f you get business on low
price, that's how you're going to lose it." That truism, courtesy
of SeaDream Yacht Club chief executive officer Larry Pimentel,
bears some further thought.
Larry was telling me about the contrarian philosophy of his
company, which floats small ships instead of big ones, has a fleet
of only two and, to his initial point, steers clear of
Cruise lines ("We are not a cruise line," Pimentel insists) with
large ships and growing fleets can take advantage of economies of
scale, but the flip side of the equation is that they must fill
those ships, and that's where the discounting comes in.
Pimentel was talking about the passenger-ship industry when
discussing the dangers of getting business at low price points, but
his principle could be applied to the travel agency market as
Now, I could be counter-contrarian and argue that a travel agent
can make good money selling oodles of low-price cruises to the
masses rather than upscale boat-tique products (like his) to the
discerning few, but his point, I think, is valid: It's risky to
position a business to seek out clients who are focused primarily
So where does that leave travel agents facing the masses who
demand low prices and threaten to take their business elsewhere if
they don't get them?
If price is what truly is driving a client, you should probably
let him or her take the business elsewhere. As Pimentel notes, if
they came to you for the cheapest price, they'll leave you the
second you can't guarantee that your price is the lowest. It's not
That does not mean you shouldn't work hard to give clients
value, no matter where on the pricing scale they fit in. Value and
price are linked, but they are not synonymous.
Perhaps it's easy to confuse the two because we're all consumers
in addition to being businesspeople, and we can identify with
customers who want to make sure they're getting the best price.
I'm the first to admit that I'm a cheapskate. (Upon reflection,
perhaps not the first. But among the first.) I feel great when I
feel I've gotten a real bargain, and do a slow burn when I see that
an item I just bought is on sale at another store.
But like any consumer who has made several major purchases over
the course of the years -- let's call ourselves mature consumers --
I'm also grateful to the salespeople who have saved me from myself.
Yes, make sure I get the best price on what I want, but more
importantly, make sure I want what I get.
Baby boomers have now fallen into the category of mature
consumers, and their large numbers, armed with disposable income,
are a boon for travel agents.
How do you express inherent value to them when you're selling an
intangible like travel? No matter what product or price point
you're selling at, Pimentel suggests, sell the experience, not the
"Dress the client in the experience," he says. "Unveil a world
to them, and the price becomes secondary."
Pimentel was once a teacher, and his lesson plan here is right
on the money -- whether you're selling his product or those from
which he distances himself. The articulation of experience is an
art that requires both intimate product knowledge and solid
And if you find yourself getting discouraged fielding calls from
clients whose first questions center on price, take it from one who
knows: Even cheapskates will loosen the purse strings if we're
convinced it's in our best interests.