We live in the age of advanced personalization, and nowhere is that principle more important than in the luxury travel market.
To gain the loyalty of your affluent customers and keep them coming back, there are several well-established practices I have observed and followed over my 30 years in luxury travel. Here are just a few:
• Establish a personal connection. Emotional intelligence is paramount in the luxury space. Build long-term relationships by demonstrating trustworthiness, anticipating needs and rehumanizing the travel experience. Don't rely on email all the time. Pick up the phone and speak to the client or meet in person. There's nothing better than face-to-face contact.
Many of our advisors become extended family members to their clients, even traveling with them on vacation occasionally to ensure the experience is flawless.
• Become an undisputed expert. Embrace as much firsthand experience of high-end properties, villas, cruise ships and destination experiences as you can. Set targets each year for training, fams and site inspections for yourself and your team.
Many of our advisors have visited more than 100 countries and have extensive knowledge, often going out of their way to sample off-the-beaten-path and exotic destinations to enhance their knowledge before making recommendations to clients.
• Check 1, 2, 3: No detail is too small to overlook. Make a checklist of all details of your client's trip. Two to three weeks before departure, reconfirm that everything is in good order and do it again a few days prior to departure.
Provide advice about what to pack and about local weather. Share background on the history and culture of the destination so your clients are aware and respectful of their surroundings.
• Hone your communication skills. Ensure that you overcommunicate the details of the arrangements. During the planning process, touch base with your clients to let them know you are working on their itinerary and set and meet deadlines on when elements of the planning will be complete. Communicate updates regularly.
Be sure you are accurate in your description of every element of the trip. Consider connecting with on-site staff to have a welcome basket of snacks, wine, etc., with a handwritten note wishing them an enjoyable experience on their vacation.
• Roll out the VIP treatment. Look for ways to surprise and delight clients. Be sure the hotel greets them by name when they arrive. Go above and beyond to let the supplier know about your clients: for example, the type of bedding they like or the type of water they prefer in the room.
Online agencies can't match the personal attention to detail that you provide. Remind your employees that clients should always be treated with a great deal of respect.
• Promote your value. Explain the level of access and service you provide and why you are charging a fee -- for example, the benefits available through your agency's hotel program or the fact that if there is a travel disruption, your clients have assistance 24/7.
• Follow up, follow through. Send a welcome-home note asking for any constructive comments about the trip or pick up the phone and have a conversation when the client returns. It's more personal than a survey or questionnaire, and it shows that you are invested in their satisfaction. Thank them for their business and let them know you appreciate their trusting their travel to you.
If something went wrong, apologize and take immediate steps to address it with the vendor. And remember, one of the best times to talk to clients about their next vacation is immediately after they return.
The list could go on and on, but you get the picture.
Great service becomes not only a habit but something in which you and your team can take a great deal of pride. Developing this mindset and finding new ways to go above and beyond for your clients will keep them loyal to you and inspire them to tell their friends about their phenomenal travel advisor.
Luxury travel expert Becky Powell is president of Protravel International, a division of Travel Leaders Group.