Selling Luxury Travel: Q&A with Matthew Upchurch, Managing Principal at API Travel Consultants


Matthew Upchurch takes a look at the luxury travel marketplace with Travel Weekly contributing editor Carla Hunt. API Travel Consultants is an association of 227 independent luxury travel agencies.

TW: Can you give us a profile of today's luxury/upscale traveler?

Upchurch: It has never been harder to profile luxury travelers. The good news is that there has never been more affluence and spending power; the bad news is that the affluent market has never been so fragmented. Its range includes women of independent means (the single largest group) who often favor cruises; second honeymooners who also cruise, but love celebrating with a barge or balloon trip or a cooking school course; escapists who can afford to leave the kids at home and escape to beach resorts, spas or golf courses, and the "cultured pearls" -- who are likely to take adult education courses or go to theater and concerts regularly -- who love the learning experience of expedition cruising.

TW: Is the luxury travel market growing?

Upchurch: With its magnitude -- a huge increase alone in the number of million-dollar households -- the luxury market can no longer be considered just a niche market. And growth will continue to come from the baby boomers for whom travel is an important part of who they and their children are. They have built travel in as a lifestyle, and not just for R&R but for educational enrichment.

The future challenge for the agent selling into an even bigger affluent market is twofold: to deal with an increasingly better-traveled client, and to deal with travelers who have so much access to information. If you present yourself as an expert, you had better be an expert.

TW: What do you consider the leading trend in today's travel market?

Upchurch: The overriding characteristic is that people want to travel with a purpose, be it physical activity or exercising the mind. They have moved away from just wanting to observe to wanting to participate.

TW: Have you any tips on how travel agents can reach out to this growing market?

Upchurch: The two keys to getting to this market are personal communications for which direct mail, letters and personal contact are still the most effective methods; and developing personal relationships -- joining clubs and organizations -- to be in the right environments to meet the right people.

Further, agents must read constantly and broadly, for the affluent market will be picking up ideas from major travel and other consumer magazines, TV travel shows, Web sites and more.

Additionally, agents should specialize in a destination or product, because one travel consultant can't know everything. But he or she can reach out and pool knowledge with those in the same agency or with other agencies, just as we have done at API.

Above all, travel sellers have to develop an understanding of what motivates the affluent traveler, such as the importance to them of their time and the importance of enhancing that time with quality experiences.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI