It’s a long-held dream of many to embark on a career in which traveling the world is part of your job description. But what does it take to found a luxury travel agency? In this edition of our Women in Travel series, we reached out to Cleo Anderson, the CEO and founder of the award-winning (make that multiple awards, actually) PR agency, The Anderson Media Group. Anderson has over a decade of experience representing clients within the luxury world of high-end travel—and has the recommendations to prove it. We interviewed Anderson about her dream hotels, and she doesn’t disappoint, suggesting sophisticated getaways all across the globe—recommending swanky accommodations from Paris to Kyoto, with luxe getaways in Abu Dhabi, Monte Carlo, and Beverly Hills.
And, aside from providing the ultimate in professional-grade travel advice, her story is an inspiration both for would-be travel professionals and for land-locked, would-be global explorers yearning to go out and see the world. “Don’t be afraid to follow your dream,” says Anderson. “Be proactive in seeking out the career you really want and be bold in deciding where in the world you want to go. There are so many amazing options and so many life-changing locations. Go and find them.” After all, as the cliché goes: a voyage of a thousand miles begins with a single step. “Once you start expecting good things, these things gain momentum and happen over and over again,” says Anderson. “I welcome them.”
And she has achieved all this by being a pioneer in her field, as one of the few Black female founders to establish her own distinctive, authoritative voice in the industry. The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a spotlight on diversity and representation throughout every level of society, and Anderson has words of hard-earned wisdom on how to get ahead and succeed in the travel space. “I think it’s great to open up people’s perceptions of what a CEO looks like,” says Anderson. “I think it’s crucial to be a part of that change and perhaps challenge people’s stereotypes. I’m more than happy to do it.”
But even if you don’t dream of a career in travel, Anderson offers witticisms and bon mots about the experience of traveling itself. Whether you’re planning your first solo trip or are just looking for a change of scenery (altogether harder to find during a pandemic), Anderson has no shortage of helpful tips. “Just book it,” says Anderson. “Book the trip you’ve always wanted to do and go. Also, don’t be afraid to travel alone.” The rewards far outweigh any initial hesitation, after all. The greatest lesson that travel teaches, according to Anderson, is not only mind-expanding but life-affirming. Though traveling the world, she has learned “that we are essentially all human, and that people are, in the main, good.” And what better time than now to learn that lesson? Read on for more wisdom, insight, (and high-end hotels) in our conversation with Anderson. Cheers to breaking barriers (professionally and beyond) and happy travels!
What first led you to start your own company? Have you always been passionate about travel?
My decision to strike out on my own was purely circumstantial. I was assisting a woman who owned a small PR agency and realized that I was essentially being left to manage the agency very early on. One morning I walked into the office, and she told me that Vogue had left a message for me regarding a story I had pitched to them. “Vogue doesn’t call people back,” she said. That’s when I realized I may have a knack for this, and it occurred to me that I could build something similar of my own. I took the plunge, with her blessing, fully expecting things to work out, and it was the best decision I ever made.
As for travel, it has always been a love of mine. And while studying for my Law degree, I was lucky enough to do my stage in Paris at eighteen – being in such a sophisticated city by myself forced me to both learn the language and assimilate into a new culture. Still, it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I traveled further afield and took my first transatlantic trip to Miami with my sister and a group of girlfriends. That’s when the travel bug truly took hold.
Did you always dream that one day you would travel for a living? Or did you find your way into the travel industry via your PR experience?
I really didn’t set out to have travel PR be part of the luxury PR service we offer, so in that respect, it was definitely a happy accident and something that snowballed once we started working with prominent hotels. I feel extremely lucky in that my work and my lifestyle have melded into one, and I look forward to each day. I love what I do.
What separates The Anderson Media Group from other Travel PR Firms?
We’ve been working with high-end hotels for around seven years now—and we’ve won awards based on some of those campaigns. What separates The Anderson Media Group from other PR agencies is our level of involvement—we really take the time to visit the hotel, experience the product firsthand, and build a relationship with the entire hotel team. That way, we are representing a client that we know inside-and-out, which makes for more interesting story angles and a deep knowledge of what we are selling to the press. We also help organize high-end Hollywood gift bags, which can be huge for clients in terms of guaranteed global press. We are currently working with a unique hotel housed in a lighthouse in Spain—they were included in the gift bag given to the top 25 Oscar Nominees this year, and the owner told me that they received bookings from all around the world as a result.
I know you’re an expert in luxury hotels (an excellent area of expertise!). What are some of your favorites?
There are quite a few! I celebrated my fortieth birthday with a handful of girlfriends at the George V, Paris—that was a birthday gift, and one of the most amazing hotel-stays. The Four Seasons brand really knows how to deliver first-class service. The Four Seasons Kyoto is just beautifully designed and very zen. Anantara’s Qasr Al Sarab in Abu Dhabi is spectacular – waking up to views of endless sand dunes is just dreamy, and the staff is wonderful. I also love the privacy and seclusion of the Hotel Bel-Air.
Do you have any advice for young women interested in breaking into the travel industry?
Don’t be afraid to follow your dream. Be proactive in seeking out the career you really want and be bold in deciding where in the world you want to go. There are so many amazing options and so many life-changing locations. Go and find them.
As a Black female founder and CEO in luxury travel, you are a pioneer. What has your experience been as an entrepreneur?
My experience as a Black woman, in general, is an extremely positive one, and this is especially true when I’m traveling. I find people to be warm and welcoming in general, and for some strange reason, I’m often presented with gifts – it doesn’t matter where in the world I am. In Egypt recently, I was gifted a beautiful scarf, and in Greece, two strangers gifted me chocolate. My most recent free upgrade while flying was offered to me over a white male. My feeling is that once you start expecting good things, these things gain momentum and happen over and over again; I welcome them. Career-wise, I think it’s great to open up people’s perceptions of what a CEO looks like. I think it’s crucial to be a part of that change and perhaps challenge people’s stereotypes. I’m more than happy to do it.
What is your favorite destination you’ve visited thus far? And what trip has been the most meaningful on a professional level?
I’ve always wanted to see the Pyramids and finally did that trip earlier this year. Being there felt spiritual, like coming home. The sense of history and seeing the pyramids and the Sphinx up close was just amazing, and the idea that these were built so many years ago with scientific precision was mind-blowing. That was a significant bucket list moment for me. My most significant trip professionally was the time I spent in Monaco with hotel client Monte Carlo SBM. We were taken on to do the UK PR for their 150th anniversary, and their portfolio of hotels, restaurants, and casinos is really impressive. The trip included a personal tour of the Monte Carlo Casino, tasting the fares of top chef Marcel Ravin, and the Hermitage Hotel is a beautiful place to stay. Working with such a prestigious hotel group put us on the map in terms of luxury travel PR, and we secured press coverage in everything from Vogue to Harper’s Bazaar. We also won four major PR awards for the year-long campaign. They were a joy to work with.
Given the current moment, in which the travel industry is affected by Covid-19, do you have any advice for how travelers can support meaningful businesses even when they’re unable to travel?
I think that now is the perfect time to think about those once in a lifetime trips you’ve really wanted to take and start planning them. I personally feel that the effects of global lockdown will mean more people wanting to travel like never before, and booking in advance can actually mean great savings financially—there are some amazingly good deals around right now for future travel.
What adventure are you hoping to take once the pandemic is over? And what’s on your radar now that wouldn’t have been if not for increased limitations?
New Zealand is a place I want to see and explore as I’m such a nature-lover. I hear it’s beautiful. Closer to home, I’ve yet to spend time in Ireland (which is shameful, as my mother is half Irish), so I would like to do that. I also want to explore the Scottish Highlands.
Finally—we have some rapid-fire travel questions for you to answer (in hopes that travel will make a comeback sooner rather than later). So: To check or not to check a bag?
Not to check for a long weekend trip, check for long-haul flights.
And any airport tips you can share?
For me the trip begins at the airport – so get there early, relax and have a cocktail.
Is there a favorite travel app you have that you recommend?
What’s the best advice you’ve been given about traveling, or that you’d like to give to others?
Just book it—book the trip you’ve always wanted to do and go. Also, don’t be afraid to travel alone. I have made a number of good friends this way, and traveling alone also develops a sense of self that feels empowering.
What is it that you love most about travel?
The food, learning about new cultures, meeting new people and cultivating an open mind.
And what do you think is the greatest lesson travel teaches us?
That we are essentially all human, and that people are, in the main, good.