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 discounting.

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 well.

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 on price.

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 sustainable business.

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 price.

"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 customer relationships.

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.


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