Interview Denise Ambrusko-Maida, Travel Brilliant’ Founder

Today we are talking with a very busy business woman and mom, travel agent Denise Ambrusko-Maida. She is the Founder of Travel Brilliant, a full-service concierge travel agency, specializing in creating customized trips. They take a different approach, personalized for each individual request.

Hi Denise! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself & Travel Brilliant? My Name is Denise, founder of Travel Brilliant. I’m a busy business owner and a mom, so I understand how important your time is and how precious your vacation is to you.

I’m an avid traveler and have been all over the US, Caribbean, Central America, and Europe. I’m also a huge geek- I love science, anthropology, comics, sci-fi and animation. During my personal travels I’m usually on the hunt for unique and often nerdy hidden gems. Everyone deserves a vacation. Let me do the hard work. It can be hard to relax on vacation when you have to juggle all the logistics. Let me take the planning stress off your hands so you can enjoy yourself.

How is business these days? The travel industry is seeing a wonderful rebound. Confidence is building up as the vaccine roll-out continues; there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Many travelers are planning now for their 2022 vacations and we’re seeing a much larger interest in what we consider “bucket list” travel. Bigger trips and adventures that people have been putting off are the main focus of our requests right now. We’ve been really busy the last month planning travel for clients through 2023.

Do you already see a pickup? Yes. We’re not back to pre-COVID numbers yet, but we’re seeing a significant uptick in travel requests.

Can you share how a day of a travel agent looks like? How do you guys operate? How do you find all these great deals? A typical day starts with checking to see if there are any travel alerts that might affect any of my current travelers. This could be a weather issue delaying flights, a volcano eruption, etc. I focus on making sure any clients who are currently travelling are taken care of before I move onto anything else. Sometimes this is the only thing I do for a whole day depending on the severity of the issue.

After checking travel alerts, I log into our general email account, this is where we receive our daily updates from vendors and partners. It’s not hard for us to find great deals because we already have established relationships with the resorts, cruise lines and tour companies and they send us consistent updates. Because of these established relationships we often get additional perks for our clients. The travel deals right now are fantastic across the board. It really is a great time to book travel.

Next, I check any incoming travel requests via our phone/email/website and reach out to travelers who are interested in starting the planning process on a new trip. The consultation process for a new client usually takes about 30- 50mins depending on the complexity of the trip. I’ll then spend a significant part of my day researching and building itineraries for clients. Building trips and finding the right fit for each is time consuming, there are literally thousands of options for each trip and finding the right combination to fit each travelers’ unique needs and preferences is important.

The rest of the day is spent updating social media, building newsletters and attending web training. I attend at least one training every week. Agents need to constantly stay on top of the many changes in the travel industry.

What are some of your favorite places you like to send people? Some places you recommend to a client who wants to travel and hires you, but they have no clue where to go, and are open to your recommendation. I absolutely love sending people to Costa Rica if they’re open to a little adventure and don’t have much travel experience. Costa Rica is stunning! Gorgeous beaches, lush tropical rainforest, friendly people and an overall safe and small country to navigate. There is so much to see and do in Costa Rica and because it’s so small you can pack a lot of action into a 7-day trip.

Right now I’m also recommending Eastern Europe to my more seasoned travelers. Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro are all beautiful fairytale destinations that haven’t been overrun by tourists yet. They have so much to offer, from beautiful Mediterranean beaches to castles, waterfalls and forests. Croatia is also home to many filming locations, like Game of Thrones, so there’s a ton of cool tours for GoT fans.

Probably most of your business in the past year was only booking local trips with the U.S. What were the most in demand destinations? For the last year most of our bookings were for house rentals or villas in the US. And the destinations really varied, from gorgeous mountain retreats to ski villas and beach houses. We’ve also charted skippered yachts for clients which is a great value for a multigenerational vacation.

Your website indicates Disney as the first on your expertise. Must be incredible for you that it’s finally reopening. What does that mean for Travel Brilliant? Walt Disney World started welcoming back guests in July of 2020 and has really led the way in health and safety standards. The “Disney bubble” feels very safe and the Cast Members go above and beyond to continue to make the experience magical for guests. Travel Brilliant specializes in family travel, which means inevitably we need to know Disney travel which goes beyond the parks and is truly global.  Moving into 2022 and beyond I can enthusiastically recommend any of the Disney Travel portfolio to our clients with confidence in the care they put into health and safety.

How do you see the travel industry in the near future? When do you think things will get completely back to normal? I think travel will continue to see a slow return through 2021 and I hope we will be close to our new normal by mid-2022. I do think our new normal will be a bit different; we’re already seeing destinations take a hard look at tourism and sustainability. I think moving forward we’re going to see some positive changes that help create a kinder, more thoughtful approach to the impact tourism has on the environments and the cultures we visit.