Keeping abreast of the latest developments in the luxury travel
market is no easier nowadays than staying on top of all the changes
in the travel marketplace in general. But success in both comes
down to service -- although the affluent traveler requires more
attention in planning because he expects to receive faultless
services on the road.
Agents focusing mostly on the luxury traveler agree that a key
to success is destination knowledge -- of the best hotels and
restaurants, or the most reliable safari operators.
Definitions of the luxury traveler vary, but according to Rina
Anoussi of the Travel Business in New York, the epitome of the true
luxury client market is the FIT traveler who flies first or
business class, uses chauffeured limousines for transfers and
sightseeing and often stays in suites at the world's finest hotels.
Furthermore, she says, you have to be meticulous in delivering the
product promised, covering your bases not once, but again and
Speaking six languages helps Anoussi to handle her deluxe client
arrangements. She calls suppliers abroad directly to confirm
arrangements, not only for specific hotel rooms, but for special
requests such as beds with a duvet and not blankets, 10 pillows and
Most of her new clients come from word-of-mouth referrals, says
Sybil Wild, owner of Sybil Wild Travel in Scarsdale, N.Y. When it
comes to evaluating new clients, it is helpful to find out first
how they were referred to you and where they have already traveled,
before you move onto where they want to go and what they want to
"The experienced traveler can be very definite on where he wants
to go," Wild says, "and often one has to be very diplomatic in
guiding that client in planning an itinerary that may work better
than the one he has in mind, yet provide the best experience."
What takes the most time, says Wild, is getting to know
different areas, and it helps to have an innate curiosity about
places, about cultures and art.
"You don't get it by taking a course. Rather, you read
everything you can, travel as much as possible, and be prepared to
say, 'I don't know ... but I can find out.'"
For Martha Gaughen, co-owner of Sterling Travel in Atlanta, the
key to serving the upscale market is developing supplier and tour
operator relationships that get things done, because "you have to
be able to get the best rooms with the best views, know the right
This requires time, experience and continuous education on the
part of the agent, who must read constantly to know what is new and
To keep up with destinations, she says, "I keep my agents up and
traveling on fam trips as much as possible, for when we are dealing
with the upscale traveler, we need to be savvy, and destination
knowledge is hard to teach from a book, or even from a CTC
An important part of staff fam trips, she adds, is having an
efficient program of reporting findings and impressions back in the
At Sterling Travel, each of the 12 people in the office picks
two destinations in which they want to excel; in addition to
travel, they need to read articles, keep in touch with the API
network, of which it is a member, get feedback from clients -- in
short, know everything it takes to whip out an instant
At Sterling, 90% of their clients come from referrals from FIT
travelers or those who have been on group trips that the agency
plans for garden clubs or arts and historical societies in the
"People who go with us on these trips, which someone from our
office personally escorts, are a leading source of steady clients
for all their travel arrangements," Gaughen says.
Karen Johnson, president of Preferred Adventures in St. Paul,
Minn., points out that traditionally the affluent traveler shuns
the group travel experience, opting for FIT travel and the freedom
At the same time, she adds, the adventure vacation, often a
group experience, is the fastest growing part of the leisure
"These 'new adventurers,' -- hard, soft or in-between -- want to
get involved," says Johnson, "and the destinations they are
choosing are far-away places for which a group tour or an
expedition cruise may be the best, or only, way to get there."
This kind of travel represents fulfillment, she says. But, "if
you send a deluxe client, say, on an icebreaker to Antarctica, make
sure it's the best icebreaker with comfortable (if smaller than
most ships) cabins, the best (if not elaborate) food and the best
lecturers to provide the most informed experience."
Demand is also growing for FIT arrangements for wildlife trips
with private guides, or even short modules for such activities as
bird watching, hiking or kayaking added on to a destination
experience, she says.
Johnson feels that adventure travel is a very profitable niche
market for agencies to develop because travelers are spending
thousands of dollars for both physically and culturally involving
experiences. She adds, however, that "if I were a client who was
going to spend $20,000 to $30,000, I'd want to talk with someone
who'd been there."
Another exceptionally profitable luxury sales niche, according
to Martin Gould, also of the Travel Business in New York, is the
gay market, one which is filled with many dual income, childless
couples with the time and the money to spend on the best.
For his business, favorite destinations are the capitals of
Europe and resorts that are gay-guest-friendly. He points out that
privacy is important to gay travelers, whose top vacation choices
are villa rentals in St. Barts, Mustique and Tuscany, as well as
private yacht charters.
The gay market is also a big cruise demographic, for "an upscale
cruise with all its pampering and services is comfortable for
According to Gould, his biggest hit in gay vacations is the spa
vacation, claiming that spas present a nurturing and nonjudgmental
environment for the gay traveler. Whether the guest mix is gay and
straight, young and old, singles and couples, everything works.