The company helps travel advisors learn about and sell its large portfolio of luxury hotel clients in Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States, offering exclusive perks, always-on customer service, and other resources.
As for the man? Let’s just say he usually adds an exclamation point to his name: J.MAK! I asked him about how he works with advisors and grows his business, his favorite travel conferences, and the quickest way to get blacklisted in the travel industry. And he responded with his trademark enthusiasm.
How exactly do you work with luxury travel advisors?
Email is the key to efficient, fast communication. We try to be lightning fast in responding, helping them get the best offers and amenities for their clients, solving problems, responding day or night, 24/7. Most advisors simply want answers, not out-of-office replies. They don’t always know if the GM or director of sales is on vacation or doesn’t work weekends; we do know, and we do work weekends and evenings. Very few can say they do this, and I have a long list of advisors who would fact check this! One of our hashtags is #jmaksgotyourback.
Face-to-face meetings is where my name was made. I can’t even count the number of road shows, trade shows, dinners, cocktail parties, and more that we have attended collectively over the past 21 years. Hospitality isn’t about fancy hotel rooms or first-class upgrades. It’s about making people feel good, whether on email, face to face, or dare I say, on the phone.
How have you grown your business?
It’s all organic. One happy client tells another, one happy travel advisor tells a hotelier, and so on. I’m so proud to say we have never approached a client first, ever. This is a formula I hope lasts forever.
What is the story behind J.MAK, the name?
Funny enough, the name J.MAK was born in travel. I was called JonJon and Mak-Mouthie in school, but J.MAK came a bit later. As I was waiting for my upgrade to clear on airport screens, there was my name up in lights; most of the time, you could only see J.MAK!
In a world of a million travel conferences, which ones are best for you and your clients?
I’m attending my 21st Virtuoso Week in 2019! Others include LE Miami, ILTM in Cannes, the Americas, and Asia, plus Proud Experiences. I’m checking out Emotions in Brooklyn this year, too. We believe that working with our clients is best. If they are at LE Miami, we are on sales calls in the Miami area.
What is J.MAK’s secret sauce?
We are a family, we are the hardest-working in the business, and we are hungry for more sauce! We scour email lists to see if there is an advisor name we don’t know, we use strong and fun social media to find those that opt out of newsletters, we meet for coffee with those that don’t need fancy dinners or don’t want to attend events. There are advisors who simply want great service for their clients and want to stay home with their families at night and not attend another “free food” event.
Most travel advisors want education more than anything, and that is what we share collectively with each other.
What is the quickest way for an advisor to get blacklisted in the industry?
I would say abusing the power they hold to stay at properties around the globe if they don’t have a real book of business. We focus on advisors that book, let us know they are booking, and share the love, whether it be with a recap of pros and cons or tagging us on social media to share their experiences.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the advisor industry today?
I think this: “Book direct for the best deal.” Hoteliers, please remove this from your websites and email campaigns! Try a friendlier approach: “Contact your travel advisor for the best deal.” We know that it takes a village to fill a hotel. Work smarter, not harder!
You represent so many beautiful properties around the world. I know you can’t play favorites, but can you pick a few to highlight?
My heart will always be at Cavallo Point, our first client. Not only did I live in the Bay Area, but it’s such a sophisticated place. I love hiking, fresh air, and nature, but I also love the heartbeat of the city, and it’s just across the bridge!
No one does it better than J.K. Place in Florence, Capri, and Rome (and Paris is coming soon). They have the most amazing people behind the places and a no-nonsense attitude with no nickel-and-diming. They are truly leaders in service.
Madame Sibuet and her family run Maisons & Hôtels Sibuet, and they have the most exquisite taste and the most incredible locations from Megève and St.-Tropez to the Luberon and St. Bart’s. I love Jocelyne Sibuet so much. She makes me nervous, and no one makes me nervous!
All of J.MAK’s places and spaces are unique, fun, interesting, charming, and so on, but it is really the people behind them that make them all so special.
Where is the next travel hot spot? What is everyone talking about?
Portugal and Greece. I know they have been hot for awhile but they are still hot, just like the weather in Europe this summer. Funny enough, the same places are always on top: France and Italy still reign!
What do you always take on the plane with you?
I will not fly without my lavender mist! I’ve been traveling with it as long as I can remember. Nothing like a nice fresh scent to help with recycled airplane air.
What TV shows are you binging right now?
I am embarrassed to say, but oh well: Big Brother, The Amazing Race, Naked and Afraid, and all of the Housewives. I can’t stop myself from watching reality. And our client HostedVillas was just featured on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in Provence–OMG!
Were you always obsessed with hotels and travel?
I’ve been obsessed since I was a child. My mom was in publishing, so she traveled a lot, and I remember flying on Pan Am’s 747s with her from New York to Los Angeles. Later, but before J.MAK, I commuted between NYC and L.A. on 767s for almost five years. I have almost 3 million miles on American Airlines alone, my preferred ride in the sky. My dad loved to ski, so most of our trips were to Switzerland, specifically Zermatt, but we also skied in France, Austria, Colorado—and places you wouldn’t think of, like Greece, Australia, New Zealand, and the Catskills.
The hotel bug started even earlier. My mother insists my first words were “room service”! I grew up in a New York City skyscraper and we had doormen, porters, and room service—well, Manhattan-style room service, where you can get anything delivered. When I vacationed with my family, I ended up hanging out with the housekeeping staff, helping to clean rooms and eating with them; they paid more attention to me than my family did!
>> Next: SmartFlyer’s Michael Holtz on the Best Business Class, Flight Shaming, and “Secret” Air Routes