Vanessa McGovern illustrating luxury-focused growth with Gifted Travel Network's support.

Trends and Transformations in the Luxury Travel Industry with Vanessa McGovern of Gifted Travel Network

Episode Overview

Episode Topic:
In this captivating episode of TravelPreneur, we discover the luxurious world of travel entrepreneurship with Vanessa McGovern, co-founder of Gifted Travel Network. Vanessa shares her expert insights into the luxury travel industry, revealing how Gifted Travel Network supports its network of luxury travel advisors. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in the nuances of luxury travel, the power of a supportive community, and the art of creating unforgettable experiences for clients. Join us as we explore the key strategies, challenges, and future trends in luxury travel with one of the industry’s leading voices.

Lessons You’ll Learn:
Throughout the episode, there are valuable insights and actionable advice for both seasoned and aspiring travel entrepreneurs. Listeners will learn about the importance of nurturing a supportive network in the luxury travel industry, how to overcome common challenges faced by travel advisors, and the unique programs offered by Gifted Travel Network to foster professional growth. Vanessa also shares success stories from the network, highlighting the transformative impact of collaboration and community. Additionally, you’ll gain an understanding of the evolving landscape of luxury travel and receive expert advice on entering and thriving in this competitive sector.

About Our Guest:
Vanessa McGovern, a visionary in luxury travel entrepreneurship, has shaped the industry with her innovative approach to business development and advisor support. As the co-founder of Gifted Travel Network, Vanessa has dedicated her career to empowering travel advisors and fostering a nurturing environment that emphasizes professional growth, community, and collaboration. Her expertise and passion for luxury travel have made her a leading figure in crafting unforgettable travel experiences, making her insights invaluable for anyone looking to make their mark in the luxury travel sector.

Topics Covered:
This episode covers a wide range of topics crucial for both seasoned and aspiring luxury travel entrepreneurs. From the foundational aspects of building a supportive network and facing industry challenges together, to the art of curating personalized luxury travel experiences, and anticipating future trends in the luxury travel market. Vanessa also shares her vision for the future of Gifted Travel Network and offers actionable advice for those aspiring to enter the luxury travel business. Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or a seasoned advisor, this episode is packed with strategies, stories, and insights to inspire and guide your journey in luxury travel entrepreneurship.

Our Guest: Vanessa McGovern- Pioneer of a Luxury-Focused Community in Travel

Vanessa McGovern is not just a name in the luxury travel industry; she is a force to be reckoned with. As the co-founder of Gifted Travel Network, Vanessa has carved a niche for herself and her company in the highly competitive world of luxury travel. Her journey began with a passion for exploring the world and a vision to transform this passion into a thriving business that prioritizes the creation of unforgettable travel experiences. Vanessa’s expertise lies in her innovative approach to luxury travel, focusing on bespoke travel experiences tailored to the individual needs of clients. Her leadership has propelled Gifted Travel Network to the forefront of the industry, setting new standards in luxury travel advising and entrepreneurship.

Beyond her role in company leadership, Vanessa McGovern is deeply committed to the professional development of travel advisors. Recognizing the challenges and opportunities within the luxury travel sector, she has spearheaded initiatives aimed at equipping advisors with the tools, knowledge, and confidence to succeed. Through the Gifted Travel Network, Vanessa has developed unique programs and platforms that foster learning, mentorship, and community. Her efforts have not only elevated the careers of numerous travel advisors but have also enriched the travel experiences of clients worldwide. Vanessa’s dedication to education and empowerment reflects her belief in the transformative power of travel and the importance of expert guidance in crafting luxurious, personalized travel experiences.

Vanessa’s impact on the luxury travel industry extends beyond her company. Her insights and foresight into travel trends have made her a sought-after speaker and thought leader. She possesses a keen understanding of the dynamics shaping the future of luxury travel, from technological advancements to changing consumer preferences. Vanessa’s advocacy for a community-over-competition approach has also contributed to a more collaborative and supportive industry atmosphere. Her vision for the future includes not only the growth of the Gifted Travel Network but also the elevation of the luxury travel advisory profession. Through her work, Vanessa McGovern continues to inspire a new generation of travel entrepreneurs, demonstrating the endless possibilities within the realm of luxury travel.

Episode Transcript

Vanessa McGovern: Our advisors are only as good as the relationships that they have. They won’t know everything about every experience, every culinary experience, the restaurant around the corner in the city. They don’t know that unless they have the right relationships in destination,  are able to curate that and work with that travel advisors to craft the best luxury-focused experience for their clients. So our role at the host agency is to nurture and grow those relationships for the advisor because we aren’t selling travel, and we do that so that our advisors can focus on being the experts in their client, and then they work with the in-destination partner to bring to light the experience based on what they know about their client. And that’s where the magic happens.

Megha McSwain: Welcome to TravelPreneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist, Megha McSwain. Each episode will be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel businesses if they impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on TravelPreneur. Hello, fellow wanderers Megan McSwain here. Back with another episode of TravelPreneur. We’re about to embark on a journey into the realm of luxury travel entrepreneurship. Today we are joined by Vanessa McGovern, co-founder of Gifted Travel Network. Welcome, Vanessa.

Vanessa McGovern: Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

Megha McSwain: Thank you. Gifted Travel Network emphasizes supporting one another. How does the network of luxury travel advisors and the collaborative community contribute to the success and growth of entrepreneurs in the world of luxury travel?

Vanessa McGovern: Great question. And you said it in your question. And that the anchor there, the word, the key word in that is community. And so how we contribute to the world of luxury travel and to the world of luxury travel entrepreneurs is we have the most engaged group of travel advisors focused on luxury travel in the industry. We have cultivated a very strong community-over-competition vibe, which serves our members in a variety of ways. And so because of the focus on community, we have a rising tide lifts all boat theory because entrepreneurship can be lonely sometimes, and it’s really important to surround yourself with a community of like-minded individuals that are on a similar journey to you. And we have cultivated the type of community that when others are a little further along in their journey, they find great value and contribute and in professional and personal fulfillment, by then, helping others that may have just joined and are where they were maybe a few years ago. And because we attract such incredible talent to our new to-industry training program, we have these incredible professionals, entrepreneurial, spirited people with maybe a love for travel, but have never actually had a business selling travel, but come to us with an incredible depth of skill set from their, you know, past careers and they end up contributing and elevated, elevating awareness to overall professional skills and content in general, even for travel advisors that have maybe been selling travel for a few years. So cultivating a strong community is really at the heart of how we serve our members. And that’s really what we focus on.

Megha McSwain: From your perspective, what challenges do luxury travel advisors often encounter? How does Gifted Travel Network foster a spirit of collaboration to overcome those challenges?

Vanessa McGovern: Well, of course, entrepreneurship, you have to face challenges every day, and we like to be focused on solutions versus the challenges. And I think the best way to answer that question is to explain how we meet our members, where they are in their journey. Some days there could be something relatively minor, other days not so minor. Sometimes it’s related to the operations of their business that they might need help with, or finding themselves being challenged with. Sometimes it’s related to actual the trip itinerary itself, or helping moving a client along in the process of making a decision about an investment for their luxury travel experience. So we try to meet our members in a variety of ways and give them access to tools and information to help them overcome whatever might be keeping them stuck, or they just need additional resources on. And how we do that is both virtual and in person. So through the Travel Network, we have a series of virtual events that happen throughout the week, like open office hours, for example, where we have a mentor on our travel business university program that will be on Zoom, and people can just jump in as if it’s, you’re in an office and you’re knocking on somebody’s virtual door and you just need to pop in and ask a question. So we have virtual office hours. So individual one-on-one mentorship can occur.

Vanessa McGovern: We also do twice weekly group classes, group coaching calls if you will, where we facilitate the discussion. But really it’s member-to-member and peer-to-peer. And so they can then help each other. And those are quite lively. They’re recorded. And then of course we have that available to them in their portal. And then anybody that wants to listen, we always post a recap because as you can appreciate the topics are varied. And so we obviously there’s a 60-minute recording of something. You’re going to want to know exactly what is covered, because if it’s not relevant then you don’t want to listen to that. So we do that for our members. But then we also host business mastermind sessions throughout the year as well. And we do it depending on where they are in their entrepreneurial journey. So for example, we host a mastermind meeting for our top producers, and we have one coming up in Austin in February 2024 at the Four Seasons. And we do this, we bring the highest producing members from the previous year because they do have a unique set of challenges at that stage in their journey than maybe somebody that’s just starting. And everybody has their own challenges at different stages. And so we bring our members together in various ways to address those challenges through bringing together experts on those topics or just peer-led sessions. And of course, there’s no shortage of content because we are an education-focused agency. And so we have endless modules on all kinds of topics to address challenges as well. Nice.

Megha McSwain: Can you share an example or a success story of a standout moment where Gifted Travel Network played a pivotal role in elevating the career of one of its advisors?

Vanessa McGovern: I love this question. I’d love our members and sharing their success stories. So one member in particular that comes to mind is Janine Pendleton, out in California. Her business is amazing, adventures, travel designs. She came to us having already started her travel business, and she took a very traditional path to her travel entrepreneurial journey, where she joined a host agency that supported thousands of advisors. They didn’t focus on luxury, and it wasn’t an education-focused host agency, but it’s a great place to start. And she leaned in and very quickly realized that she wanted to scale her business and truly replace her income and make this profitable, and this is her full-time thing and not a side hustle sort of hobby thing on the side. She identified within a year or two that she needed to find another host home. And so she found us. She joined our travel MBA program. She invested in our program so she could obviously learn how to scale from what was a mass market premium sort of hobby agency, which was fine, which is how she started. But she knew she wanted to grow. And so she joined us with very little business. And within two years, and I know this number seems like not real, but it is.

Vanessa McGovern: She basically grew her business over 2,000%, and she partnered with wineries as a strategy that we teach in California. And she now does almost full charters of wine-led trips on river cruises in Europe, and her success story of how quickly she turned around her business from just something fun on the side wasn’t sure if it would really turn a profit to something that is very profitable, extremely sustainable and totally inspiring. And now she is helping others that are on a similar journey that she was when she decided to join GTN by sharing her best practices and how she approached different wine clubs and wineries on how she was able to secure that business. Because there are lots of wine regions all over the United States to be able to do a similar strategy. So I love that story. Because of the focus that she shifted, she made the decision. She was self-aware of what she needed. She was willing to invest because this is a business, and she just has made an incredible success story from what she started to what she’s grown right now. And we have so many stories like that. And Janine’s growth is just particularly impressive.

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Vanessa McGovern: Constantly changing, the one thing in life is the one constant in life is change. And so the travel industry certainly changes at lightning speed. It feels like on some days, and I think the way that we can stay ahead of that change and support that change and roll with the change and not be fighting against the change, is the access that we provide our members. And so our relationships boots on the ground all over the world to be able to tell us what’s happening in Italy, what’s happening in the UK, our network of destination management companies that we have in our preferred partner portfolio, a gift to travel network through our relationship with virtuoso, the leading luxury consortia globally, is what helps us navigate the incredible amount of change because our advisors are only as good as the relationships that they have, they won’t know everything about every country in the world, every experience, every culinary experience, the restaurant around the corner in the city, in Europe, that’s just with the charming story. They don’t know that unless they have the right relationships in destination that are able to curate that and work with that travel advisors to craft the best luxury-focused experience for their clients. And so navigating that change is truly dependent on the access that they have through the network of partners that we create for them at Gifted Travel Network.

Vanessa McGovern: So our role at the host agency is to nurture and grow those relationships for the advisor because we aren’t selling travel, and we do that so that our advisors, who are the ones that are selling travel, can focus on being the experts in their client, and then they work with the In-destination partner to bring to light the experience based on what they know about their client. And that’s where the magic happens, and they can navigate the change. And right now, just thinking about what happened last year in Italy, Italy was exploding in every direction. Everybody went to Italy last summer, and so our advisors needed that real-time information to be able to convey to just the average traveler, the luxury traveler that hadn’t traveled abroad since before the pandemic. They didn’t know what that new landscape looked like. And for the travel advisor that hadn’t themselves hadn’t traveled back to Italy since the pandemic, they relied on the information from their partners on the ground to give them information on who are the best drivers. Now you know what? Restaurants are still open, what’s going on, what’s the average daily rate that they can expect to spend that has increased dramatically? So having those relationships on the ground is what keeps us in the know on how to navigate change.

Megha McSwain: Was last summer the year that White Lotus featured Italy. Did that have something to do with it?

Vanessa McGovern: That definitely had to do with why Sicily is sold out till 2025, right? Italy in general, it was predicted during the pandemic that one of the trends coming out of COVID would be that Americans would want to return to the perennial destinations, like they would first want to go back to places that they had already visited, or they had some kind of familial attachment to, an emotional attachment to. And for a lot of Americans, that was Italy, and that’s France, and the UK, and that’s what three main destinations that a lot of Americans visit. And now what we’re seeing is now they’ve done that. So another trend is now we’re seeing the comeback of exotic. So like Japan is exploding. We have some partners on the ground that have stopped sales. Like they can literally not take any more new bookings through March of next year because Japan is sold out. We are seeing Americans now venturing back to Thailand, to Southeast Asia, South America, because they got Europe out of their system last summer.

Megha McSwain: Right. Never out of my system.

Vanessa McGovern: Same. It’s always a good idea. I spent a month, I took my kids to Europe last summer. One of the trends that we see is ancestral travel. And I actually hired a genealogist and we did a whole track through through Czechoslovakia. I brought my dad and we went to lots of really key places from his family, and we’re seeing that as a trend in luxury travel. People want to travel deeply. They don’t want to just go because it’s a great destination. They are going because of a sentimental association and they want to go maybe because of a niche or an affinity, like wine travel, that’s also another big trend as well.

Megha McSwain: Well, you’re clearly on top of the trends. You already know what’s going to happen. You’re predicting what’s going to happen next year. But what is the vision for the future of the Gifted Travel network, let’s say five years down the road? How do you see it continuing to shape the landscape of luxury travel?

Vanessa McGovern: Well, I wish I had a crystal ball to know for sure, but I would say our personal vision for the next five years is to continue to add. For our profession, especially with AI, there’s always talk about whether is technology going to replace the travel advisor. And that’s just never going to happen because of the personalization that is required in a high-touch experience. Sure, there might be some trips that are just easier and you can leverage technology or do it yourself, and that’s fine. But really, for the traveler that is focused on experiential, focused on going deep, you need somebody that knows you and that has a relationship on the ground. So that trend isn’t going to change. And so where we want to really lean into in the next five years is ensuring that people are aware of the value of a travel advisor, a luxury travel advisor and that we bring more increased education and awareness to our profession and how profitable you can be in this profession.

Vanessa McGovern: There are a lot of people in the travel space that are doing amazing things, but don’t actually know the booking side of the business, and there are a lot of people out there, bloggers in particular, that don’t know what is possible in terms of profitability and income, and that they can take their passion for travel and really monetize it in a very big way. We’ve paid out commission checks of $150,000 or more on one booking. So it’s an amazing opportunity for people who want to lean into their passion for travel and have a profitable business. And at Gifted Travel Network, we feel very passionate about ensuring that people know more about that opportunity in general. So our vision is that there will be an increased awareness for the value of travel advisors across the board, in particular, in the luxury segment. Because that segment is not slowing down. All you have to do is look at all the top luxury hotel brands and know that their hotels are whole and they need travel advisors. They still continue to lean on travel advisors. So, that’s the future is to lean into advocating for our profession and to increase the awareness.

Megha McSwain: And for individual, aspiring to enter the luxury travel business, what key advice or insights would you offer based on your own journey of building Gifted Travel Network?

Vanessa McGovern: Do your due diligence and speak to get on a Zoom meeting with host agencies that you have narrowed down based on their website, based on their social media, based on referrals, just based on how they propel themselves out there. And if you feel like you have a good feel for them from their marketing, then make sure that you are speaking to somebody, preferably on Zoom, so that you can see and talk to the people that you’re interested in partnering with to support you in your growing travel business. Because at the end of the day, there are so many of our friendly competitors that give to Travel Network other virtuoso agencies that are just incredible, and they offer the same tools and resources and technology and itinerary building platforms and things like that. We all offer the same things, but we all have different cultures and different vibes, and different approaches, and so it often is an intangible thing. It’s a vibe.

Vanessa McGovern: And so you want to make sure you are a good match. It’s a relationship, right? You just gotta get go on a few dates, right? A few calls, talk to other travel advisors in the network of that particular host agency that you’re looking to join and see if you’re a match, and don’t shortchange yourself on that journey. And if something doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct, and don’t be scared to invest. This is a business and you get what you paid for. So if you are looking for a no-frills, no-fee, no startup cost type situation, ask yourself, is that the kind of business you want because you don’t want to be attracting that? Also because that’s not the luxury traveler. So just do your research.

Megha McSwain: Right. Well, Vanessa, thank you so much for sharing all of your insight. I’m so interested in hearing about seeing how these trends unfold in the next year. It’s really interesting how you pointed out that people want to go back to someplace that’s familiar, and that makes a lot of sense, and so glad that it’s getting back to normal now. Like, you can actually go to Italy if you want to. You can go to Japan or explore going to Japan if you want to.

Vanessa McGovern: Because the clients are busy.

Megha McSwain: Right. Well and advance. Thank you so much for sharing all of this. Let our listeners know where they can learn more about Gifted Travel Network and where they can connect with you.

Vanessa McGovern: Yes. So our website,, pretty easy. You can also connect with me personally on LinkedIn, Vanessa McGovern. I’m easy to find on LinkedIn. I believe we have a link to share with your listeners as well for a download on the top mindset blocks that hold entrepreneurs back. So feel free to get access to that free resource. And then you’ll be on our mailing list, and we’d love to stay in touch with you. We do a high-content newsletter on Thursdays on trends and travel and feature our members, so that’s a great way to stay connected with us and to learn about what we’re doing and going on the website and visiting our education tab so you can learn about our travel MBA program, which is the new to-industry training program that I spoke about earlier, would be a great way to keep the conversation going. And if you are at that stage where you’re researching post agencies, I like Gifted Travel Network. Another great resource is where Gifted Travel Network is featured, and you’ll find many other virtual and luxury-focused agencies there. And that’s a great place to start.

Megha McSwain: Excellent. Thank you so much. A lot of good information for our listeners. To everyone. please, follow and subscribe for future episodes and stay connected with TravelPreneur. Thank you so much, Vanessa.

Vanessa McGovern: Thank you.

Megha McSwain: You’ve been listening to TravelPreneur by Make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on TravelPreneur.