs on the Bahamian island of Big Major Cay, and private diving trips on Curaçao. And McLaughlin has also been known to pull off miracles, including booking a group of clients into a resort in St. Bart’s that was listed everywhere as sold out.
Special Booking: For travelers looking for an off-the-grid island experience, McLaughlin can plan a trip to the seven-square-mile Grand Turk Island, where the locals (who are less inundated by tourists) are especially friendly. “Getting to the outer islands by small boat is fun, and the white sand beaches are practically deserted.” It’s also known for its stellar diving.
Specialties: The Caribbean, Italy
With over 30 years of travel-savvy experience, Susan Shevlin is the go-to agent for those who want to journey to Australia, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. From knowing which rooms to book at the St. Regis Bahia Beach in Puerto Rico to what resort to stay at in Bermuda (she recommends Tucker’s Point, by the way), Susan, an agent for Tzell Travel Group, has a wealth of knowledge to share with her clients. Consulting fees start at $100, and her office is located just a block west of Bryant Park.
Years as agent: 23. Specialties: Australia, New Zealand. Consulting fee: $150.
Bookholder visits her native country two or three times a year, always on the lookout for up-and-coming destinations and new ways to explore old favorites such as Sydney and Melbourne. A few recent discoveries: Ningaloo Reef, in Western Australia, where travelers can snorkel right off the beach, and new pop-up cafés and boutique wineries in the farmlands outside Sydney.
New Favorite: Crystalbrook Lodge, located on a lake in northern Queensland, is a perfect complement to a Great Barrier Reef trip, Bookholder says. The plush 10-person property sets up only-in-the-outback activities such as fishing for barramundi, bird-watching (look out for red-collared jabirus and dainty lotus birds), and excursions to local caves to see Aboriginal rock art.
Specialties: Australia, New Zealand
Special booking: For a horse-racing enthusiast, Coffey created a customized tour with seats at key Australian tracks such as Belmont Park, in Perth, and Elwick, in Tasmania.Years as agent: 33. Specialties: Australia, Philippines, New Zealand. Consulting fee: From $200.
Mercien-Ferol creates each itinerary from scratch, often with off-the-beaten-path surprises, such as stops at her favorite cafés along Queensland’s Sunshine Coast or a rain-forest trek followed by a champagne lunch. She also favors independent boutique hotels and lodges over international chain hotels.
Excited about: The Thala Beach Nature Reserve, on the coast of northern Queensland. Formerly known as the Thala Beach Lodge, the reborn property has upped its eco ante with sustainably built timber bungalows and tree cabins set high on stilts. There’s also a renewed focus on nature-based activities—ranger-led hikes and sea-kayak tours—in the surrounding unesco World Heritage–listed reefs and rain forest.
Specialties: Australia, New Zealand
Vacations to the South Pacific can feel packaged—unless you get someone creative like Hamer involved. On biannual trips, she seeks out the best overwater bungalows for views and privacy and scouts off-the-radar finds (pearl shops, restaurants, and airport-layover detours) for travelers looking to explore beyond the hotel.
Excited about: Fine dining finally arriving on Moorea with the recent opening of Le Coco’s. Set high on a hill overlooking the island, the contemporary French restaurant serves up dishes such as shrimp on saffron risotto and duck breast with black currants.
Specialties: French Polynesia, The Maldives, and the Seychelles
For decades American Express Travel Insider Robin Turner has been a foremost expert on Hawaii, and while her personal interests include gardening and snorkeling, she is a pro at taking each customer’s passions and translating them into an unforgettable itinerary. Guided by Turner’s insider knowledge, customers can hike the famous Diamond Head crater, indulge in luxurious spa treatments, zip line through lush rainforests, or picnic on Hawaii’s most romantic, secluded beaches. Other areas of expertise include Southeast Asia and Fiji, and her consulting fee varies.
Thomas has explored every corner of the North and South Islands on her 70-plus visits and always jots down places and ideas—waterfalls where fur-seal pups play, roadside sandwich shops, golfing tips—to incorporate into her detailed itineraries. She’s particularly savvy about staying within her clients’ budgets, a difficult task in this once-in-a-lifetime destination.
Discovery: While most New Zealand–bound travelers know that you can hike around Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks, few realize that you can also horseback ride on the beach alongside the limestone cliffs. Thomas can also arrange evening astronomy tours for travelers who want to get to know the Southern Hemisphere’s major constellations.
Specialty: Australia, New Zealand
Years as agent: 35. Specialties: Scandinavia, Southeast Asia, China, Thailand. Consulting fee: From $200.
When Rubin moved to China, in 1994, he was surprised to find a dearth of resources for discerning travelers in a country so rich in cultural heritage and natural beauty. He and his wife and partner, Nancy Kim, set out to change that, and they now lead China’s most sophisticated luxury tour operator. To keep up with the country’s rapid transformation, Rubin is constantly inspecting new hotels—Chengdu has recently seen the arrival of the Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Temple House, and Six Senses—and planning new excursions. In Hangzhou, he can set up a visit to a pharmacy with a practitioner of Chinese medicine; in Shanghai, he’ll arrange a nightlife tour that explores the jazz scene.
Trend watch: Long favored by backpackers, the city of Lijiang in southwestern China, at the Himalayan foothills, is now attracting high-end hotels such as the new Amandayan. The property incorporates Yunnan’s indigenous Nakhi design and has panoramic views thanks to its hilltop location. Lijiang’s tourism bureau understands the city’s potential as well. Rubin notes, “There are strict rules about architecture—what can and cannot be built—and they have bike lanes.”
Guy Rubin is a Super Agent and specializes in China.
Based in Beijing, Zhang formed WildChina with a mission to take travelers away from the beaten path, showing off the hidden sides of Shanghai and Beijing and introducing them to destinations such as Xiahe in Northwest China, known for its Tibetan culture, and Ruili, a merchant town that shares a border with Myanmar, located in her native Yunnan region. She is especially adept at getting people out into the countryside to explore some of China’s stunning national parks, like Zhangjiajie, the landscape inspiration behind the movie Avatar.
Special booking: Zhang can arrange a tour of Caochangdi, Beijing’s Ai Wei Wei–designed arts district, which includes stops at galleries such as Platform China, White Space Beijing, and the photography-focused Three Shadows, where travelers can meet founder Rong Rong.
Other specialties: China, Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar, and North Korea.
Raised in Hong Kong, Woo returns often to her hometown to uncover new shops, restaurants, and hotels. She’s also very familiar with the city’s outskirts, from the residential New Territories to outlying islands such as Cheung Chau, where travelers can see ancient rock carvings and relax on white-sand beaches. She’s skilled at advising travelers on transportation and knows the ins and outs of the city’s ferries, trains, funiculars, and buses.
New favorite: The New World Millennium Hong Kong Hotel is ideally located by Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district. The property has five restaurants, a rooftop pool, and a 15th floor bar with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the harbor. “The deluxe Victoria Harbour View rooms, starting at 376 square feet, are the ones to book, for their water and skyline vistas.”
Other specialties: Hong Kong, Hawaii and Macao.
Central Europe is a second home to Poe, who grew up in Vienna and travels regularly to Austria and neighboring countries. Thanks to a lifetime spent in the travel industry (her parents founded Poe Travel 55 years ago), she has numerous tricks up her sleeve for scoring last-minute tickets to the Vienna State Opera or planning a private dinner at a 14th-century castle outside Prague.
Top tip: When visiting Vienna, don’t miss a trip to the Essl Museum, just 20 minutes outside the city in Klosterneuburg. The private collection, housed in a building designed by Heinz Tesar, includes contemporary and 20th-century Austrian art.
Specialties: Central Europe, India, and Western Europe.
Special booking: Escorted clients on a pilgrimage to the Gujarati holy site of Palitana, in northwestern India. They climbed 4,000 steps to the temples and participated in the aartis (prayer ceremonies). He then took his clients to be blessed by the very priest who had blessed him as a child on his first visit. Years as agent: 12. Specialties: India, Sri Lanka, Kenya. Fee: $500.
- Altour American Express Travel/ Japan In Style, Fort Collins, Colo.
- Phone: 855-678-1512
At least two trips a year allow Townsend, an Aomori native, to explore Japan’s popular cities and small villages. She’s always finding new hotels and uncovering new experiences that appeal to her clients’ interests. When travelers want to learn more about Japanese Buddhism, she might arrange for them to meditate with a monk at dawn on a mountaintop temple in Koyasan. For families with teens, she recommends J-pop concerts or the Ghibli Museum, known for its anime exhibits.
New favorite: The Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, occupying the top six floors of the 52-story Toranomon Hills Tower, has a spa and a 66-foot pool as well as 164 rooms stocked with yukata robes, deep soaking tubs, and complimentary snacks and drinks. Best of all, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the skyline or Mount Fuji.
Other specialty: Japan and Southeast Asia.
Years as agent: 36. Specialties: Indonesia. Consulting fee: Varies.
Travel agency owner Sandee Litwin has nearly three decades of experience in the travel industry. With particular expertise in upscale luxury cruise lines, she has escorted 29 travel groups and sailed on upwards of 90 cruises. Owner of Litwin Travel in Westwood, Litwin personally responds to every inquiry submitted through her website, and her company is a member of Virtuoso, an exclusive consortium admitting just 1% of agents worldwide and granting agencies access to the finest in luxury providers.
Years as agent: 14. Other specialties: Southeast Asia, North Africa, Luxury, Cruises. Consulting fee: From $100.
Insider Clout: Berghaier, a wildlife specialist before becoming a travel consultant, has been following the Great Migration for more than three decades. He'll examine your travel dates and budget to book you the best possible camp for seeing it. Years as agent: 11. Specialties: Africa, Wildlife Travel, Cultural tours. Consulting fee: Varies.
Special booking: Cadar recently sent two couples to Rwanda for gorilla tracking at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge; then to the Serengeti in Tanzania to ride horses with zebras, followed by a hot-air-balloon ride at Singita Sasakwa; and ended the trip with a stay at the Palms Zanzibar.Years as agent: 26. Specialties: Africa, French Polynesia. Consulting fee: $100.
A former trekking guide in Nepal and lodge manager in Zambia, Welch is the go-to advisor for adventure-minded travelers looking to go on safari and spot wildlife. She partners with a very select group of operators and guides to create itineraries like flying safaris across Namibia, hiking treks up Mount Kilimanjaro, and walking trips across Zambia.
New favorite: The beautifully designed, five-suite Marataba Trails Lodge in South Africa, which offers daily guided walks through its 56,000-acre reserve. The area has all of the big game you bank on seeing (elephants, rhinos, and cats), as well as a large variety of birds, including the largest colony of Cape vultures in South Africa.
Joel A. Zack
Concentrating on a small piece of the world—Portugal, Morocco, South Africa, Spain, and Turkey—and knowing these destinations inside and out gives Zack his edge. A dedicated team and network of well-connected locals sustain the business, which grew out of Zack’s own curiosity and expertise as an architect and historic preservationist. “We focus on people perhaps even more than place,” he says of his guides. They can open doors to experiences ranging from late-night jam sessions with musicians in Seville’s local bars to after-hours tours of Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul.
Trend watch: The Alentejo is becoming Portugal’s must-visit region for its low-key vibe, history-rich towns, and olive-orchard-filled landscapes. There are a handful of new contemporary hotels, such as the 19-room Torre de Palma, housed on a vineyard with horse stables and hiking trails, and the striking Villa Extramuros, where rooms have Midcentury Modern furnishings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and private patios.
Joel A. Zack is a Super Agent and specializes in Spain and Portugal.
Cunningham, who was raised in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, has worked on both sides of the safari industry, having run camps in Kenya with her husband for six years before settling in the United States to plan bespoke journeys. She takes time to discuss the importance of conservation with clients, and can help them see it in action on, for example, a private rhino-tracking safari that spans three camps in South Africa.
Special booking: Cunningham designed the ultimate conservation safari, an itinerary that highlights how tourist dollars can help save wildlife and aid in the war against poaching. Travelers visit the Maasai Mara Conservancies; the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which raises critically endangered black rhinos; and Sheldrick’s elephant orphanage, which cares for young animals whose families have been poached.
Specialties: Africa, Luxury and family travel
Insider clout: For VIP American clients in need of top security for a trip to East Africa, Fundora arranged to charter the private helicopter of a prominent politician in Rwanda for their use. "It's the best one in the country," she explains. Years as agent: 12. Specialties: Indian Ocean islands, Southern Africa. Consulting fee: None.
Hilton, whose father was born in Egypt, has an extensive network of friends and family throughout the country, which translates into insider experiences such as meals in local homes, golf at exclusive courses, and private-yacht rentals. She once organized a dinner at the foot of the Pyramids.
Insider Clout: Hilton’s clients can be some of the first to see the remains of Woseribre Senebkay, a previously unknown pharaoh who lived more than 3,600 years ago. His tomb was discovered last January in Abydos, just off of the central Nile River; Hilton can arrange an archaeologist-led tour of the excavation site.
Specialties: Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates
At a time when travelers have a lot of questions about travel to Israel, Epstein serves as an invaluable resource. She travels to the country about five times a year and knows it from every angle: adventure, cultural, faith-based, and political. She leads many of her own trips, and has planned bar- and bat mitzvah celebrations, private masses and baptisms, wedding-vow renewals, and history-focused vacations.
New Favorite: The Market House hotel in Tel Aviv, ideally located next to the Jaffa Clock Tower and flea market. Some of the 44 rooms have balconies and deep soaking tubs, and you can see the remains of a Byzantine chapel through the lobby’s glass floor.
Specialties: Israel, Spain and group travel
Years as agent: 27. Specialties: Middle East, India, Bali, Asia. Consulting fee: None.
Laurette de Moro
Years as agent: 15. Other specialty: France. Consulting fee: Varies. firstname.lastname@example.org
With a keen interest in cultural and experiential travel, Diamond plans everything from cooking classes in a Fez riad to hikes and horseback rides through the country’s scenic southern deserts. One special touch: all of his clients are given cell phones during the trip so that they can call guides, drivers, and the Marrakesh office of his company at any time.
Excited about: New museums in Marrakesh. The Musée Boucharouite, housed in a small riad in the medina, exhibits rare folk art and rugs made in remote Moroccan villages. The Musée Douiria de Mouassine showcases the restoration of a traditional 16th-century guest apartment.
Specialties: Morocco, Turkey
Special booking: For a high-profile client’s safari, Pieters worked with a worldwide security company and orchestrated a soup-to-nuts custom trip, arranging for restaurants to be closed to the public, providing magicians and ostrich-egg painters to entertain the children, and making himself available 24/7. Years as agent: 40. Specialties: Safaris, India, Botswana. Consulting fee: From $250.
Born and raised in South Africa, this former game ranger and co-author of Fodor’s African Safari knows when to visit certain destinations to maximize wildlife viewing, keeping factors such as rain, migratory patterns, and vegetation in mind. Over the past few years, Harrison—who can arrange home visits with scientists and conservationists—has boated the Okavango Delta, gone gorilla trekking in the Republic of the Congo, canoed the Zambezi River, and fished in Malawi.
Insider Clout: At the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia, Harrison can arrange a presentation by Dr. Flip Stander, a scientist who has dedicated his life to researching the lions found in this region. Travelers might also be able to assist his center with research activities.
Specialties: Southern Africa, East and central Africa and the Indian Ocean islands
Five decades of travel experience have made Robert Malmberg’s Boston-based agency one of the nation’s best. A member of the elite Signature Travel Network, Malmberg Travel offers professional, personalized service and extra perks like hard-to-book hotel rooms and exclusive private tours. Whether you’re seeking a safari through the remote wilds of Africa, surfing lessons at Australia’s Bondi Beach, or a hassle-free business trip, Malmberg and his experienced staff can create your perfect trip. Malmberg's area of expertise includes cruises, South Africa, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand.
Insider clout: For a couple’s seven-year-old twins, Udwin organized a separate safari itinerary that included a private chef (who whipped up pizza in the bush) and guides for kid-centric activities on land and water. She finished things off, with the grown-ups in mind, at a fully staffed, exclusive villa on the beach in Mozambique. Special booking: Udwin planned a destination wedding for 25 people in the bush; it included several days and nights of catered festivities, commandeering three bands (including two very popular local ones), and a two-day luxury safari for the entire group—plus, the whole affair was broadcast on South African television. Years as agent: 30. Specialties: Mozambique, East Africa, Honeymoons. Consulting fee: From $150.
Insider clout: Weinberg's connections reach far across South Africa. Examples: on Robben Island, she can arrange a meeting with a former ANC official who was incarcerated during the same period as Nelson Mandela; and at Le Quartier Français hotel, in the Cape Winelands, she'll set up a private cooking lesson with the hotel's renowned chef, Margot Janse. Years as agent: 40. Specialties: India, East Africa. Consulting fee: Varies.
Top tip: Camel’s milk is the ingredient of the moment in Dubai, finding its way into high-end specialty shops and dishes at some of the city’s top restaurants, Wallace says. While there, check in to his favorite spot: the new Ottoman-inspired Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, with views of the sea. Years as agent: 16. Specialties: United Arab Emirates, Maldives, Seychelles. Consulting fee: None.
Kathy Falkensammer co-founded Las Vegas-based Prestige Travel, an American Express Travel Representative, in 1982. She specializes is business travel, and her team of corporate travel specialists guides all aspects of the tour, from securing airfares and hotel rooms to offering emergency assistance. Prestige’s leisure travel group provides cruise and vacation packages to corporate accounts, as well as travel gift certificates. Consulting fees vary.
No matter the ship, Patton can recommend the best quiet corners for reading, where to watch the sunset over particular ports, and the top tables to book for a romantic dinner. Worried about getting a good night’s rest? She can even tell you which rooms have hard beds, and how to remedy the problem (ask the ship to provide egg-crate pads!). Since clients are now booking pre- and post-cruise trips, Patton has also become an expert in creating seamless land-and-water combination packages.
Top Tip: When picking an ocean-liner cabin, keep in mind that there are more noises to consider than when booking a hotel room. You not only want to stay away from elevators and stairs, but also take note of where the anchor drops and where the gym and pool are located.
Specialties: Small ships, luxury cruising and celebrations
Anne Halsey Smith
Years as agent: 28. Other specialty: India. Consulting fee: From $500. email@example.com
Insider clout: For a small group on a cruise, Sutton arranged for their ship to be greeted by the staff of the hotel Cove Atlantis.Years as agent: 35. Specialties: Cruises, Motivational travel, Multigenerational travel. Consulting fee: Varies.
T+L's Travel Advisory Board Member, 2011
Since founding her luxury-cruise-focused agency some 36 years ago, Turpin has taken more than 180 ocean voyages, giving her a strong understanding of the crucial differences among ships and lines. And when clients come to her with no idea of what they’re looking for, she has a knack for matching them with just the right cruise.
New Favorite: Crystal Serenity’s Tastes Restaurant. Located on the Lido deck near the top of the ship, you can pair lovely views with tapas such as a California street tacos or ahi-tuna poke.
Specialty: Luxury cruising
Insider clout: For clients on a luxury Mediterranean cruise, Gordon set up a rendezvous with a top Tuscan winemaker who created a special batch of wine for them.Years as agent: 32. Specialties: Cruising, Africa, space travel. Consulting fee: Varies.
Top tip: The little-visited port city of Khasab, near Dubai, is almost unchanged from a century ago: You can still spot men hauling in their catch with handmade nets.Years as agent: 39. Specialties: Cruising, Private jet trips. Consulting fee: Varies.
Fontaine Deanna Gatti
Years as agent: 41. Other specialties: Family, Adventure travel, Africa, China. Consulting fee: $100.
Years as agent: 18. Specialties: Southern Africa, South America, Family. Consulting fee: $250.
Kimberly Wilson Wetty
The copresident of Valerie Wilson Travel has clients who have relied on her expertise for two decades. She logs their travel history, understands their goals, and keeps track of their interests so that she can make the right suggestion, whether it’s a relaxed Caribbean getaway, a culture-focused European trip, or an adventurous vacation in Australia.
Top tip: When traveling to the Mayan Riviera, book a half-day trip with Paradise Catamarans, which hosts sunset sails and half-day snorkeling trips. The service on the 46-foot vessel is top-notch, and safety is a prior- ity. As for family-friendly places to stay, Wetty recommends the Rosewood Mayakoba and Grand Velas Riviera Maya resorts.
Other specialty: Family travel, Cruises
Sudeikis uses her own extended family (65 strong) as her test group, and is a master at choos- ing hotels and restaurants that deliver on all counts. She’s also skilled at planning reunions, offering families everything from cruises and safaris to dude ranches and Disney. As she puts it, they “aren’t just for backyards anymore.”
New favorite: The Art Deco–inspired WestHouse Hotel New York, in Manhattan, is a great location for families—close to Central Park and Broadway— and resort fees include room snacks and Wi-Fi plus wine, cheese, and charcuterie in the lounge, and cookies and milk in the 23rd-floor terrace. The 172 rooms, designed by Jeffrey Beers International, are also large and full of light.
Other specialty: Family travel, India
Special booking: Marrakesh, Largay arranged a medina excursion with a personal shopper. The client selected caftan fabric, beads for jewelry, and leather for sandals.Years as agent: 30. Other specialty: Adventure, Family. Consulting fee: From $100.
With more than 25 years of experience, American Express Travel agent Kathy Hannon specializes in both ski trips and family travel. She has in-depth knowledge of kids' programs throughout the United States, Caribbean, and Mexico, and she is a graduate of Disney's College of Knowledge, designed to develop agents' expertise in Disney parks and resorts. Hannon also plans ski vacations to the Western United States and Canada, organizing everything from accommodations and airfare to ski lift tickets and spa appointments. She was named a Travel + Leisure A-List agent in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Fees start at $50.
Wilson-Buttigieg is praised for her persistence on behalf of her clients, as well as her discreet service—and she intimately understands the pressures and priorities of travelers who visit three cities in three days or who are away two weeks a month. A self-described road warrior, she plans destination board meetings and executive-education programs in addition to working with individual travelers.
New Favorite: The Shangri-La Hotel, at the Shard, London, has stunning city views and six restaurants, many of which have private dining spaces that are ideal for lunch meetings.
Specialties: Business travel, family travel
Although Valerie Wilson closed its Atlanta office, Manny Beauregard is still based in Atlanta working for the company. A member of the American Society of Travel Agents, Beauregard began working as an agent in 1972. He specializes in hotels and small ship cruises. In fact, he was named a Travel + Leisure A-List agent for hotels in 2010 and 2011. Currently, his favorite hotel recommendations include the Aubrey, a Beaux-Arts mansion in Santiago, Chile, and the Leela Palace Kempinski in New Delhi, which features a two-story Espa spa with a private suite overlooking the city. Beauregard’s fees start at $250.
Years as agent: 27. Specialties: India, Sri Lanka, Small luxury cruises. Consulting fee: $500.
Whether you’re looking for a restorative retreat or just a little pampering, Benson knows where to turn. She has planned ayurveda getaways to India, hikes in Bhutan, and cultural and spiritual experiences in Arizona. She knows not only which treatments to book but also the best practitioners.
Excited about: The 28,000-square-foot spa at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu has an Apothecary Mud and Clay Mosaic Treatment that uses volcanic mud and deep-sea clay sourced on the island.
Specialties: Spas and wellness, adventure
Maureen “Mo” Smith
Years as agent: 33. Specialties: Adventure, Spa, Hiking, Culinary. Consulting fee: From $100.
Betty Jo Currie
Currie focuses on maintaining personal networks and strategic partnerships around the globe, which translates into superior service for her clients, wherever they choose to travel. Her mission is to connect people to far-flung destinations through adventure, whether that means hiking the Peruvian Andes, boating the backwaters of Kerala, India, or observing the immense scale of Tanzania’s Great Migration via helicopter.
Special booking: For photographers, Currie can arrange an open-door helicopter ride over Norway’s Lofoten Islands, known for their postcard-worthy jagged peaks, or a private boat tour up the 21-mile Hjørundfjord, flanked by steep rock walls and green meadows.
Specialties: Adventure, Africa
Burgio’s travel company, Blue Parallel, specializes in top-of-the-line bespoke getaways that combine luxury and adventure. It also has a collection of private villas, staffed by members of his team. All the itineraries—from solo ice treks through Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier to family-friendly polo lessons on a private estancia—come with 24/7 concierge service that keeps VIP needs and time constraints in mind.
Special booking: In Colombia, Burgio’s clients can stay on a private estate overlooking the rolling hills of the Coffee Triangle. The property has a freshwater pool, outdoor yoga studio, and a personal chef who welcomes guests with a traditional barbecue—complete with live folk music.
Specialties: Central and South America, The Mediterranean
In the past five years alone, Hunter has visited more than two dozen countries—always on the lookout for new ways to incorporate history and culture into her itineraries in subtle, meaningful ways. In southern Germany, she’ll add a night in the university town of Tübingen, where Hegel and Kepler studied. In Rome, she’ll not only direct clients to Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa but also give them just the right reading material to bring the magnificent statue to life.
Excited about: Auberge du Jeu de Paume, a Relais & Châteaux property on the grounds of Prince of Condé’s castle at the historic Château de Chantilly, is home to the prince’s extensive art collection.
Specialties: Culture/education, Europe
- Cruise Masters/Concierge Travel Advisors, Portland, Ore.
- Phone: 800-848-7120
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Niskanen excels at advising travelers who believe the main attraction is the destination, rather than the ship. He is well acquainted with hundreds of port cities in Europe, Asia, and South America, and can recommend excursions, restaurants, shops, and private or self-guided tours in each one. He’s also traveled along the Nile and the Yangtze as well as every major river system in Europe.
Insider find: The medieval hilltop village of Les Baux-de-Provence is a lovely shore excursion from Marseilles. You can tour the limestone caverns of Carrières de Lumières, and, in St.-Rémy-de-Provence, stop in to visit chocolatier Jöel Durand.
Specialty: Cruising, Southern Africa
Gene Lashley believes that to truly know a destination, you should see it for yourself. Specializing in luxury cruises and adventure travel, the founder and CEO of Century Travel employs first-hand knowledge while planning individualized tours and vacations. Lashley has taken more than 75 cruises, and he uses this eye-witness experience to place clients on the ideal vessel. Listed as a diving specialist in the 2011 Travel + Leisure A-List, Lashley is also adept at arranging under-the-boat excursions to prime scuba spots such as Tahiti and Moyo Island. Fees start at $200.
Donley’s adventures began in childhood, when she accompanied her plant pathologist father to postings throughout Central and South America, picking up Spanish and Portuguese along the way. Today, the 20-year fly-fishing veteran explores the world through its rivers, leading expeditions and planning private trips to Montana, Belize, Zambia, and beyond.
Insider clout: In New Zealand, Donley knows a helicopter crew that will dive for fresh lobsters while you’re fly-fishing on a remote river. They’ll pick you up, crustaceans in tow, for a champagne lunch on a mountaintop.
Specialty: Fly-fishing, adventure
Lynda Turley Garrett
To Garrett, dining experiences are the cornerstone of every trip. She plans entire journeys around meals—not to mention food festivals, cooking classes, market tours, and wine and spirit tastings. In each destination she visits (recently Napa, Paris, Melbourne, and northern India), Garrett makes it a priority to try everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to neighborhood joints. And she’s never used the same itinerary twice.
Excited about: Tasmania, known for its oysters and southern bluefin tuna, also has more than a hundred wineries, fisheries, and family-run dairy farms, where you can sample cheddar and Camembert cheeses.
Specialties: Food and wine, Australia, and New Zealand
Katie McCormack Krinkie
Years as agent: 15. Other specialties: Culinary travel, California, Europe. Consulting fee: Varies.
Rubin left a successful law practice to found DavidTravel, and he still draws on his legal background: he listens to clients with an analytic ear, is an expert at negotiating rates, and has a knack for anticipating—and heading off—problems. He frequently arranges dinners with prominent members of gay communities, even in less tolerant countries such as Kenya and Egypt.
New Favorite: The Peninsula Paris, housed in a 19th-century Haussmannian building, has a rooftop bar with Eiffel Tower views and thoughtfully designed rooms (ample closet space, U.S.-compatible electric outlets, and total blackout curtains). There’s also a large spa with eight treatment rooms and an indoor pool.
Specialties: LGBT travel, destination celebrations
Top tip: While China and Japan have blue-chip courses, they’re usually accompanied by hefty greens fees. Malaysia, surprisingly, has more than 200 mostly affordable blue-chip courses.Special booking:For clients golfing in New Zealand, Dischner arranged for a trip to the Otago Peninsula to see endangered yellow-eyed penguins in their natural habitat. Years as agent: 46. Specialties: Golf, Luxury cruises. Consulting fee: From $100.
An avid golfer who has played all over the world, Miller has firsthand knowledge of courses and resorts from Ireland to China. Thanks to concierge and private-club connections, she is able to score coveted reservations at milestone greens like the Old Course at St. Andrews, in Scotland, and Diamante Cabo San Lucas, in Mexico. She’s also adept at tailoring trips to suit the occasion, whether it’s a couples retreat, a guys’ weekend, or a girlfriend getaway.
Excited about: Portugal has upped its golf game in recent years, as evidenced by properties like the recently opened Oitavos Dunes Resort outside Lisbon. A pool overlooks the 18-hole course; there’s also an equestrian center and chic, whitewashed rooms with ocean views.
Specialties: Golf, adventure
Excited about: Portugal as a soft-adventure destination. White’s a fan of the Vicentine Coast Natural Park, with easy hiking and biking paths.Years as agent: 25. Specialties: Barge cruises, Food + Drink, Europe, Hiking/Walking. Consulting Fee: From $250.
Georgia Morgan Johnson
Insider clout: For a couple with a layover in California, Johnson arranged a last-minute dinner at French Laundry, in Yountville. Years as agent: 6. Specialities: Italy, Tahiti, New Zealand, Honeymoons. Consulting fee: $250.
The president of Century Travel, Lloyd left a career in software sales to dedicate himself to travel planning. He pays close attention to details whether he’s working with a huge budget or a small one, and always incorporates surprises into his itineraries. Lloyd is a problem solver who’s quick on his feet—once arranging last-minute transport for a wedding cake to a celebration in St. Martin.
Special booking: On Italy’s Lake Como, Lloyd can book a trip on a Tullio Abbate, a classic mahogany speedboat made by a famous shipbuilding family in the region. Honeymooners will sip Bellavista Franciacorta while taking in sights such as the gardens of Villa Serbelloni.
Specialties: Weddings and honeymoons, Italy, and cruises
Annual trips to emerging and bucket-list angler destinations such as Russia, Iceland, and Norway make Fitzgerald an expert on when and where to fish. She also provides packing tips that are unique to the sport, like bringing an electric bug swatter and making sure you have the best flies for the any river. She’s especially excited about how many women she now sees casting a line.
New Favorite: The Limay River Lodge, on the border of the Argentine provinces of Neuquén and Río Negro, is outfitted with a cozy central fireplace and well-stocked wine cellar. It’s the only lodge on the banks of the Limay River, where anglers are likely to see larger-than-average rainbow and brown trout.
Specialties: Fly-fishing, India
Insider clout: Bullard secured a 24-hour private permit for clients to photograph lava flow from Hawaii’s Mount Kilauea. Special booking: For photographer clients, a 1920's-style walking safari in the far reaches of the Selous Reserve, in southern Tanzania, with two of the country's top guides. Years as agent: 28. Specialties: Photography, Adventure. Consulting fee: Varies.
Insider find: A roster of local guides across Africa, including in the Zambezi River Valley, in Zimbabwe, and in Hwange National Park, near the Botswana border. Their walking and canoeing expeditions bring clients face-to-face with bull elephants, rhinos, and lions. Years as agent: 26. Specialites: Photography, Egypt, Jordan, Safaris, Multigenerational travel. Consulting fee: None.
Years as agent: 15. Other specialty: Small-ship cruises. Consulting fee: Varies. email@example.com
Sara Ryan Duffy
Special booking: In 2010, Duffy planned a vacation to the Mediterranean that included a cruise on a 300-foot yacht stocked with 10 pounds of caviar. Insider clout: For clients attending the Cannes Film Festival in May, Duffy chartered the Deja Too—a yacht that calls in France, Italy, and Sardinia. Besides its formidably opulent design (think Empire goes sailing) and vast aft terrace space, the Deja Too’s four equal-size suite cabins can be converted into two VIP suites, or one master suite and two standard cabins. Years as agent: 18. Other specialties: Yachts, villas, private jets, celebrity travel. Consulting fee: Varies.
Known for: Her ability to match clients to the right agent among her hundreds of employees—a relationship she firmly believes determines the success of a trip. Alexander listens carefully to what you’re saying (and what you’re not saying) to determine who’ll work best with you to create the ultimate travel experience. Consulting fee: Varies Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
T+L's Travel Advisory Board Member, 2011
The travel agent of choice for a who's who of notables, including Fortune 100 companies, members of European royalty, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are all clients, Barbara Gallay has a four-decade legacy in the travel industry that's put her on a first-name basis with top hotel general managers worldwide. (When the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company needs advice on its hotels, it's this travel insider they call.) She can get upgrades at the most sought-after properties, secure spots on popular excursions, and book top guides in situations where few can. Trend watch Sri Lanka is back on travelers’ radars thanks to new hotels (Shangri-La and Six Senses are building here) and culture-rich locations. Fee Varies.
Excited about: The Seychelles. The breadth of nature and growing number of luxury resorts make it a destination to satisfy many agendas. Known for: Totally custom itineraries, with a pronounced cultural aspect—architectural, culinary, sociopolitical. Hilliard has lived in Israel, Jordan, and all over Southeast Asia; her understanding of the immersion experience is her secret weapon (as is her large Rolodex of top guides and historians, personal chefs and boutique winemakers, private drivers and pilots, and much more). Years as agent: 40. Specialties: Asia, South Pacific. Consulting fee: $750.
T+L's Travel Advisory Board Member, 2010
Lindblad’s background in anthropology comes through in her itineraries, which frequently include tours led by historians and experiences usually only available to in-the-know locals. Her recommendations are based on in-depth research, conducted with specific clients in mind. In anticipation of a trip to Iceland, Lindblad went with a team to Reykjavík to vet the country’s transportation options—snowmobiles, Zodiacs, and helicopters—and experience cave and glacier hikes firsthand. She sees every journey as an opportunity for cultural exchange and personal development.
Trend watch: Lindblad is noticing a new level of personalized service available to high-net-worth clients. Luxury hotels, private villas, and yacht companies are regularly bringing in meditation experts, hiking guides, massage therapists, and yoga instructors, depending on guests’ interests.
Lisa Lindblad is a Super Agent and specializes in Africa.
Mary Ann Ramsey
Ramsey, who celebrates her 40th year in the travel industry this year, approaches her work with the mind-set of a financial planner, meeting with clients to discuss their long-term travel objectives and develop an execution strategy. She maintains a master list of their goals and dream trips, and uses her frequent travels to vet destinations and experiences. Ramsey cruises regularly, and creating personalized shore excursions is one of her specialties. She also makes a point of flying various airlines to stay on top of new cabin layouts and designs.
Trend watch: 2016 is going to be an exciting year for cruising, Ramsey says. The Regent Seven Seas Explorer debuts in July with a maiden voyage (from Monte Carlo to Venice) that’s already sold out, and Seabourn is set to launch two new ships, the Encore and Ovation.
Mary Ann Ramsey is a Super Agent and specializes in cruising.
Anne Morgan Scully
Scully’s clients can expect seamless trips that are full of welcome surprises, from airport transfers in luxury cars to thoughtful extras such as personalized shopping suggestions and freshly cut flowers in hotel rooms. She stresses the importance of well-educated guides who are fantastic storytellers and local tastemakers who can enrich a trip with their insider knowledge. Having watched the cruise industry develop over the past 30 years, Scully is also an expert on luxury ships, from ocean liners and riverboats to private yachts. She’s the godmother to the Ingvi, a recently launched Viking River Cruise ship.
Trend watch: In the past, Scully’s clients would tack New Zealand onto an Australia vacation as an afterthought, but now they’re thinking of it as a solo destination. “They’re lingering to explore the North Island’s Maori culture, the South’s Milford Sound and black-sand beaches, and cities in between, like Christchurch and Queenstown,” Scully says.
Anne Morgan Scully is a Super Agent and specializes in Western Europe.
When Shah evaluates a destination, she goes beyond simply checking out hotels and restaurants. She dives into historical context and cultural background. She is especially drawn to experiences that connect travelers with locals. In India, for example, she asks her favorite designers and craftspeople to open up their houses and studios and show guests the artistic process behind their textiles, clothes, and jewelry. Her clients have also taken part in temple ceremonies and learned to play traditional musical instruments.
Trend watch: Shah is seeing more boutique hotels in remote regions of India. One of her favorites is Jawai, a tented camp where travelers can go on game drives to see Rajasthan’s leopards. At the fortlike Mihir Garh, located in a scrub desert outside of Jodhpur, ground-floor suites have plunge pools and private courtyards, while first-floor suites have jacuzzis and private terraces. And close to the medieval town of Jaisalmer, the Serai has 21 tents and a pool modeled after a Rajasthani stepwell.
Pallavi Shah is a Super Agent and specializes in India.
Jim Strong & Nancy Strong
Attention to detail from the first meeting, accessibility (as a rule, their phone is answered on the first ring), and a contagious passion for travel define this mother-and-son team. They arm clients with both paper and digital copies of itineraries that are loaded with confirmation numbers and contacts for round-the-clock assistance. And they also provide an on-the-ground host, who can help with everything from emergencies (like picking up medicine at a local pharmacy) to securing the best table at a restaurant.
Trend watch: Time-starved vacationers are looking to the homeland for long-weekend breaks. From Houston, travelers can helicopter over to the Inn at Dos Brisas, a hacienda-style ranch with horseback-riding trails, wine tastings, and cooking classes. Near Yosemite National Park, the Strongs put clients up in Château du Sureau and arrange for a private guide to take them to the valley’s major waterfalls and rock formations.
Jim Strong & Nancy Strong are Super Agents and specialize in Western Europe.
Valerie Ann Wilson
Wilson is an industry influencer with 16 offices around the United States and more than 30 years of experience. She’s chairman emeritus of Virtuoso’s advisory board and a valued advisor for half a dozen luxury hotels and travel brands. She’s also written two travel books and is on the road for more than a third of every year. Wilson and the staff of her top-notch agency (now also under the leadership of her daughters, A-Listers Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg and Kimberly Wilson Wetty) are well-traveled and highly organized. But they still enjoy the collaborative nature of planning trips with clients. “Part of the fun is hearing their ideas and vicariously traveling through our customers,” Wilson says.
Trend watch: Egypt is on the verge of making its return. She’s especially excited about the Nile Ritz-Carlton, scheduled to open in Cairo this year. She’s also a fan of the country’s river cruises, such as Abercrombie & Kent’s Art Deco–style Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, where excursions include a tour of the temple of Dendera and private access to Queen Nefertari’s Tomb.
Valerie Ann Wilson is a Super Agent and specializes in hotels.
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