by Jimmy Im
It’s not easy becoming a Virtuoso advisor. To work with the luxury travel network (that spans 47 countries and specializes in upscale travel), agents must prove a high level of commitment, encyclopedic knowledge of luxury travel, and sell $2 million in luxury travel annually. They should also be intuitive, foster human connections effortlessly and ensure their clients will experience the most unforgettable trip ever planned.
Dane Steele Green was a natural match as a Virtuoso advisor.
Based in New York City and owner of Steele Travel, Dane was recently selected as a Virtuoso ambassador and advisor, making him one of the most sought-after LGBT travel planners for the ever-growing gay travel niche. I was able to attended Virtuoso Travel Week (the most exclusive, invite-only travel event in the world), and caught up with Dane to learn what’s hot in gay travel and why Virtuoso is a moth light for affluent gay travelers.
Tell us about your background as a gay travel agent.
I started my company, Steel Luxury Travel, ten years ago, and I had my own IATA (travel agent number). Having a gay travel agency was great…That travel sector never failed in the economic downturn, so my agency was a success but it was closing off everyone else. I moved on to mainstream and high-end luxury, and now I work with everyone but still have a strong gay clientele. I have gay doctors, hairstylists, you name it, and it’s all word of mouth, no advertising. It’s been a great business. Fast forward seven years later and we’re doing major, multi-million-dollar lifestyle events. We’ve grown. We do Life Ball, Cannes Gala with Leonardo DiCaprio, a lot of charity work, events I love working.
How did you start working with Virtuoso?
I applied for Virtuoso and got the consent from the host agency, and I got in. It was a lot of work because they’re so exclusive. I went to all the events. I became active in the community. I wanted to get access to the amenities in Virtuoso’s network, and I couldn’t do that just yet because I didn’t have the volume needed. It’s really hard to get into Virtuoso. You have to book $2 million dollars a year in only Virtuoso properties. I single-handedly did that. I did good (he laughs). I worked my ass off. If you’re good and you have a good reputation, you’re in.
So, to clarify, you have your own travel agency, but that agency works with Virtuoso now.
Exactly. I use Virtuoso’s pre-negotiated relationships and exploit them in a sharp way. I use the advantages of their network that’s held with the highest clout. The barrier of entry and level is so high it becomes this exclusive membership that’s cool and really respected. You’re given respect when you’re at a Virtuoso event. I work with them, I make them money and in turn it makes dreams come true. With Virtuoso, I have contacts to concierge, spa, anything all over the world to support my knowledge and work.
Among many exclusive perks Virtuoso is know for offering clients is automatic room upgrades upon booking. What else sets Virtuoso apart when clients book with them?
There’s so many. You always get the handwritten note, which is that touch clients love. Every single booking, we always write a handwritten note to the guest. Always, always, always. It just full circle brings the experience to the destination. I have a client worth a gazillion dollars and he loves the free breakfasts I get for him. He can afford it but he loves this.You always get an upgrade at time of arrival, but Virtuoso is moving the upgrade at the time of booking. This is huge. It makes everyone look good and makes people feel good. I took a friend to Rosewood London for a Beyonce concert because he’s a huge fan, I surprised this guy. They made a Beyonce cake for him. It’s these simple things, cultivating relationships, that are important. With Virtuoso, you’re buying into relationships. Magic happens when we can do things like this with our clients.
How is Virtuoso relevant to the gay community?
Gay people want “that.” We want all of that, and you know we’re very crafty. We have our own networks, we like to get things we feel entitled to some times, but we get more with Virtuoso. You can get amenities when booking a trip, but with Virtuoso, we always give that something extra, things you can’t always get on your own and everyone loves it.
So Virtuoso has gay-friendly hotel clients?
Yes, but it’s not a gay thing for me anymore. I don’t want to go to that gay hotel. I want to go to that hotel, that pool where everyone is at. I want to see the ladies and hot guys. I’m almost against staying at gay hotels or sending clients there. I fully support exclusively gay but that tends to become narrow minded I think. We need to experience everything, we need everyone for that, not just gay people. The fact that Virtuoso has a LGBT tab on its website, a gay friendly tab if clients want to book with a gay Virtuoso advisor, that’s great for both me and the gay community. I can say I specialize in gay travel so potential clients know this, and they’re getting an expert plan their trips. I know what destinations are hot and trendy, I know where they can get the best bang for their buck, and a user can go into virtuoso.com and find me.
At the press conference I attended, Virtuoso has been growing significantly. Agency locations are up eight percent, Virtuoso advisers are up 35 percent and the $21 billion in annual sales is up 37 percent. Are travel agencies hot now?
Old travel agencies are dying and the gays are coming in and sexy girls are coming in and they’re doing cute boutiques and they’re getting creative. We’re giving real advice and it’s valuable because we’re the truth. We travel and study.
What are some gay travel trends happening right now?
It used to be “it’s all about experience.” It’s not about the experience anymore. It’s about humanization, and Virtuoso humanizes this whole travel experience. For the clients, this is their time, their family, their children, their lives. People are looking for experiences when they travel, but it’s about making those human connections that’s more important, and people are starting to understand that. If you sit at a table of billionaires, what are they talking about? Not a car. You can get a car. You talk about what you did when you traveled. Yes, you might stay at Aman or The Brando but you’re talking about the access you had and what changed it and the people you connected with and that’s what it is. True, real experiences.
What are some great emerging gay destinations we can send readers and why?
Portugal. It’s cheap, it’s close, it’s sexy, TAP has a stop-over program for the same fare, and a lot of people haven’t gone.
Five years ago, Argentina was hot hot hot and now no one’s going. They’re going to Croatia, Southeast Asia, and I’m booking a lot of Thailand.
Mykonos. Always Mykonos. Going to repeat destinations is very popular for the gay community, and Mykonos will always be there for us. When you go to the corner stores in Mykonos and everyone gives you a hug when they see you again, that’s amazing, people love this. I see gays do one or two trips every year, gays on average take 7 trips internationally, and Mykonos is always hot. There’s always a repeat here, people come all the time and feel at home.
Why should gay travelers book with Steele Travel?
There’s no smoke, no mirrors, when working with Steele as a virtuoso member. It’s real. I’ll tell you if I love a place, and make sure that you’re safe and get there right and I‘m very successful and work around the clock. That’s what I would want if I hired someone. Virtuoso requires this, too, it makes them the best. If people are not getting answers to questions, what’s the point of you (travel agency) getting involved in the first place? I’m always in constant contact when my clients are traveling. I’m dotting the Ts and crossing the Is. I’m making sure everything is set. And my clients trust me. There’s trust, and we’re always going to deliver.