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Travel agency emerges from pandemic stronger than ever

Preferred Travel of Naples was able to move quickly when the world started traveling again, thanks some smart decisions made during the COVID-19 crisis.

Olga Placeres doesn't just sell travel experiences — she indulges in them, as well. She's pictured here in Antarctica.
Olga Placeres doesn't just sell travel experiences — she indulges in them, as well. She's pictured here in Antarctica.
Courtesy photo
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After several lost COVID-19 years, demand for travel is huge, again. Preferred Travel of Naples is keeping up with the surge thanks to smart strategic moves it made during the pandemic.

“We had learned many lessons through the years about how to prepare for something like this,” says Olga Placeres, the firm’s president and CFO. She started at the company in 1988, became a business partner with the original owner in 2001, and then took over full ownership of the agency with her daughter, Kristina Gear, in 2019.

Olga Placeres joined Preferred Travel of Naples in 1988 and is now president, CFO and a co-owner, along with her daughter and son-in-law.
Courtesy photo

Although no one had ever experienced anything quite like the pandemic, Placeres and the nearly 40-year-old agency had made it through multiple economic downturns and recessions over the years, along with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the effects that tragedy had on travel.

Two important steps early on? Curtailing expenses and embracing a spirit of transparency.

“We let the team know we were going to be here and survive this thing,” says Placeres, 63. “We kept the entire team in place during that time. We took out loans and did whatever we could.”

Because of that approach, Preferred Travel of Naples was able to spring into action when people were ready and able to start traveling again.

“We all suffered together during those two years,” Placeres says. “When business started to come back and other agencies and companies were having staffing issues, we did not.”

The agency had also built customer loyalty over that challenging period. “Our team is so passionate about travel,” Placeres says. “We helped clients during that whole time. We answered our phones; many other companies didn’t.”

And even while business was down, Preferred Travel of Naples took steps to prepare for the future.

“We saw that half of our business was coming from Lee County, from the Bonita-Estero area,” Placeres says. So, in summer 2020, the agency shifted from one large office in Pelican Bay in Naples to a smaller office in that same location and a second office in Bonita Springs.

Olga Placeres' travels have taken her as far as Iceland and beyond.
Courtesy photo

Preferred Travel of Naples has also taken advantage of inorganic growth opportunities, acquiring an agency in Nantucket, Massachusetts, that does a lot of destination wedding work, as well as an agency in Fort Lauderdale. The company now has 35 employees on its payroll among its four locations, and it works with about 45 independent contractors.

Placeres declined to provide specific revenue or growth figures but says growth is on an upward trajectory with the new acquisitions and strong demand for travel. And she’s open to other opportunities.

“We talk with everyone because you never know,” she says. “We have a conversation just to see where they are, what they want to do, where we are and whether we can absorb some of that risk. There’s a lot of risk. You have to always be prepared that what goes up always comes down or adjusts somewhat. After 30-some-odd years in this business, I know there are good days and then something happens.”

That's mostly why it's not surprising that flexibility goes a long way in this business. “You have to have several plans, because plan A, B and C may not be enough,” Placeres says. “And if one thing doesn’t work, don’t get stuck on that one thing. Figure out a different way.”

Though it’s easy for consumers to plan and purchase travel online these days, it can also be overwhelming. That’s why clients keep turning to experts like Preferred Travel of Naples. “There’s a lot of info online, but then you have to decide,” says Placeres, who was recently named to Travel + Leisure’s 2023 “A-List” as a top travel advisor and European specialist. “We’re there to guide you. We’re not a fit for everyone, because we do charge fees. I have to keep the lights on; I have to keep the staff and that comes with a cost.”

But accompanying that guidance is assistance every step of the way during clients’ trips, which is especially helpful should something go wrong. The agency handles everything “from the moment they leave their door to the moment they return and everything in between,” Placeres says.

As Placeres mulls her future, she knows the agency is in good hands. Her son-in-law, Kody Gear, joined Placeres and her daughter as a partner in 2022, bringing his finance background to the firm.

“Having business partners that have your same vision and mission is important,” she says. “We want to make sure we’re doing things and putting things in place to lead this company and hand it off to the next generation, which is them.”

(This story has been updated to clarify that Olga Placeres' daughter, Kristina Gear, joined Preferred Travel in 2013, not 2019.)



Beth Luberecki

Nokomis-based freelance writer Beth Luberecki, a Business Observer contributor, writes about business, travel and lifestyle topics for a variety of Florida and national publications. Her work has appeared in publications and on websites including Washington Post’s Express, USA Today, Florida Trend, and Learn more about her at

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