- Since 2016, RTW Travel Group has become a go-to for many Hollywood big wigs, growing 200% year over year.
- It manages travel for over 900 celebrities, dozens of TV and movie productions and coordinates appearances at Comic-Cons worldwide.
- CEO Andrew Novo made an initial investment of $5,000 and has turned it into a multi-million dollar, full-service luxury travel company.
As a kid, Andrew Novo always had his head in the clouds—but he wasn't daydreaming. He was memorizing the flight patterns of the planes that took off from Vancouver International Airport.
"Travel is in my blood," he said. “I fly upwards of 150,000 miles a year.”
"I spent five years working at YVR. Then I transitioned to sales with Air Canada's frequent flyer program Aeroplan. I also worked at Flight Centre, where I learned how not to be a travel agent."
He knew he could offer clients better customer care and service experience without limitations imposed by higher-ups. After years of working for someone else, he began building his full-service luxury travel company, RTW Travel Group.
He started with an initial investment of $5,000 that he used to get the required licensing to become a travel agent. The next step—researching how exactly one starts a business.
He didn't have much entrepreneurial experience, but he had a passion and a vision—the rest was a learning curve: branding and marketing, building a website, and negotiating contracts with airlines, hotels, car rental services and tour operators.
Three months after leaving his job, RTW Travel Group had its first customer.
"My first call when I got my final license was from an actor looking for someone to help with her 30th birthday trip," he remembers. "From that point, I focused on the entertainment industry."
Vancouver is called Hollywood North because of how many movies and television projects film there.
"We manage a lot of travel arrangements for the entertainment industry—movies, TV shows, events like Comic-Con and personal travel for celebrities."
From word-of-mouth advertising, RTW Travel Group took off faster than a teenage TikTok star's career.
"We've been growing at approximately 200% year over year," Novo said. "In six years, we now manage travel for over 900 celebrities, book upwards of 25 movies and tv shows a year, and are dominating in the fan convention space."
So how did a small startup become a go-to for the entertainment industry? Through a combination of expertise, trustworthiness and a desire to give people seamless travel arrangements.
"I've concluded that most travel agents don't care much about their clients. They look at the booking, see how much money they can make, and then do the work for their commission."
He decided to take a different approach, prioritizing every aspect of his client's travel, not just the destination. Whether he's booking flights for an entire cast or just making travel arrangements for a family, RTW Travel Group clients get the same gold star service.
“If my phone rings at 1 a.m. I’m picking it up,” he said. “I have clients in Dubai, 30 companies I work with in Europe, Comic-Cons all over the world and clients all over the states. I manage travel for some of the biggest talent agencies in the US. And what’s funny is they are using this small Vancouver-based travel company—so we must be doing something right.”
He goes to great lengths to ensure his clients get to their destination, even amid one of the worst summers for travelling.
"I book my clients on the first flight available. I ensure they have enough time to make their connection. I'll monitor the plane and if it's running late—before they even touch the tarmac—my clients are rebooked on the next available flight."
None of his clients have had any unplanned delays or lost baggage, a point of pride for him.
"I'm looking at the long game," he said. "Not how much commission I'll make on one booking, but how can I get this client to book through me for the next ten years?"
"A producer I've been working with for four years called me up out of the blue—her dad had an issue with a ticket he had paid for using points but couldn't go. She asked if I could help him with that, and I was happy too, even though it didn't generate any money for the company."
"A little while later, the dad called me up and said, 'Hey, we'd like to fly to Geneva in business class,'" Novo recalled. "So two $10,000 tickets put a bit of commission in my pocket. Then last month, they called me to coordinate their family vacation—they're going on a cruise. They spent over $200,000!"
RTW Travel Group makes $350,000 a month, but it hasn't been clear blue skies for the company.
"COVID was the worst," he remembers. "I had all this travel booked back in 2019—I had made my commission already and paid taxes on it. Then when airlines started refunding tickets in 2020, I was whom they came to make up their losses."
It wasn't until months into the pandemic that the government announced travel agent commissions were protected—by that point, RTW Travel had already paid everything back.
"So I qualified for every government program out there and applied for them. And they were government-approved and facilitated through the banks," he explained. "But my bank denied me on every single one because the rationale was, well you're in travel, and we don't know when you could start paying it back. We got zero government support. Zero."
One airline pulled thousands from his account.
He had to lay off 95% of his trip planners—one is still standing. Now, as travel goes back to business as usual, he needs to fill those positions again, a tricky task considering his clientele.
"We have a lot of data on some high-profile clients, so finding an employee to trust with that information is one of the biggest challenges. But I want to rebuild a solid corporate team to focus on expanding my relationships in the entertainment industry and growing exponentially."
Six years into RTW Travel, Novo hopes that in the next six he can turn the business into a well-oiled machine so he can work on other projects, he already has a few in the works.
“If you have a dream, don’t let anything get in your way of reaching it,” he urges. “Don’t listen to those who say you will fail—and even if you do, every failure becomes a learning opportunity.”
And what did COVID teach him?
“Prepare for anything.”