Luxury Bloc, by Gabriela Markova
An XO Private Interview by Zoila Checa

Luxury Bloc
60 advisors, 12 CEE countries, 3 days, 1 place

As a Czech national born and raised, I would like to personally show you the power and potential of this promising market and invite you to explore and discover the dynamism and countless possibilities this region has for your carefully selected properties and services"

In this special XO Private Show Series we welcome Gabriela Markova, Founder of Luxury Bloc, the exquisite luxury travel show to become immersed in the promising markets of the former Eastern Bloc and meet the finest travel subjects who focus on luxurious exotic, experiential, and cultural travels.

Launched four years ago by Gabriela Markova, Luxury Bloc is THE show to be at if one is looking to meet the top producing luxury travel advisors from 12 countries from the Central & Eastern European region during 3 days in one unique place. 

With the CEE countries including Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, this show is a true gem focused on a market with a not only a great location, but also a rapidly growing luxury travel sector.

The event is captained by a team led by none other than Markova, who boasts a distinguished career spanning over 18 years in the hospitality sector. Raised amidst the cultural tapestry of the Czech Republic, Paraguay, and Switzerland, her upbringing foreshadowed her eventual immersion in the realm of travel and tourism.

Fluent in Czech, English, Spanish, and German, Gabriela also commands an advanced proficiency in French and Portuguese. Additionally, she serves as the founder of GM Selection, a consultancy and sales representation firm dedicated to championing an exclusive array of products to discerning agencies, private concierges, and family offices across Europe.
Gabriela Markova, Founder of Luxury Bloc
Gabriela, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background in the travel industry?
Don’t ask me why but since I can ever remember, I thought being a receptionist at a hotel was the coolest job ever. So I became just that and realized that this was only half of the fun, that sales and marketing in a luxury environment is the coolest job ever. And so here I am! No hotel school, after 6 years with a 4* chain, nearly 10 years with Mandarin Oriental, and 2 years spent in the Maldives, I dived into the world of entrepreneurship, founding GM Selection, then Luxury Bloc and lately co-founding First Impact Communications.

How did the idea for Luxury Bloc come about, and what was the motivation behind launching this particular travel show? 

After launching sales and marketing representation and visiting some of the CEE countries, I realized that this market was very much dependant on brochures from big western Tour operators, lacking direct contacts. I understand that the market was not developed yet and hence hoteliers, even if they knew a couple of agencies, would not take the time to come for sales visits. And this is where the idea came about to create a place where we could connect the most potential travel advisors with direct contacts, enhance luxury business from the region and so maximize the potential of this powerful market. 

Were there any specific experiences or gaps in the market that led to the conceptualization of Luxury Bloc?
Well… CEE region had to mature. We have a history that set us back in some areas and trends compared to the western world, and therefore it is understandable that we were not among the top markets to focus on. Covid was paradoxically the time that shot the CEE into its glory, as this was a region that still kept traveling while most other markets shut down completely. We launched LB in 2020, so in the middle of the pandemic, making it the only show that happened ‘live’ during this time. Very small and limited, as borders were still closed between most countries, but we all needed a little spark during those dark times.
Luxury Bloc
In a market filled with travel shows, what sets Luxury Bloc apart? What is the unique DNA or essence of the show?
I’d like to say the fact that we are luxury hoteliers who attended about every show there is and know what we liked, what’s efficient and brings ROI, and what should be avoided or skipped. I see a trend of (re-)inventing tradeshows and new concepts but at the end it comes down to the time you, as a hotelier, spend with the travel advisors to connect and provide them with the key How’s, What’s and Why’s to sell your product.

To me, Luxury Bloc is a product of passion and I hope this is reflecting in what we do. I thrive on connecting people, contributing to the successful partnerships being built, be part of their stories, and play a role in putting a destination or new product on the industry’s map.

How do you ensure that Luxury Bloc stands out in terms of content, style, and overall presentation?
We don’t compromise. We have a certain style and quality in mind and we try to keep this level across every area, be it the design and communication, the venues, F&B, collaterals, but also of course the quality of attendees, and quality of one-on-one meetings, which, to a certain extent, we match manually. 
Luxury Bloc Gathering
Could you describe the specific target market that Luxury Bloc aims to reach?
Year by year we are fine-tuning the focus on providing our regional travel advisors with most useful contacts in the world of high-end tourism. Yes, we do focus on ultra-luxury, but definition of luxury is constantly evolving and so is our target group. And I am extremely proud that renowned brands like Cheval Blanc, Mandarin Oriental, One&Only, Rosewood, Aman as well as some of the finest private islands, DMCs, and legendary hotels found interest in what we, as a region, have to offer.

What makes Luxury Bloc resonate with this particular audience, and how do you tailor the content to cater to their interests and preferences?
We listen. We ask questions, run polls throughout the year, ask for feedback and use any tool that helps us personalise the experience for every attendee. We understand the need to keep the show small, the demand for exclusivity and the importance of ROI to make Luxury Bloc a valid partner.
Luxury Bloc Show Experience
Can you share some key factors that have contributed to the success of Luxury Bloc?
To me it’s all about personal approach. Thanks to GM Selection (sales representation) we have a very deep knowledge of the market. We don’t send invitations to agencies, we invite particular agents with history of quality bookings. Our criteria are based on minimum spent per booking, number of private jets booked and type of travel. We run regular polls to understand the most current needs in the market and newest trends.

We keep the show small, not because we couldn’t sell more tables, but because we wouldn’t guarantee a higher number of such high level quality buyers. The small size also enables us to maximize the tailor-made aspect for each participant. You don’t select appointments, it’s a sort of everyone-see-everyone concept but we try to avoid/blackout meetings we don’t find potential for both parties (i.e. when we know about few advisors not selling a particular destination or type of travel).

Have there been any significant challenges in establishing and growing Luxury Bloc? How did you overcome them?
We grow dynamically. As said, we don’t want to compromise the show by confirming too many suppliers and then have no quality buyers to match them with. This would dilute the quality of the show and our philosophy.

So we monitor the market constantly, know when an agency is getting into challenging times or when there is a new star on the horizon to watch, we support agencies where we see potential and assist them in elevating to the level they deserve.

Evening at Luxury Bloc
Luxury Bloc Meetings
Luxury Bloc seems to have garnered attention and partnerships. Can you tell us about some notable collaborations or partnerships that have played a role in the show's success?
I feel that you need to partner up and work with people who share the same philosophy and outlook on life. For this reason I am grateful for two main partners: XO Private - there would be no Luxury Bloc without your support from Day One. I have a huge admiration for the founder, Yvan Vermeesch, who built such an imperium over the years, and basically on his own, and whom until today I consider a mentor. And ILTM, who saw the potential in the CEE region and partnered up with us, providing us with the much-needed credibility when launching the show, and further allowing the CEE travel advisors to participate in, what I think it’s safe to call, the most important event in our industry – ILTM Cannes.

While we appreciate all the support from the very beginning, I am particularly extremely grateful for the trust from both partners, blindly believing in the success of the show although there was no experienced team behind it. THANK YOU!

Can you share any exciting developments or future plans for Luxury Bloc?
The focus is on fine-tuning what we do rather than start new ventures. We do our annual show, roadshows (CEE & DACH) and in addition to Sales & Marketing (GM Selection) we now provide suppliers with the opportunity to gain visibility and awareness on the market through our PR & Communication agency.

What impact do you hope the show has on the luxury travel industry?
We hope to make many successful connections and continue to elevate business from the CEE region. We are happiest when we hear people talking about great connections they’ve made and actually I am pleased to say that majority of suppliers leave the show with bookings in their pockets. 

* Upcoming Luxury Bloc: 2 - 5 September 2024
Gabriela Markova, Founder of Luxury Bloc, alongside Lenka Tuckova, Caroline Mergen, Petr Marek and Adriana Ladocha
Zoila Checa
Zoila's true passion lies in the art of storytelling, whether that is in print, online, or on screen. Bilingual in English and Spanish since she was born, and versatile by nature, she has a professional background in journalism, travel writing, and screen acting, all of which have led her to live and work in places like London, Madrid, Ibiza and Los Angeles. For Zoila, writing serves as an ingenious channel to convey her profound love for soulful travel, singular cultures, and their transformative impact. She currently resides in Mallorca, her native island in Spain.