Gifted Travel Network (GTN), the Mooresville, N.C.-based host agency, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
The agency, founded by Meredith Calloway, Jen Cochrane and Vanessa McGovern in February 2013, actually got its start in education and coaching.
I recently caught up with Cochrane to talk about GTN’s history and the future.
It all started with Calloway (then Meredith Hill), who owned her own agency, Hills of Africa.
“She was finding, like many other travel advisors, that it was really hard to turn that into a profitable, fulfilling, lucrative business,” Cochrane said.
Calloway started following marketing professionals and applying new principles to her travel business, and it was working. Other advisors noticed and wanted to know how she did it, and Calloway wanted to teach them. She sold her half of Hills of Africa to her partner, Sandy Salle, who still operates the company today.
Then she founded the Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (Gifte), a coaching and education company.
Enter Cochrane: A friend of Calloway’s, she had recently sold a company and was doing some freelancing. Calloway needed help with Gifte, so she onboarded Cochrane. McGovern would also join the two, forming the leadership team that today heads GTN.
From Gifte to Gifted
But the trio noticed there was a limit to exactly how much they could help travel advisors as business owners and entrepreneurs through GIFTE. They felt they could provide even more holistic support by starting a host agency, Cochrane said. Eventually, around two years ago, they sunset Gifte, folding its educational offerings into GTN.
“That’s what really differentiates us as a host agency, is that we come from that coaching and education background,” Cochrane said.
GTN offers the Travel MBA program for new-to-industry advisors as well as programs catering to advisors at other stages of their careers.
GTN entered what Cochrane described as “a pretty crowded market space,” with established, decades-old hosts. They spent the first five years in business building internal infrastructure and building up sales levels. In 2019, GTN joined Virtuoso, cementing its position as a leisure agency with a luxury focus.
“Our sales since then have been just phenomenal,” Cochrane said. Last year, GTN recorded sales that were more than 400% higher than 2019, and the agency is already up 150% this year compared with last.
Those sales numbers aren’t coming from an increased number of advisors, according to Cochrane. In fact, GTN has been “honing our membership,” she said. Right now, the host is home to about 320 independent contractors.
“Our goal isn’t to have the most,” she said. “It’s to have the most productive and most engaged.”
Growing with the luxury market
While GTN has been attracting new-to-industry agents — a third of sales last year came from advisors who had gone through its Travel MBA program — the agency has also attracted high-producing agents in recent years.
Sales continue to be strong at GTN, and Cochrane isn’t forecasting a slowdown. While it does seem likely that the country is headed for some kind of economic depression, that is unlikely to dampen sales: GTN is firmly in the luxury market, she said, and a psychological shift during the height of the pandemic has left most people unwilling to stop traveling.
Growth, she predicted, will continue “for the foreseeable future now, especially in the luxury travel space, because you look at the wealth trajectory and there’s more and more millionaires every year. Wealth continues to grow. So as long as that continues to be the case, I think there’s a large market that’s still untapped, actually.”
GTN’s 10th anniversary celebration this year will culminate with a gala later this year.