We had the good fortune of connecting with Janella Bustamante and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Janella, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking.
I firmly believe that risk is the bridge to either success or failure. When you risk and succeed, you have a precedent to build even greater success. When you risk and fail, even though hard, it’s the best possible learning experience. Either way, what matters is what you do with the results of your risk.
Risk has always been present in my professional life and I consider myself an audacious person. When I look at my career, one of the first major risks I took was when I was promoted as an Assistant Front Office Manager and moved from Miami to San Francisco—a place I had never been before and knew little about, where I’d be taking on my very first management role. I can’t say it was the best time I ever had, but it was one of the best experiences for the challenges it brought, as well as the revelations—teaching me about what I wanted to do, and what I would never do, as a leader.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned about the nature of risk-taking is that it often comes from a place of unrest. In 2017, I made one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, resigning from the hotel where I had worked for 10 years—a place that I considered my home, not only because of the countless hours I spent there, but also because of the family I had developed there. I absolutely loved my job and everything around it, most especially the precious people around me, colleagues and guests alike. But I decided to resign because I felt inside me that it was time for a change.
It also happened that I had a person who had been asking me for quite some time “to do” something together. I passed on the business opportunity for quite a while, but then the timing felt right for a challenge so I jumped on it. I joined a family-run travel agency and was in charge of building a VIP portfolio. I recall it like if it was yesterday, the excitement when I first joined, and my excitement grew when I was then able to bring on the person who used to be my right hand at the hotel. She came on board and helped us create pure magic.
It was my first time building something from scratch, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments of fear and anxiety. And while the business started to bloom beautifully and our portfolio of guests started to increase, the partnership I’d formed started to decrease tremendously. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the relationship work. Despite the fact business was successful, I felt that I completely failed. That was a first, and it was hard. But it affirmed what I had already started to learn, which is that when something doesn’t feel right, you have to follow your heart and venture onwards!
Here I was for the first time in my life without a job, and with no more than $5,000 in my bank account. I was considering going back to hotels but also toying with the idea of opening my own company. However, I needed the capital to do so. I met with three potential investors, who were all willing to give me the money immediately, but they wanted 50% partnership of my new agency—and that was not an option for me, mainly because of my close relationship with all my guests and the respect of their data and personal information. I spent two weeks meditating on the issue and trying to figure out what to do and how to do it when suddenly my phone rang. It was the Ambassador, one of my best guests and she says the following: “Janella, I want to let you know that we are very happy with your services and professionalism, you and your team have been taking care of The Queens and delegations amazingly and now we are going to trust you for the first time for the travel arrangements for His Majesty The King.” I know it probably sounds made up, but this is the caliber of clientele I had spent my career building, and it was about to make all the difference. My heart exploded with joy and excitement. This was my one shot to open my own company!
After getting all details of the journey I called Natasha, who had been my right hand in my last two career moves, and I shared the news and asked her to come on board with me. We went immediately to FIU to have a pop-up meeting with a finance professional to guide us through on the type of corporation to open that would be beneficial for the long term. Next thing you know, we’re registering the name JB Elite Travel and the brand was born! Now, we just needed the money to achieve the same level of service my clients were accustomed to. That was my biggest challenge—the experience needed to be flawless.
Every dime I had—and the dimes I didn’t have!—went in for the company. Talk about risk. I cobbled together a few loans and all of the sudden I had a 70K debt and an empty bank account, The only thing I had a surplus of was an inspired dream, boundless passion and a fantastic team to see it all through. We faced so many challenges that first go-round, planning a major trip for a Royal Family with a large delegation. Though my company name was new in the hospitality industry, my name wasn’t—luckily I had a sterling reputation in the Hospitality Industry. Where I lacked experience was in the travel agency industry, but my great relationships came into place at the right moment. I received the most amazing recommendation letters from people I had worked with. All the sudden, JB Elite Travel was rocking and rolling. Proof that there are certain things you can rely on when you do take risks. Reputation is one of them.
All it took was this one visit and we earned the trust of many people in the industry, as well as from this delegation which we took care of magically. A few months later we were a debt free company and took the opportunity to create a strong brand for JB Elite Travel and the travel world began to promote the agency. We were building a network and bringing more guests to our portfolio. Although I felt like a failure at the time, now I feel full of gratitude for the challenges I experienced. If I hadn’t risked my career and pushed myself to the limits, I wouldn’t now be living the most rewarding experience of my life.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others? Please tell us more about your business?
JB Elite Travel is a high-end travel agency based out of Miami, FL. We are hoteliers at heart and our mission is to continuously innovate and change the way our clients travel. Our years working in 5 Star Hotels have gifted our team the unique opportunity to know how to create and deliver legendary, personalized and caring experiences. We use this knowledge to take care of travel arrangements for royalty, industry leaders and for all those clients looking for an unparalleled personalized travel experience. Our travel experiences include DMC journeys, private and customized itineraries, advance teams when and if requested, concierge services, personal shoppers and transportation services.
What sets you apart from others? We are a team of Hoteliers and one of our goals is to continue to hire and work with likeminded professionals in order to deliver on the promise of an elevated yet personalized experience. We understand how a guest’s journey should be from start to finish and everywhere in between so that its unique, special, effortless and truly memorable. We partner with the best suppliers in the industry to deliver on this promise worldwide to all of our guests.
I think one of the things that truly sets us apart is our heart. At, JB Elite Travel we feel an emotional connection with our guests and build strong bonds based on trust and expertise. No two guests are alike, and we ensure all of our guests feel as unique as they are in each and every interaction.
What are you most proud or excited about?
The endless possibilities and experiences for our loyal and new guests. The world has changed forever as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is our duty to responsibly share our knowledge and expertise with our guests, always putting their safety and security at the forefront.
We are most proud of having the trust of multigenerational guests from across the globe who allow us the great privilege of being their travel advisors.
How did you get to where you are today business wise?
As cliché as it is to say, there’s no magical formula that works without a dose of hard work and determination. We must continually innovate ourselves and learn from every itinerary to tailor experiences and exceed expectations in all aspects.
At JB Elite Travel we are not comfortable being average and we don’t believe in complacency. We are where we are today because our guests know that they can always count on us to deliver on what they have requested—and go above and beyond. The result is mutual trust and respect unlike you’ll find anywhere else.
Was it easy, if not how did you overcome those challenges?
By no means was it easy, although there were some perfect alignments that opened many doors for us.
We strongly believe in building a strong network of trusted individuals who share our philosophy of exemplary guest services. Over our short time being operational we have had the opportunity to build strong and authentic bonds with people from all walks of life. It goes without saying that we have personally invested countless of hours creating partnerships of value, that have been paramount to us. We have been incredibly fortunate to have travelled the globe in search for the best suppliers and partners to help us achieve greatness for our guests and many other agencies don’t have that personalization.
What are the lessons you have learned along the way?
We are continuously learning every day. Many lessons have paved the way for superior and richer experiences for our guests, and many lessons to be learnt await us. One of the most important lessons that you can take away from this is to build trust in multiple aspects of your business. Trust the work that you do, trust the work that you hope to deliver, trust your partners and suppliers. Without a strong foundation of trust in the day-to-day, there will be no trust from your guests in you.
What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
JB Elite Travel is founded on a very simple and profound notion: We deliver service from the heart and we truly believe in changing the way our guests travel—always for the better. It is this passion for people and travel that propel us to continuously develop our knowledge and stay ever relevant on all new trends. At JB Elite Travel we welcome you and look forward to creating a magical experience for you soon!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Welcome to Miami, the Magic City!
I’m a big foodie and I love all cultures, and Miami offers plenty of both, plus loads of fun! However, before we get to all the trendy and vibrant spots, I always welcome my friends first and foremost to my own home for a homemade meal and great bottles of wine. It’s in my DNA to welcome all of those close to me with friendship and fellowship.
The next day, on to Wynwood to explore Wynwood walls, followed by a delectable lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, KYU. The crispy fried chicken and grandma’s coconut cake, truly divine! An afternoon stop at Wynwood Brewery or Homestead Brewery for a tour—both options are a nice segue onto a night at The Setai. Asian Night, only on Friday evenings, is one of my favorites. Acrobatics, fire dancers, great food, and one of their custom martinis—the lychee or passion chili are my favorite. And needless to say, the great service. (Please ask for Domingo!).
The following morning, we would head to the beach. If you are a first timer in Miami, you must visit Lincoln Road. For a short walk and a little shopping Espanola Way. And Ocean Drive is iconic. We would then go to lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab to enjoy fresh crab claws, lobster rolls with a crisp bottle of white wine. Finally finishing off the evening with a wonderful dinner at Hakkasan and enjoying one of my favorites, Peking duck and an assortment of dumplings.
The next day we would have an unforgettable, over-the-top Brunch at Jaya at The Setai. Jaya’s concept of brunch is developed around a celebration of culinary diversity featuring regional specialties from Southeast and Northern Asian cultures with Executive Chef Vijayudu Veena at the helm, all the while enjoy the musical stylings of a fantastic Jazz band on the terrace. I would finish my friends’ weekend with a Karaoke night with one of my best friends, a self-titled karaoke master to wrap a wonderful weekend!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I consider myself very lucky and privileged that so many names came into my mind as soon as I read this question. First shoutout goes to my grandmother and my father who raised me with a strong set of values and principles that have helped me and driven me to be where I am today.
When I look back into my first years of Mandarin Oriental, Miami, I think of Tarso Teixeira, Nathalie Langgartner, Rodney Bailey and Mr. Cliff Atkinson. Tarso was one of the best leaders I have ever had the pleasure of working with, sharing all his knowledge and tricks of the trade, pushing me to think outside the box and serving as a true mentor. Nathalie on the other hand was a huge support throughout most of my years at Mandarin Oriental Hotels, coaching and guiding me continuously and I am very fortunate to share a beautiful friendship with her to this day. Rodney was one of my biggest cheerleaders, biggest supporters, while at the same time challenging me constantly. That’s one of the best things someone can have within an organization.
I’m thrilled to have had the pleasure of working with Mr. Atkinson, and witnessing his inspiring work ethics and energy. Everyone enjoyed the momentum of working for one of the best leaders the hospitality Industry. Mr. Atkinson also was one of the key people that helped me with recommendation letters that I needed to open JB Elite Travel.
I have the honor to continue having a wonderful friendship with all of these individuals and I truly hope they do know how much I regard their friendship and value the impact they have on me in both my personal and professional life.
Big shoutout and even bigger appreciation to my two angels and closest friends who were the ones who leant me the money I needed to open JB Elite Travel, they do know who they are!
The biggest shout-out goes to my biggest fan, supporter and someone who is a living example of what loyalty and trust is about, Natasha Mairena. I remember in October 2014 when I moved back to Mandarin Oriental, Miami after working 18 months at Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco. Natasha was a guest service agent at the hotel and I was the guest relations manager. One day, she came to me and said, “I want to work with you in guest relations.” Six years later, she accomplished that and more, and I hope that I show her my appreciation and loyalty consistently.
Lastly, love. Many years ago I fell deeply in love. The experience drove me to become a better person and a better professional. I learned so much about life and the business world by simply being around this person and getting to know him. I highly doubt he knows the meaningful impact he has had on me, especially in how I navigate this wonderful thing called my own business. Thank YOU!
Linkedin: Janella Bustamante