Business Buzz: The Return of the Travel Agent

Written by Leah LeMoine Category: Valley News Issue: December 2018
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Are the travel experts of yesteryear making a comeback in the Valley?

photo by Linda Kazares; Janet Semenova (left) and Angie Rice (right)It sounds like a throwback to the pre-TSA days but, like mom jeans and fanny packs, travel agents are making a comeback, according to NBC News and Vogue. This time, they have buzzier names – concierges and advisers – and niches.

“I had no idea that travel agents still existed or that anybody used them, because when we travel, I spend like 40, 80, 100 hours researching,” says Paradise Valley nurse practitioner Janet Semenova. “Our friends and family have asked me for advice over the years about where they should go and how they should plan... A lot of people get really overwhelmed when they’re trying to plan a trip, especially international travel.”

In 2017, Semenova and her friend Angie Rice, a Paradise Valley accountant, parlayed their travel know-how into Boutique Travel Advisors. Over the past year, the two have planned more than 50 trips for clients, from a multigenerational family pilgrimage to the Vatican to a luxury Inca trails excursion for 12 Valley health care professionals.

“We’re able to arrange unique experiences for people,” Semenova says, through their membership in Signature Travel Network, a consortium of high-end travel advisers that affords them access to discounted resort rates and perks. “They can meet a maharajah at his palace in India. They can see unexhibited ancient treasures in a museum in the country of Georgia. They can attend a private wine tasting in wineries that are generally not open for the public.”

While Semenova says most of her clients are in the luxury sphere, “luxury is so vast… most of our clients don’t have an unlimited budget.” They charge a per-person itinerary building fee and clients pay suppliers as they go, so tighter budgets can be accommodated.

“Some of these things are obviously quite expensive,” she says. “Some of them are not expensive at all – it’s just knowing who to talk to... We know the people who can make it happen.”