Collaboration and community: SmartFlyer’s key pillars

Luxe agency's CEO and COO discuss new 'Hub' space opening in West Chelsea

US luxury travel agency SmartFlyer is expanding its workspaces to cater for a thriving independent contractor (IC) network which is hungry for social interaction and growing bored working from home.

In Sydney last week to celebrate nine years of partnership with Goldman Group and the establishment of SmartFlyer Australia, Michael Holtz, Owner/CEO and Erina Pindar, COO/Managing Partner of SmartFlyer revealed details of the new enclave for its ICs, expected to open in January 2025, and the reason behind the new work precinct.

But first, here’s why SmartFlyer is investing in the new ‘hub’.

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Says Anthony Goldman, Joint Managing Director of Goldman Group, the mobile independent contract model of travel agencies continues to “escalate in this market”.

“There’s a real global movement towards that travel entrepreneur and giving them the platform to do what they do well,” Goldman tells LATTE.

Holtz adds the rise of the IC is not limited to “just Australia. It’s global.” And while the COVID pandemic isn’t the sole reason for the rapid growth, it did likely speed up the mindset switch of experienced agents considering working for themself.

“Before the pandemic, some people had to be in there office. They had to be at their desk, and it wasn’t until COVID happened that company’s realised we could work from anywhere. I think in a way, since everyone became home-based, the ‘home-based agency’ model became the norm. Everyone felt more comfortable, technology got better, and I think it made it easier for agents to succeed.

“Before COVID a lot of people didn’t even know how to use Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, whereas now, everything is much more fluid,” the New Yorker said.

At the Capella Sydney, from left are Anthony Goldman, Goldman Group/SmartFlyer Australia, with Erina Pindar and Michael Holtz, SmartFlyer.

Holtz added that the commute time to and from the office also added to the equation of home versus office. For someone who might commute 30 minutes to an hour each day, they were getting back up to two hours of their day by eliminating travel time.

He says he believes the home-based agent tends to be a “little more curious. They’re reading, getting as much information as they can.”

Goldman adds, “Being remote, or independent, I think you’ve got to try that little bit harder.”

“When you’re working alone, you have to grow your curious nature because you’re are not surrounded by people every day. You have to over compensate and that becomes an advantage. Whether its on internal chat rooms, attending events… it’s been an interesting evolution.

“But to contradict those two statements is the entire premise of our business is ‘collaboration and community,’ adds Pindar. “So regardless if you’re staying home or you’re coming into the office, the element of collaboration and community is an integral part of it.

“Information exchange flows all day, and from across multiple teams,” she says.

“I see more dialogue from those who work remotely than those who sit in an office,” Goldman adds. “Its an interesting phenomena. Of course they all talk, but when you’re alone, the yearn for community is very powerful. Whether its the community Facebook groups, when they come together at events, they share knowledge and they all push each other to become better.”

Pindar says the biggest change is the definition of what it means to work together and to be on your own, and the balance of it all.

“Understanding the push and pull and knowing where you can pull away, and concentrating on what you’re working on, and when you can come back to the community and ask for help, exchange ideas or brainstorm or collaborate on a project.”

“The rebalancing of priorities I believe is the biggest change… and I think it’s about to change again too,” Pindar says.

Pictured at Capella Sydney, from left, are Stuart Reay and Brent Wallace, Directors of SmartFlyer Australia; with Anthony Goldman, Joint Managing Director, Goldman Group; Erina Pindar, Chief Operating Officer, SmartFlyer and Michael Holtz, Owner and CEO, SmartFlyer.

In New York, SmartFlyer is creating a brand new space for staff that thrive on community.

Pindar explains. “I don’t want to call it an office. It’s not an office. It’s a hub for our agents, for our staff, and it’s a way for them to be together because they want to be, instead of because they have to be, because they are contractually obligated to be in that space.”

“And the reason we are doing that is because there is so much demand for a gathering space. The whole Starbuck’s concept of the ‘third place environment’, it’s coming back. People are sick of sitting at home, or at the office, but now the world has changed,” Pindar tells LATTE.

Holtz says SmartFlyer’s new ‘hub’ will have a feel similar to that of a hotel, comparable to that of Capella Sydney (where we are meeting for this interview). There will be little break out areas, nooks and crannies where people can have conversations, take calls, and workspaces.

SmartFlyer’s new ‘hub’ will be located in West Chelsea, south of Hudson Yards, whereas the travel agency’s ‘office’ is north, in the Gallery District. In the office are SmartFlyer’s brand team (marketing, operations, product, etc) along with SmartFlyer sales agents, whereas the ICs and advisors at-large will be invited to work from the hub when it opens in January 2025.

Quizzed about what differentiates a SmartFlyer advisor from another agent or advisor, Holtz says he believes they are more curious. “They want information, they’re willing to share information, they tend to be approachable and they like to talk to clients. A lot have picked up clients through their social network circles, and that’s where a lot of their business is coming from.”

SmartFlyer Australia celebrated 9 years of business

And the lure to be a ‘Smartie’?

“I think people identify with our community. People like the fact that we are there to support them literally 24 hours a day. And its not unusual that a new potential agent reaches out to any of us at three o’clock on a Saturday and they hear back at 3:07,” Holtz remarks.

“The client wants the same thing. Even if it’s ‘I don’t know, I’m working on it’ … people just want a response and I think we’re very good about that, as an organisation.

Pindar adds, “But I do think at the end of the day, we are a platform for the best agencies in this space. And everything we all do helps support that effort.”

“As long as they are community and results driven, collaborative and they identify with what we produce, SmartFlyer Australia and SmartFlyer is the best place for those agents.

“A lot of what we do in intangible. Being able to speak with Michael on the phone at 10pm on a Saturday or Sunday in order to help get a client on a flight, or having a hotel GM standing at the door of the hotel for a really late VIP guest arrival after a really long day because Anthony put in a call.

“We can talk about community and tools and tech all day long, but it’s almost like it’s not until the advisor starts that they’re like ‘wow, this is unprecedented’.”

“Those are intangibles that you can’t measure, that you can’t advertise but we all work really, really hard to make sure that our agents get the best result possible for their clients,” Pindar concludes.

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