Invite Only: Welcome to the (Elite Travel) Club

Stacy Hope Small
4 min readDec 26, 2021

When the Pandemic first blew up my business in March 2020, it was one of those OMFG moments that pushed me to really question whether I’d ever want to sell travel again. After months of cancelling out millions of dollars of travel and starting a gluten-free cookie business to stay busy during lockdown on Maui, I knew a few things for sure. Here’s the short list:

  1. If I stayed in the travel business post-pandemic, I wanted to get back to my roots as a home-based high-end travel advisor 1000% focused on my own clients. This meant cutting ties with 30 independent contractors who often needed my guidance, and reaffiliating with the host agency (Travel Experts) where I started this chapter of my career 15 years ago. I made this happen in spring 2020 and set myself up for success once booking inquiries began pouring in.
  2. I needed to figure out a better business model than working on commissions only, because it only took one pandemic to show what a flawed model that was. All those cancelled trips meant zero income. I only got paid if/when clients traveled. I know, I know. BUT…I was so busy in the years between 2010–2019 that I never really felt the need to charge planning/booking fees; I preferred to avoid asking clients to pay me upfront. I honestly don’t know why other than I always feared losing the business to an agent who didn’t charge fees.
  3. I had to stop taking on requests from everyone who found me online and wanted me to book their upcoming trips. It became tempting to say yes to business I might have turned down pre-2020. But a few too many of these experiences reminded me of my own mantra: Only work with people whose emails you enjoy seeing in your inbox.
  4. When better to make a shift to the invite-only, private club, annual fee model that I’d always envisioned than NOW? Literally, there’s never been a better time for me to do this. So, this fall, with the help of a tight inner circle, I relaunched Elite Travel International as the Elite Travel Club. Existing clients who I’ve enjoyed working with over the years received the first round of invites, and new clients are being accepted on a referral basis only. I am capping my client list when my bandwidth is borderline full. I never want to feel like I am spinning wheels to keep up ever again. That is NOT a recipe for happiness or success.
  5. Now that I’m curating my client list in a way that allows me to focus 100% on my members, who pay an annual fee for high-priority access to me, I have the bandwidth to get even more creative and engaged with each ETC member in a way I never did before. In the past, I often had too many clients and too many other agents, needing my attention and it distracted me from doing what I love and am best at: Changing lives via elite travel.
  6. The black book of contacts I have developed during a 30-year career that started as a travel journalist and evolved into a travelpreneur selling what I’d been writing about for a private jet magazine sets me apart from the crowd. Connecting my members directly to hotel GMs prior to their arrival, or the owners of the private luxury operators I use in each country that I’ve met over the years during my own global travels, is what I love doing more than anything.
  7. Making magic happen is truly what I love to do. Whether it’s calling the chef on-site at a new hotel to make sure the client can request vegan items off-menu OR knowing what to do so well-known clients can avoid check-in OR finding an entirely new version of a holiday trip for clients after covid added an unexpected twist to their longstanding plans, the magic potion is my secret to all of this. It’s also knowing how to stay calm amidst the chaos, (almost) always knowing how to get to yes; and having the decades of experience needed to navigate this new world.
  8. I am not the travel advisor for everyone, nor is everyone for me. I only want to work with clients who truly value what I do, and who I enjoy getting to know and vice versa. With fascinating clients in music, medicine, sports, tech, finance, media, I’ve gotten an education along the way in how to handle high-profile clients in a very private and efficient way. This IS the magic formula that few can replicate.

So that’s my very short list of how I spent my Pandemic and why I’ve shifted out of working for free or even just charging basic transaction fees. The result: My top clients are really getting the best version of me that’s existed in over a decade! These days, it’s all about building relationships and focusing wholly on my members as well as the hoteliers and travel industry execs around the globe. I am grateful to the clients who are now members, and to those referring potential new members my way. As I always say…You can’t VIP yourself! #EliteTravelClub #MembersOnly #ETC

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Stacy Hope Small

Founder & CEO: Elite Travel Club | Author: Why Not Me?!? | Now Bay Area-based and writing the sequel: A Little Bit Spiritual, A Little Bit CEO.