Rob Karp
Founder and CEO, MilesAhead, a proud associate of Valerie Wilson Travel, New York

Describe your career as a travel agent. How long have you been in the business? What attracted you to it?

I’ve been in the business for a little over four years and I am about to begin my junior year at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. MilesAhead was founded back when I was 14. Today we are a team of 10+, on track for a $5m+ book of business and to help clients redeem 50m frequent flyer miles in 2017. My initial passion for the travel and hospitality industry was airlines; I love them, I love flying and I love to design itineraries. Throughout my middle school and high school years, I learned all about turning frequent flier miles into (nearly) free airfare. My friends and family inspired and encouraged me to go out and start a business. It started out where family, friends (and then friends of friends) would call me to find out how best to use their miles, and I would gladly help them. A client base built up quickly, and those clients started to ask me to help them make their arrangements—air, hotel, cruise, everything. People saw value in working with an expert to help them optimize their miles, and their excitement led to seeking a full-service travel advising experience.

What has been a “highlight” in your career, thus far?

I am lucky to work day in and day out with a wonderful team and to have the opportunity to service our clients. I truly feel like I am living a dream and it brings a smile to my face each and every day. Each day brings a new challenge, and we’re constantly learning something new.

What are some of your best practices when it comes to selling cruise travel?

When it comes to cruises (or any part of the travel market), I think that managing expectations, effectively communicating the specifics (ship differences, room types, dining options, etc), and delivering first hand insight is crucial. Since there are numerous cruising options, and each client is different, I think it’s up to the travel advisor to listen and understand the type of traveler they are working with. A Regent cruiser is much different than a Norwegian cruiser. And, once they make that decision, you want to take their experience to the next level. Use your sales contacts to leverage additional benefits, meet cruise executives at conferences, talk to fellow agents who have been aboard a ship that your clients might be traveling on! The more value and expertise you can bring to the table, the more clients will appreciate you and trust you.

What is your biggest challenge when selling cruises and how do you overcome it?

I would say the biggest challenge to selling cruises is travelers’ misconception of what cruising is. Many travelers view cruising as a hectic, busy experience where you miss out on the true culture and colors of a destination. However, we know that isn’t the case, especially with the amount of high-end river cruises and smaller ships out in the marketplace today! I think the best way to overcome this barrier to entry is getting a client to take a cruise (and enjoy it!), or talk to a friend who has gone on one. What might be most important to understand is that some people won’t be cruisers, no matter what you share with them.

Share your point of view on how the industry can attract millennials and future generations to become travel consultants.

Over the past few years, with an especially strong economy, people are looking to travel, and they’re looking to experience the world. In junction with this rise of traveling, the industry has seen an influx of travel consultants join the market, many of them pivoting from other professions. Lawyers, bankers, consultants…turning to travel consultant! This profession is an exciting one. It’s fast paced and challenging, but can be incredibly rewarding and in my opinion, holds endless opportunities. One of my goals for MilesAhead is to become the place where the new agent, looking for a great experience, wants to join. Our culture is all about support, helping our team succeed, and delivering a world-class experience for our customers.

Research tells us that millennials are using travel agents more than any other living generation. What has been your experience in selling to fellow millennials?

It’s interesting, because while we work with millennials, they aren’t our largest group of consumers. Going back to the question about best practices, I think an advisor’s success with selling to millennials comes down to listening to the client, practicing effective communication, and executing to the nth degree. Millennials want to see the whole picture and understand the value proposition to a T.

Please add any additional thoughts about your role working with the cruise industry and selling cruise vacations that may not have been covered above.

I think cruising is at a very interesting stage in the market; many mature clients will cruise, whether it’s multi-generational or with friends. However, there is a growing market of younger (40+) cruise clients looking for a different type of experience; the river cruises do a great job of playing that role. And, I think Ritz-Carlton breaking ground is going to be fascinating to see how it plays out!