Luxury travel is still driven by agents
In this day and age, it seems that people turn to the Internet for just about everything. As e-commerce has grown in popularity, the travel industry has seen huge growth in online booking engines from Travelzoo.com, Expedia.com and Hotels.com.
Now we are seeing the emergence of luxury travel booking sites, such as Jetsetter.com, in which "hotel special offers" are featured.
Recently, the New York Times published an article profiling "members-only" sites that invite members to take advantage of special travel offers and discounted rates at some of the world's most exclusive properties. The article noted that these sites can be beneficial to both the high-end traveler seeking value and to the hotel, which can maintain control over inventory by listing select dates during low-occupancy windows.
In addition, as the sites are "members only," the hotel is able to maintain a level of exclusivity. (To read the article, visit www.nytimes.com and search for "The Password Is Membership," featured on March 28.)
As managing director of Italy's luxury Ragosta Hotels Collection, I felt it was necessary to address this topic and provide helpful feedback from a hotelier's perspective. Though there is certainly a place for such sites, it is my belief that traditional, high-end travel agents still hold the booking advantage.
After closely monitoring bookings for our Amalfi Coast and Taormina, Sicily-based properties, I did find it helpful to feature discounted rates and packages on high-end travel sites, since a certain percentage of sales were in fact driven by these sites. However, we also found that the luxury traveler still heavily relies on trusted advisers.
Thus, we continue to provide the same discounted rates and packages to agents. To ensure that the best available rate is simultaneously featured on the sites and offered to agents, we have developed a virtual platform in which offerings are constantly monitored and updated based on rate availability.
In addition, guests who book their stays through an agent will oftentimes receive perks such as complimentary room upgrades when available, VIP amenities and other incentives. It is not possible to offer such perks on travel websites, as they are not standardized; we are only able to offer them based on availability, and as our staff works directly with the agent to arrange each hotel stay, we can easily provide these upgrades while arranging the reservation.
We have also found that today's luxury travelers desire hospitality experiences that mirror their lifestyles. To meet and exceed our guests' expectations, each property operates under the "Define Your Lifestyle" mantra, a program that enables guests to customize their hotel stay.
It's much easier to provide our guests with a tailored experience when booking through an agent. Personal contact and interaction are key in determining our guests' desires.
It is important to recognize that the travel industry is constantly evolving. My main priority is to ensure that I provide my clients with innovative offerings at competitive prices. I must also focus on incorporating multiple platforms, including social media and third-party travel engines, to reach a broader market share.
That being said, travel agents have long served as the driving force in luxury hotel sales. They are and will remain a vital component of our sales efforts.
Gianluca Giglio is the managing director of Ragosta Hotels Collection, a luxury hotel group in Italy comprising the critically acclaimed Hotel Raito in Vietri sul Mare on the Amalfi Coast, Relais Paradiso on the Amalfi Coast and the La Plage Resort in Taormina, Sicily. The company will open a fourth property in Rome late this year.
This column appeared in the May 31 issue of Travel Weekly.