Hawaii Luxury: Agent to Agent

A big reason for Worden Travel Service's success in selling to the upscale Hawaii traveler, according to Barry Slavin, president of the Walnut Creek, Calif., agency, is because "we avoid the high-pressure approach."

Instead of the hard-sell technique, he says, his agents explain to clients the difference between a room and a suite, a hotel vs. a condo, a beachfront room vs. a regular room and an upgrade in rental car category. "We close sales by virtue of providing good information and working within the traveler's perceptions," he says.

Agents who assume that clients who have money don't care about value are making a big mistake, according to Slavin. "Quite the opposite," he says. "Our upscale clients don't mind spending money, but they want to know what they're going to get for it. In our agency, we treat other people's money as if it's our own. We let our clients know we're selling quality, not extravagance."

Slavin, who says that 70% of his Hawaii business is repeat, urges agents who want to develop luxury Hawaii business to deal only with reliable, quality vendors. Among those his agency regularly works with are Creative Leisure (800-426-6367) and Hawaii World (800-442-9244).

Having a good relationship with his regular vendors helps the agency's staffers stay on top of developments in Hawaii. "When something new happens, they let us know," he says. "We also attend seminars and have vendors come to our office to do presentations for the staff."

Slavin also stages presentations for his clients as part of what he calls the Atrium Series. "These are presentations held in the atrium of the office building where we're located, and which we started doing about a year and a half ago. We invite clients by direct mail and advertising, and have vendors come and make presentations."

To reinforce the theme of the evening, Slavin says that whenever the agency does a Hawaii presentation, he makes sure to wear an eye-catching Hawaiian shirt, which not only sparks interest in the garment but in the destination as well.

Ann Halsey-Smith, owner of Halsey Smith Travel Ltd. of La Jolla, Calif., also believes that upscale clients are just as interested in good values as are midlevel travelers. Working closely with such vendors as Classic Hawaii (800-221-3949) and Creative Leisure has been "a real plus for both me and my upmarket clients," says Halsey-Smith.

"Nowadays, I no longer book Hawaii air travel direct, but always go through my suppliers. And because my suppliers have negotiated such good air fares, I can even offer my luxury clients better rates on first class air fares. In fact, I just generally use tour operators exclusively, instead of making arrangements 'piecemeal' as I used to," she says.

One of the things that's altered her way of booking has been the change in how upscale travelers view package travel, says Halsey-Smith. "Years ago, there was a lot of resistance to packages by luxury travelers, but that's no longer true, because they now recognize they're getting a good product and value."

Halsey-Smith reminds agents that because of all the special deals in Hawaii nowadays, they have a wonderful opportunity to convert mid-level travelers to upscale clients. "I've had a number of families, for example, who used to stay in condos in Hawaii and are now trading up and staying at top hotels."

In addition to working with good suppliers, Halsey-Smith says her membership in Allied Percival International (817 870-0300) has been a big help in allowing her to give her luxury clients great values. "Membership in API lets me book top properties for my luxury clients at preferred rates," she says.

The marketing organization, which focuses on the upscale travel market, currently has more than 200 travel agent members from across the country. Agencies seeking to become members must apply to API and then go through an approval process.

Halsey-Smith stays on top of developments in Hawaii by visiting as often as she can. She also keeps her clients informed when there's something new to report by sending them a newsletter when she gets back from her trip.

By giving her luxury Hawaii clients attentive service and taking the time to search out good values, Halsey-Smith says she's been rewarded with referrals that have netted her many new clients, not just in her own geographical area, but across the country.

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