Some may argue that in the age of the internet, travel agents have become a foreign concept. Whilst the days of walking into a brick and mortar agency office to look through flight prices and promotional videos may indeed be a thing of the past, having a curated portfolio of travel recommendations that fit your unique needs is still something most of us desire. “Printed brochures”, answers Susie Marquis, founder of The Luxury Travel Book, when I ask her what’s changed in the travel industry from when she first started in the 1980s.
“We used to produce printed brochures each year featuring all the properties we were representing. People could either come and collect them or we would post to them. Now, most people are happy to look at website pages and book online, although we do still have telephone conversations with our clients and potential clients as we like to get a better understanding of their requirements.”
It’s that personal approach that has spearheaded the growth of the The Luxury Travel Book (or TLTB to members of its thriving community), now a family-run company that includes a portfolio of city escapes, luxury villas, and bespoke concierge services across multiple continents. Marquis and her sons Freddie and Jamie are all expert travellers who have scoured the globe uncovering the eco-friendly retreats, swish penthouse apartments, and private island getaways that feature in their portfolio. “We have made a point of visiting our destinations personally and each of our properties has been vetted by us or a trusted property manager,” explains Marquis.
With the luxury private rental market increasing in popularity, I ask her about their strategy for staying ahead of the competition. “We like to think that it’s the standard of the properties we feature and also our very personal approach; we always speak with our clients to learn as much as possible about them and their preferences, to be sure that we are offering the right properties for them,” she says. “We know the various suppliers and destinations very well and are able to provide expert local information.”
LLM – Luxury Lifestyle Magazine writer Ina Yulo Stuve speaks with Marquis to learn more about running a family business, how she’s tackled the challenges from the past year, and the unique properties she and her sons discovered whilst they were all stranded in different countries.
How did you first come up with the idea of The Luxury Travel Book?
When I started the company back in 2011, I was just working with city apartments in Europe, so we were initially called The City Apartment Book. I had a few contacts in Paris, Rome, Venice, and Florence, and that’s how we started! Freddie, my younger son, left university around that time and started helping me.
It’s such a nice industry as you are constantly connecting with owners of properties in different countries, as well as potential clients. Also, pre-Covid, we were travelling regularly to our destinations. Jamie, my older son, joined us a couple of years later, he was working for an accountancy firm previously, but decided he would like to work with us and help expand the business. So I feel very lucky to have such great support!
Who is your typical client?
That’s quite a difficult question as we have clients from all over the world, and it also depends on the time of year. In normal times, we are busy with city apartment bookings all year, although mainly in the spring and autumn. We have a lot of American, Australian, and European clients as well as British. With the villas in Europe, it is particularly busy from spring through to autumn, and the clients vary from couples, friends, families, and also extended families, particularly if it is a special occasion like a wedding or birthday.
Why did you decide to make the shift from focusing on city apartments to luxury villas?
We did start with the villas in a small way quite early, as we wanted to ensure we were securing business all year round, and since Jamie joined us, we have expanded the villa programme substantially. I think we will always work with both as, in normal times, pre-Covid, the city apartments are very popular too particularly outside the high summer season.
Has it been difficult to separate work and your personal life now that your sons are also part of the business?
Because it’s a family business, inevitably it probably does take over our personal lives to a degree, but we really enjoy what we do and we consider a lot of our owners and suppliers as friends. I love cinema, so can always take myself off to a good film as an escape if it’s been a particularly stressful week!
How have you tackled the many challenges that the ongoing pandemic has had to travelling and those working in the industry?
It’s been so difficult for everyone in the travel industry. Fortunately, we have excellent close relationships with the majority of our owners and suppliers, so that has allowed us to offer our clients more flexibility when it comes to changing their existing bookings, as well as giving potential future clients more peace of mind when making a booking.
We were also lucky in that we gave up our office a couple of years ago before Covid, partly because I was going back to New Zealand, where I am from originally, for a few months, Jamie was going to Cape Town, and Freddie to Portugal. We ended up being stranded in these places during the entire first lockdown.
However, the plus side was missing winter 2019 here, as well as discovering some great properties to rent in New Zealand, Cape Town, and the Algarve! In New Zealand, we found this luxury villa on Waiheke Island, a paradise of white sand beaches, vineyards, and a native forest just a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland; on the Western Algarve, where it is quieter and less crowded, there’s a contemporary six-bedroom villa on the clifftop of Praia de Salema; and just 40 kilometres east of Cape Town in the Cape Winelands, we discovered Villa L’Amitié, a beautiful manor house on a wine estate.
Any must-pack items we will always find in your luggage?
My Kindle, so I always have something to read while waiting in airports and stations and on a plane or train.
Where will you be off to on your next trip?
I am hoping to get to Paris over the next month or two, and also Venice. I love the beach and countryside, but also love wandering around a beautiful city, finding nice restaurants and cafés, and going to some good art exhibitions. We added some absolutely beautiful Palazzo apartments in Venice, such as Apartment Grand Canal and the Castello Palazzo apartment, which I managed to see in between lockdowns last September and I look forward to revisiting.
What would be your top cities for: food, culture, history, shopping
Definitely Paris and Venice, as mentioned earlier, and also Florence, Rome, Seville, Barcelona, and of course, London.
The Luxury Travel Book