Nancy has spent many weeks during each of the last fifteen years exploring Greece & the Mediterranean with family and friends. Revisiting favorite destinations and discovering new ones, she has windsurfed in the islands, hiked mountains and explored caves, toured wine country, relaxed on pristine beaches, and dined at the full range of regional tables. Her love for the region endures and she continues to be drawn by its sheer beauty, exceptional cuisine, and the warm hospitality of its people.
Why did you decide to break into the luxury travel industry and create Delfinia Group?
I had a career as an investment banker before becoming a full-time mom to two boys. My husband’s parents were from Greece and we began traveling there when the boys were young. The boys and I would travel throughout Greece for two to seven weeks at a time each summer. While their father would accompany us for a couple weeks, the boys and I explored many places on our own. Initially, I found it hard to plan each summer in Greece. Although their father had relatives in Greece, no one could give me good advice on where to stay, where to eat, or what to do as his relatives had never stayed in a hotel, hired a guide, or been a tourist in their own country. It ended up taking me months to plan each upcoming summer. Through this process each year, I met a lot of people, made a lot of connections, and gained a lot of experience with hotels, drivers, guides, and what to see and what to do. I became the “de facto” Greece travel specialist for friends and families and shared my recommendations with them. I basically planned out itineraries for others.
Once my boys were in middle school, I devoted my time to this project and ended up founding Delfinia out of my perceived need in the market for a Greek luxury travel specialist. My clients are professionals, families and friends. My personal experiences have enabled me to understand what appeals to a grandmother, a teenager, or a young couple. My goal is to translate my experiences into nicely customized trips that are tailored to each client. When a client works with Delfinia, they are essentially putting their trust in my taste and my vetting of service providers and experiences. I try to convey what experiences a client may have and services they can expect so a prospective client can decide if this is to their liking before deciding to work with Delfinia.
What was your biggest challenge in the industry when you first started?
How to be noticed amongst a field crowded with competitors with larger advertising and marketing budgets. While many of these competitors claim to offer luxury travel services, many do not offer the same level of luxury as Delfinia. As a result, most of my business comes from word of mouth and client referrals. So I would say my biggest challenge was, and is, trying to expand Delfinia’s reach with limited resources.
If you could choose any superpower what would it be?
It would be to be able to read people’s minds. I recently arranged what I thought was an amazing itinerary for a client, her husband, and active adult sons, but the client ended up being unhappy about many aspects of the trip without much explanation. It ended up being a complicated situation that largely had to due with serious health issues that had not been shared with me ahead of time, so I wish I had been able to know that when I planned the family’s itinerary. If I was able to read this client’s mind, I would have planned a much slower paced program with virtually no physical activity.
What is one thing you would tell future clients thinking about working with a travel agent?
To choose a travel advisor with common views on tastes and budget. Ask yourself: Is this someone you would trust arranging something for you? It’s important to match your preferences and your expectations with that of your travel advisor. It’s important to work with an advisor that you feel confident will advocate for you and understand you enough to plan a travel program that you will truly enjoy. While it’s nice to do research online and read reviews on TripAdvisor, at the end of the day, it is only one person’s opinion that matters – yours. Some clients do not have the time and will put their trust in a travel agent, while others want to rely on their own resources and do their own research. But ultimately, if you’re working with a travel agent and you really like them, you have to trust their expertise.
Where do you see room for improvement in the travel industry?
At the moment, there is a trend towards specialization. I think consumers need to be careful about who is really a “specialist” and who is good at marketing. An improvement would be more truthfulness from travel agents and travel companies about how much expertise they really have in a particular specialty. And, clients should work with travel advisors who are passionate about what they do, rather than just trying to finish a job and make the commission.
Would you rather never drink (alcohol) again or never be able to have dessert?
That’s easy. Never to have dessert, and here’s why: I have the Intermediate Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. I have always had an interest in wine. Before having my family, my vacation each year would be a guided bike tour in Italy, which included food and wine experiences. Actually, when I first started Delfinia, I thought it would be great to organize food and wine tours, but the scheduling and logistics ended up being too difficult. Now, I try to incorporate food or wine in some element in the trips I plan. Wine is sort of my passion (especially Greek wines). So my answer is more based on my passion for wine than a dislike of dessert.
How do you manage partnerships with businesses worldwide?
Delfinia is not enormously huge, nor do we wish to be because I don’t want to lose the personal touch. My partners (I like to call them colleagues) are the drivers, hotels, restaurants, etc. I work with. I travel over to Greece and the Mediterranean about five times a year, and I always make a point of meeting up with existing colleagues and researching new resources. Sometimes these businesses and relationships change over time, so I’m constantly re-evaluating my relationships. Sometimes I find newer businesses that are more what I’m looking for or fit a client’s specific needs. I think the face to face interaction and experience is so important. If you want to have the depth, you have to see and touch and feel. You have to find out what’s new and upcoming and what’s old and can be redone.
Do you speak Greek?
A little, not enough. I understand it – yes – but I can’t speak it fluently. In some ways, speaking less is a little better. Then, I can evaluate if I can communicate with them well enough or not, so I can see if the clients would be able to communicate with them. But I understand that this is very different in every country. I don’t feel it’s mandatory to be fluent in the language but I do believe that it is mandatory to be fluent in the culture. I spend a lot of time in Greece working with the people there, and I work with the locals often, so I feel like I live the experience and the culture and that translates into my work.
If you had an unlimited travel budget for 24 hours, what would you do?
This one is really hard. The problem is, I don’t want to lose a lot of time in transit. I would probably go either to Florence or Rome and visit art galleries, or perhaps Siena in Tuscany. I’m an art junkie, so definitely an art gallery. I’m so euro focused, but I would definitely want to go anywhere that has access to art galleries, good food and sumptuous hotels with a butler for all the luxury services and beyond. I would also love to have a private session with a chef at a Michelin star restaurant. Oh, and unlimited champagne!!!
What is one item you never travel without (apart from the essentials)?
I consider my computer an essential, so aside from that, I always try to have food with me, especially avocados and almonds. Being nourished while traveling is so important. When you’re flying for hours or arriving somewhere in the late hours of the night, you never know what food may be available. Avocados and almonds are great for traveling because they satisfy my hunger. I could travel with a bottle of champagne, but that would not satisfy me (well, maybe).
At the moment, what is your favorite luxury travel spot?
I am always biased towards Greece, so I’ll avoid recommending Greece for purposes of this question. I would say the South of France, maybe St. Tropez. Americans do not know that much about that area. St. Tropez has a lot to offer: beaches, beach clubs, a wide range of hotels. There are also the wineries nearby, as well as charming villages to explore if you don’t want to spend everyday on the beach. I like to do a mix of things on my trips and try to “live” an itinerary in my mind before I arrange it for someone. I think St. Tropez and the French Riviera offers this great mix with food and wine experiences, guided tours, boat excursions and, of course, the beaches. It offers a lot of similar experiences to Greece, but it still feels like France with that French flair.