Arnie WeissmannA week before the announcement that "aha moment" will be added to the 2012 Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (along with "sexting" and "f-bomb"), Disney Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Travel Operations Randy Garfield told a group of travel sellers assembled around a lunch table in New York that he experiences an aha moment every time he meets with agents.

The group sat for almost two hours, discussing all things Disney, and afterward I asked Garfield when the aha moment had occurred.

Without hesitation, he said that when agents were lamenting the impending move of the Disney Magic after one season of homeporting in New York, they had pointed out that the ship's presence had raised awareness and sales of other Disney ships and products. Not only that, but having the Magic in New York resulted in other cruise lines raising their prices on Big Apple sailings. (Disney Cruises rates are, generally speaking, higher than those of other lines that homeport in New York.)

Garfield was clearly delighted by that insight.

My own aha moment came a bit further into the discussion, when the group was discussing Adventures by Disney, the company's tour arm. Adventures has not grown as quickly as many observers expected, despite Disney's marketing prowess and the tours' guest satisfaction ratings, which are the highest of any travel-related Disney product.

Here was Garfield's explanation: "Ask me to sell a million of something? That's easy. But 10,000? That's hard. I can't do TV, and I can't do big partnership promotions."

Aha!

As a result, he's focused on selling the product through agents, and has been digging deep into sales data to try to identify travel advisers who "should" be selling it but aren't.

"There are literally thousands of agents in ZIP codes with average household incomes of $250,000 or more who have never sold Adventures by Disney," he said. In search of more "ahas," Garfield has instructed his sales staff to contact these agents and find out why.

A few days later, I attended Virtuoso Week in Las Vegas. Aha moments abounded.

For me, the biggest occurred when Virtuoso announced it has figured out a way to bring its advisers into the booking flow of that most elusive of travelers, the do-it-yourselfer.

Planning a vacation with a client is usually collaborative, but advisers generally like to take control of the process from the start. As a result, intelligent, knowledgeable and independent travelers who truly enjoy putting together their own trips are turned off by the thought of working with agents.

But Virtuoso is changing its Composer application to enable clients, as well as advisers, to initiate a trip "folio" and populate it with as much detail as they wish before the agent is even aware they're thinking about traveling.

An agent can then review it and perhaps point out that flights are so cheap at that time of year because it's the monsoon season. Or note that a similar hotel whose rate is $100 higher would also offer the equivalent of $500 in upgrades and spa credits, thanks to its relationship with Virtuoso.

The end result is that the client's instincts and research might be mostly validated, but the adviser's value is reinforced and likely to be even more appreciated.

Aha!

Other aha moments:

  • Among Virtuoso clients, the average spend for those ages 40 to 55 is rising fast and has overtaken the spend for those ages 65 to 75.
  • Three years ago, Sofitel, looking to reposition as a fashion- and design-driven luxury brand, created a luxe index to evaluate its 206 properties. It ended up deflagging all but 89 of its hotels. (It has subsequently built the number back up to 123.)

And, not an aha moment but a garden-variety observation: It's possible for one to get something akin to motion sickness while watching 22 four-minute iPad sales presentations in a row. The constant flicking from one photo to the next over an hour and a half inspires nostalgia for the flip-book presentation.

In a nod to the other new entrants in Merriam-Webster, I will admit there was an f-bomb moment for me, as well: Annoyance over dropped cell calls led me to pick up the hard-wired phone in my room for a relatively brief call to Los Angeles. The f-bomb made its (muted) appearance at checkout, as I scolded myself for not checking the per-minute rate first.

Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter. 

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