Hillary Harpster - "TravelAgent's 30Under30 Award Winner 2017"

"The future of the travel industry, the next generation of agents who will discover new places to go and new ways to connect with travelers. Here are Travel Agent’s top 30Under30 for 2017, which represents the 10th year of the program."

Story by David Moseder

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FULL INTERVIEW - TRAVEL AGENT MAGAZINE

Hillary Harpster, 28
Zen Luxury Travel, an Independent Affiliate of Cadence
La Jolla, CA

Tells us about your current position, plus what you were doing prior to becoming a travel advisor. What's your elevator pitch to potential clients? Out of all the careers in the travel industry, what made you decide to become a travel agent?

In 2012, I walked into the American Express Travel office in Washington, DC. Resume in hand I asked to speak with a manager. I worked in the building across the street as a research analyst for a political consulting firm and had been daydreaming of working in travel after spending months walking past the giant posters of beaches and European cities in the office windows. They did not have any jobs advertised, but I knew this was my chance to dive into travel. The manager met me with skepticism, noting that I had no prior sales or GDS experience, and that the base pay would be far less than at my current job. Luckily I did have travel experience, having lived in Germany and Israel and visited over 35 countries at that time. My final plea was, “If it doesn’t work out, you can just fire me.” Six months later I completed their apprentice program in record time. I was a full-time Travel Consultant for the Platinum, Cruise and Tour departments. I achieved over $1 million in sales my first full year and I had found my passion. Fast-forward to 2016, when I launched Zen Luxury Travel in order to offer my valued clients more personalized service. Zen Luxury Travel is an independent affiliate of Cadence, a branch of Tzell and a member of Virtuoso. This gives us considerable buying power and outstanding support. My clients know with ZEN they get 24/7 support, valuable insider knowledge, and perks galore.

Where have you been lately, and how have you been pitching this destination to clients?

I love sharing Japan with my clients! It’s somewhere new for most clients and for those that have been I have a few “off the beaten path” gems to share as well. I was fortunate to spend three weeks exploring this amazing country, during cherry blossom season no less! Each experience I create is tailored to the individual client's tastes and needs, so having vast country knowledge is key. For this trip I spent time exploring bustling Tokyo, viewing Mt. Fuji and experiencing a tranquil onsen in Hakone, enjoying the charming coastal town of Kanazawa, soaking in historic, awe-inspiring Kyoto, dining my way through Osaka, finding peace among the cherry blossoms of Mt. Yoshino, and staying at a temple in Koyasan during their 1,200 year anniversary. I can easily say Japan has something for everyone! For accommodations there is everything from luxury hotels, to authentic Ryokan experiences, and even temples stays. Activities include visiting onsens for spa lovers, countless temples and museums for history buffs, boating for seafarers, shopping for fashionistas, karaoke and secret bars for nightlife lovers, and hiking for nature lovers. There are endless ways to experience this dynamic country. Foodies and spirit connoisseurs will be especially pleased with the extremely high level of service you can expect at any establishment. From the food mecca of Dotonbori in Osaka, to the sushi masters little known favorite town of Kanazawa, and hidden gems of Hafuu Honten in Kyoto and Sasagin in Tokyo again, you will not be disappointed!

What are some good, off-the-beaten path restaurants you can recommend that are popular with the locals?

If you need a break from Japanese fare, there is a very unique establishment in Kanazawa run by an Irishman and his Japanese wife. The duo cooks and entertains guests from behind the bar, making the experience very memorable. I had the brick-oven fennel pizza, with hard to find ingredients commissioned specifically to be served at Cottage. Stateside, in Buellton, CA of Sideways fame, you’ll want to dine at Industrial Eats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everything on the menu is incredible, but the Wilby is the best sandwich imaginable. Amazingly there is no corkage fee, or you can buy a glass of Ground Boots Pinot Noir and happily sip some of the best wine in the region, knowing that 100% of the profits help end the dog meat trade in Asia. Last but far from least are two hidden gems in Italy. Piz is the most fun you can have for dinner in Milan. Prosecco and a generous starter as you walk in the door, colorful vibrant decor, choose one of three pizzas from the small, but perfect menu, friendly servers with complimentary melon shots attend to your every need, devour your delicious pizza, and continue to enjoy the complimentary drinks as you pay your shockingly inexpensive bill upstairs. Inconspicuously perched on a hill in Montepulciano and fit for any foodie, try local favorite Le Logge del Vignola. Choose the tasting menu, every dish is better than the last with the homemade pastas and impeccable service the crown jewels.

What hotels have you visited recently and really liked?

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is in a class all its own with impeccable service, a stunning modern restoration of historical buildings, and delightful dining and bar venues. Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo is another personal favorite. Elegant, yet unpretentious the hotel feels like home after a long night at the casino or invigoration stroll around town.
Club Med Punta Cana recently updated their adults only Zen Oasis. The gorgeous modern rooms and enormous pool make this a great all-inclusive. The charming, art deco Prince de Galles in Paris offers guests a perfect location on George V and a perfect bar to start or end the evening.

Who do you consider your professional mentors and why?

First I’d like to thank my former manager, Habib Seraj, for taking a chance on hiring me in my first ever travel role and supporting my ambitions. Next, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had so many outstanding women to look up to as role models and mentors. I owe a great deal to Ellen Bettridge, current President and CEO of Uniworld, who created the travel training program I excelled in at American Express. She has been a professional role model for me as I set leadership goals and forged a career path. Working with Lynn Jafari and Robyn Foss, as my trainers in the beginning of my career was such a dream. Both 20 year industry veterans were able to not only teach me time saving GDS tricks, but also provide me with valuable insight into customer communication and consultative selling. Fellow agents Crystal Miller and Ana Caraballo were also instrumental in teaching me the ins and outs of the business, most importantly how to manage setbacks with grace.. Finally, I am so glad to be able to count Wendy Burk, the founder and CEO of Cadence, as a professional mentor and inspiration as well. An outstanding, compassionate female entrepreneur, Wendy challenges me to set my own goals even higher and provides the support to make them achievable.

Read More:

30Under30  Hillary Harpster  Zen Luxury Travel  Cadence

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T+L's World's Best Winners 2016

Congratulations to this year's T+L World's Best winners!

World's 15 Best Cities:

How many of these World's Best have you visited? Share your score the comments section!

Travel + Leisure

Travel + Leisure

15. Cuzco, Peru
14. Bangkok, Thiland
13. Siem Reap, Cambodia
12. Beirut, Lebanon
11. Rome, Italy
10. Capetown, South Africa
09. Savannah, Georgia, USA
08. Barcelona, Spain
07. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
06. Kyoto, Japan
05. Luang Prabang, Laos
04. Florence, Italy
03. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
02. Chaing Mai, Thiland

Drum-roll please.........................

01.  World's Best City 2016 - Charleston, South Carolina, USA

01. World's Best City 2016 - Charleston, South Carolina, USA

Charleston moved up from the No. 2 city in the world last year to No. 1. The city has shown incredible resilience and, as one reader wrote, there is still “no place quite like it.” In addition to historic battlegrounds and jasmine-scented streets, Charleston is home to award-winning hotels (including the Spectator, No. 2 in the world this year) and restaurants. Antebellum charm, excellent boutiques, and the beautiful waterfronts at Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach make this city one of the most beloved in the U.S.—and now, the world.
— T+L

Andrea Bocelli Private Preformance on Silversea

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Legendary tenor Andrea Bocelli will be joining us for a second time for a unique performance aboard Silver Spirit. The world’s most beloved tenor and best-selling solo classical artist of all time will be performing an exclusive evening of arias on the 26th of October, 2016 during Voyage 5631. Set against a backdrop of the stunning coastal village of Sorrento, your client(s) can enjoy an evening of powerful beauty as Maestro Bocelli performs in his unique style to a selected audience.

We are offering your the incredible opportunity to attend this performance — space is limited and will be reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis. We urge you to call ZEN Luxury Travel today to reserve your suite as Silversea expect's an unprecedented response for this momentous event.

You have two options to enjoy this rare opportunity:

OPTION 1 –  VENICE, ITALY – ROME, ITALY (10 days)
October 19, 2016 – October 29, 2016

OPTION 2 –  ATHENS, GREECE – ROME, ITALY (19 days)
October 10, 2016 – October 29, 2016

Included in this cruise

  • FREE Shore Excursions
  • FREE WiFi
  • Included Airfare and Transfers*
  • Included Pre-Cruise Hotel
  • Spacious suites – over 85% with private verandas
  • Personalised service – nearly one crew member for every guest
  • Butler service in every suite – all guests are pampered equally
  • Open-seating dining options – dine when and with whomever you please
  • Diversity of dining venues – casual, romantic, regional delicacies, and gourmet cuisine inspired by Relais & Châteaux
  • Beverages in-suite and throughout the ship – select wines, premium spirits, specialty coffees and soft drinks, plus your own tailored mini-bar
  • In-suite dining and 24-hour room service – always complimentary, always available
  • Sophisticated entertainment from live music to production shows
  • Enrichment lecturer and/or destination consultant
  • Complimentary transportation into town in most ports
  • Gratuities always included in your fare
  • Free WiFi throughout the ship; unlimited in select suite categories
  • Free Silver Shore Select Excursions

For more information call or sign-up today

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Inspiring Europe & Virtuoso Benefits

Enjoy the benefits of Virtuoso when you book with ZEN Luxury Travel, an independent contractor of Cadence. From room upgrades, dining credits, and late-checkouts to shipboard credit, insider information, and perfectly planned itineraries - You're in good hands with ZEN Luxury Travel.

Strolling a favorite beach promenade in Dubrovnik. Fly-fishing on a river in Ireland’s County Kerry. Pedaling along Amsterdam’s canals. Railing aboard a high-speed TGV that hugs the hypnotizing Mediterranean coast. Such authentic experiences happen daily when you explore the Continent with Virtuoso. Of course, ZEN Luxury Travel can provide exclusive extras and personal connections to show you a side of Europe even most locals never dream of.

In this issue

NORTH »

Amsterdam’s picturesque canals are perfect for leisurely bike rides; Big Ben looks small from atop the London Eye; friendly archery contests hit the target in Ireland’s County Kilkenny; and a behind-the scenes tour of St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre has you dancing for joy.

SOUTH »

Dive into the dazzling Aegean waters off Mykonos, get squared away in Madrid’s “Triangle of Art,” taste fresh mozzarella at a farmhouse in Sorrento, and relax with a good tome in a private garden within the center of treasures-filled Florence.

WEST »

The scent of fresh gingerbread wafts through Christmas markets in Strasbourg and Vienna; Bordeaux toasts your arrival with its plentiful vineyards; the Brandenburg Gate stands as a triumph of reunification in Berlin; and Budapest’s seven bridges welcome you to the “Pearl of the Danube.”

ZEN Spring Cruise Sale Ending Soon!

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The time has come for amazing savings and exclusive promotions for new reservations with your favorite cruise brands. Now is definitely the time to book.

See something you like? Contact us today to start planning.

AMAWATERWAYS® RIVER CRUISES    Enjoy a $100 shipboard credit on all 2016 sailings. Offer combinable with exclusive Virtuoso® amenities on select sailings   

AMAWATERWAYS® RIVER CRUISES
Enjoy a $100 shipboard credit on all 2016 sailings. Offer combinable with exclusive Virtuoso® amenities on select sailings
 

AZAMARA CLUB CRUISES®    Receive up to $500 in shipboard credits per cabin. Combinable with any other current promotions!   

AZAMARA CLUB CRUISES®
Receive up to $500 in shipboard credits per cabin. Combinable with any other current promotions!
 

CRYSTAL CRUISES®   Save up to $1,000 per cabin on ocean and yacht cruises and up to $400 per cabin on river cruises.

CRYSTAL CRUISES®
Save up to $1,000 per cabin on ocean and yacht cruises and up to $400 per cabin on river cruises.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE®   3rd & 4th guests are FREE until April 30th!     

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE®
3rd & 4th guests are FREE until April 30th!


 

PAUL GAUGIN CRUISES®    Receive $500 in shipboard credits per stateroom on any new 2016 or 2017 booking PLUS a reduced $250 deposit

PAUL GAUGIN CRUISES®
Receive $500 in shipboard credits per stateroom on any new 2016 or 2017 booking PLUS a reduced $250 deposit

SEADREAM YACHT CLUB®    Enjoy exclusive rates for our invitation-only wine   cruises   or receive $1,000 off per cabin and a $400 shipboard per cabin on select voyages

SEADREAM YACHT CLUB®
Enjoy exclusive rates for our invitation-only wine cruises or receive $1,000 off per cabin and a $400 shipboard per cabin on select voyages

VIKING RIVER CRUISES®    Receive up to $200 in shipboard credits on select   cruises  , exclusively through Cadence.

VIKING RIVER CRUISES®
Receive up to $200 in shipboard credits on select cruises, exclusively through Cadence.

AVALON WATERWAYS®  RIVER CRUISES    Discounted or free flights and up to $3,000 per couple on select cruises. Combinable with the Virtuoso® prepaid gratuities offer on select 2016 Europe cruises.

AVALON WATERWAYS® 
RIVER CRUISES

Discounted or free flights and up to $3,000 per couple on select cruises. Combinable with the Virtuoso® prepaid gratuities offer on select 2016 Europe cruises.

CELEBRITY CRUISES®    Complimentary specialty dining for two in Oceanview and above categories and up to $200 in shipboard credits per cabin for European itineraries.

CELEBRITY CRUISES®
Complimentary specialty dining for two in Oceanview and above categories and up to $200 in shipboard credits per cabin for European itineraries.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE®   Pay a reduced deposit ($100 for 7 day sailings, $200 for 14 day sailings) and our Onboard Value booklet, worth $300.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE®
Pay a reduced deposit ($100 for 7 day sailings, $200 for 14 day sailings) and our Onboard Value booklet, worth $300.

OCEANIA CRUISES®   Up to $3400 savings per couple on 2016 Europe sailings! PLUS free internet & your choice of three amazing deals: up to $800 in Shipboard Credits, 4 shore excursions or a beverage package!

OCEANIA CRUISES®
Up to $3400 savings per couple on 2016 Europe sailings! PLUS free internet & your choice of three amazing deals: up to $800 in Shipboard Credits, 4 shore excursions or a beverage package!

REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES®   Save up to $300 per cabin all 2016 sailings- and up to $600 on select voyages!

REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES®
Save up to $300 per cabin all 2016 sailings- and up to $600 on select voyages!

SILVERSEA CRUISES®   Save $250 per suite on Classic   Cruises   and $500 per suite on Expedition   Cruises  .   

SILVERSEA CRUISES®
Save $250 per suite on Classic Cruises and $500 per suite on Expedition Cruises.
 

WINDSTAR CRUISES®   Receive up to $200 in shipboard credits per cabin, combinable with our “Pick your Perk” Promo (ask for details!)

WINDSTAR CRUISES®
Receive up to $200 in shipboard credits per cabin, combinable with our “Pick your Perk” Promo (ask for details!)

Contact us by April 30th to book!

TERMS & CONDITIONS APPLY. SAVINGS VALID ON NEW BOOKINGS ONLY.