As a young boy blessed with the opportunity to travel, Fernando Gonzalez didn’t realize at the time just how fortunate he was to be exposed to such different experiences or how deeply it would affect his future. “It wasn’t until later on that I realized how much those opportunities shaped who I am, how I think of others, how I run my business, and really how I run my life.”
Seizing an Opportunity
For the past 26 years, Gonzalez and his sister Erika have been at the helm of their business, First in Service (F1S), a luxury travel company that caters to creating memorable experiences in both the corporate and private sectors. What started off as support for Erika when she decided to branch out on her own turned into so much more for the then-college freshman who had plans to become either an architect or engineer. Initially interested in design and building structures, Gonzalez jokingly says he’s still not sure when that all shifted.
This brother and sister team resulted in a winning combination that’s taken their company to new heights with six offices (New York, Beverly Hills, Bogota, Madrid, Miami, and Santa Monica,) spanning three continents. And while the company has grown, their core values and beliefs have remained the same. “The mindset of turning challenges into opportunities has helped us evolve and grow into what we are today,” says Gonzalez. “Our culture is service and we follow the needs of our clients and the business.”
By anticipating trends and grabbing opportunities, the team at F1S has been able to “make things happen” for their clients. Gonzalez firmly believes there is no such thing as standing still. “You’re either growing or diminishing,” he says. “With that mindset, we continue to explore ways in which we can service our clients better, give them more attention, and overall, create an experience they’re likely to never forget.”
That mindset is how the duo define luxury travel. What was once the desire to stay in a fancy hotel with a beautiful lobby and indulge in luxurious pampering has taken a slight turn. While travelers still enjoy these fine qualities, they’re also looking for experiences, embracing one-time, unique settings that can’t be duplicated.
“Luxury is about learning, growing, invoking the senses,” says Gonzalez. “Our goal is to create that exact fantasy for our clients whether it be business or leisure travel.”
Taking Luxury to a New Level
Whether they’re planning a couture runway show, working with entertainers traveling on tour, or arranging family celebrations, F1S delivers on their promise.
In order to ensure such memorable experiences, they go to great lengths to educate their agents with a deep understanding of unique destinations with firsthand, world travel experience. “The only way for us to create these luxurious experiences is to have been there ourselves so we can transmit that excitement to the client,” he says. “It’s extremely important to know our clients and have a deep understanding of what makes them tick; it’s what allows us to recommend something that is a perfect fit.”
As they continue in a competitive industry, Gonzalez and his sister know they must not only be on top of their game but ahead of the competition. In 2016, the company added a cruise division under the helm of cruise industry veteran Stephen Scott. “We saw—and continue to see—a demand in luxury cruising,” says Gonzalez. “Cruising has evolved tremendously and there is something to experience for every type of traveler.”
F1S’ expert team works closely with 31 of the top ocean and river cruise lines to create amazing experiences at sea.
Educating Through Travel
Driven by wanderlust, Gonzalez and his wife, who is also an integral part of the business, have passed their love of travel to their 12-year-old daughter, Sofia. Traveling since she was 2 months old, Sofia has visited more than 30 countries and twice as many cities. “I want to immerse her in travel as much as possible so she will become familiar with all of the different ways of living,” says Gonzalez.
As part of their travels, Gonzalez and his family make it a point to support local organizations. Whether it’s helping out at a school, spending time with a local family, or volunteering at an animal sanctuary, the family believes it’s their job as global citizens to give back through travel.
They are also big supporters of the “Thirst Project,” an organization that works to build a socially-conscious generation of young people to help end the global water crisis. “Sofia came home from school one day deeply touched by what she learned, and it became one of her passion projects. In turn, it became one of ours as well.”
For Gonzalez and his sister, travel is more than just a job; it is a way of life, and their different personalities make for a successful collaboration. Gonzalez defines himself as the risk taker, whereas Erika is the strategic thinker. “While I’m out there looking to implement or bring the next big project into the team, she is able to determine how it fits with our core culture and work ethic,” he says. “We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we’ve done without having that perfect harmony.”