When COVID-19 hit, the travel industry came to a screeching halt. Trips were cancelled or postponed, and then the phones stopped ringing and the inbox was quiet. But Brownell Independent Advisor Sarah Groen saw the crisis as an opportunity to innovate and launched a podcast called the Luxury Travel Insider. In each episode, she chats with owners and General Managers of top hotels and tour operators around the world. Learn more about how she turned her idea into a reality below.
What sparked this the idea of the podcast?
All travel advisors can attest to the fact that we get incredible access and learning opportunities with the top destinations and hotels in the world. I was traveling the world hearing these incredible insider stories that the average traveler never learns. I just kept thinking…the traveler, the person who is going to stay in this hotel – they should be hearing this!
So I had been thinking about a way to share these tidbits for a long time. I wasn’t sure if it would be a podcast or a YouTube channel, but when COVID rolled around, I wanted to do something positive for travel.
How did you come up with the format?
From the beginning I knew I wanted an interview focus and to have the story come from the owner, the GM, or someone intimately involved with the customer – like Robert Bowe from the Ashford Castle episode! Our guests are folks whose passion for sharing their destinations with the world really shines through.
Then from there and through a lot of research, I landed on podcasting as the right platform for me.
What surprised me the most is how excited the industry has been and how quickly the top people from my guest “wishlist” would agree to coming on the show. Our industry just has that vibe – we all love what we do and want to share it with the world.
“You have to be willing to be bad at something to get good at it.”
What steps did you take to make it happen?
My first step was to chat with a few friends who are successful podcasters – to learn what really goes into it. Their overwhelming message was not to start unless I could fully mentally commit; many podcasts fade out after 5 or 6 episodes (don’t worry, we have 7 months of backlog already, so we’re not going anywhere!).
From there I researched and learned more through a short online course. Then, I fully committed and set a deadline for myself: that I would have at least one episode live to the world by the end of Q3.
As I was learning to edit (not my strong suit!) or fumbling through other parts of the launch that were difficult, I ran across a quote in a book that said “You have to be willing to be bad at something to get good at it.” I just held that quote in my mind and repeated it every time I hit a roadblock.
I followed some pretty traditional steps from there – creating a business plan to lay out my goals, define the target audience, outline a launch plan with intermediate milestones along the way, etc. Then, I hit the ground to start executing against the plan.
We launched September 16th with 4 episodes live on the first day and now have about 35 other episodes done or scheduled!
How did you stay inspired during COVID?
I went through phases for sure. When there were multiple trip cancellation calls per day, I didn’t have time to think about the gravity of the situation. I had to do what was best for each client – and quickly.
When our cancellations slowed down and I could see what remained of the business (my baby!), little waves of grief came flowing in. I think letting myself feel these feelings deeply allowed me to move on more quickly – and I started to come up with new ideas at a frenzied pace (never waste a crisis, right?).
I had friends and former colleagues prodding me to pivot out of travel. But when you love what you do, it’s just not that simple. I have a true passion for travel and real mission behind what I’m doing. I believe that travel promotes tolerance and makes the world a better place, and I’m not going to give that up so easily.
Starting the podcast was like a jolt of energy, and a way for me to help colleagues in the industry and keep our clients and audience dreaming.
What advice do you have for others who have new ideas but aren’t sure where to start?
1. The first step is the hardest. Pick one small thing to start with and execute on it. My pet project this quarter is to start a study abroad scholarship. Right now, I’m not really sure how to start, so the only task I gave myself this week was to schedule a call with someone I know who’s an expert. From there I’ll know what small step to take next!
2. Remember that being bad at something is part of the process! Having this mindset allows you to keep going when things feel hard. For me it feels exciting because it reminds me that I’m growing. Another saying we used when I worked at Uber, was “done is better than perfect.” Feeling the need to be perfect is the true enemy of getting something new into the world. The podcast isn’t perfect, but it’s out there, and it’s mine, and now I have the fun job of improving it and progressing over time.
3. One of my life mottos is “The answer is always no if you don’t ask.” Let that sink in and then go change your life by asking for what you want and need.
Anything else in the works that we can look forward to seeing?
For Luxury Travel Insider, I have 35 interviews in the pipeline and we are getting requests from amazing people who want to come on the show every week. I am literally so excited about each one that one of my biggest challenges each week is deciding which episode to publish next!
Behind the scenes I’m working on improving my processes for Bell & Bly Travel as a whole, hiring an Executive Assistant so I can keep my time focused on more strategic matters, and working on a plan to get a scholarship launched!