Inside Ultra-Lux Travel, with Gabriela Markova

Luxury travel is changing and Gabriela Markova is at the forefront of this change.

Gabriela takes us behind the scenes of the ultra-luxe travel industry, from private islands to experiential travel, upcoming destinations and her own remarkable travel experiences.

Gabriela was formerly Head of Sales at Mandarin Oriental, and opened Velaa Private Island in the Maldives. She now operates the ultra-luxe sales representation agency GM Selection, along with industry trades how Luxury Bloc.

What was it like working on a private island in the Maldives?

Most private islands have their sales representatives based in the big hubs — Singapore, Dubai, Europe — because you travel a lot. In my case, I was based on Velaa Maldives for half of the month, working with my team there, and half of the month sitting on Etihad Airlines and travelling around the world. So for two and half years I was in constant jet lag, because I just moved from one part of the world to the other. But it’s worth it. Because you’re selling paradise — and paradise is so easy to sell.

Tell us more about GM Selection and its impact on the Czech travel market.

I never wanted to be an entrepreneur but I moved out of Velaa because I was pregnant and wanted to be home, so that my parents could help. Then, it was very difficult to find a job as a new mother — nobody will employ you because people just don’t believe you can travel.

So doing my own project was the only logical step. At that time, many people were contacting me — friends and industry colleagues — who wanted to be introduced to agencies, to HR, to headhunters. And I just thought, they can pay me for it, you know. And I realized that with my knowledge and the contacts that I had gained during my years with Mandarin Oriental and with Velaa, I could bring value to certain products. So I founded GM selection.

I was representing products on the entire continental European market — and the reaction of Eastern Europe and the quality of the bookings I was getting was thrilling. I was very proud to see how this region developed, and that we really are on the same level as the top ultra luxury markets in the entire world. And I thought, this is something I want to help develop more.

Other than Covid, what has changed in the ultra-lux travel industry? And what change do you want to see in the future?

What I want to see to change — and I think it’s happening right now — is that people understand the meaning of luxury in a different way. Luxury used to be things like marble bathrooms and Michelin-star restaurants — very materialistic things.

That is changing, and now people understand luxury as more than ostentatious, lavish things. They prefer to create great travel memories and experiences.