The importance of the connection between hotels and travel agents

ILTM reported 14,500 appointments were scheduled between luxury travel suppliers and Latin American advisers during ILTM Latin America last week in Sao Paulo. Photo Credit: ILTM
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Hotel companies have been making headlines lately for cutting commissions on groups bookings. But when it comes to luxury leisure travel, hoteliers large and small made it clear at ILTM Latin America that their partnerships with advisers are more important than ever.

Marriott International, for instance, which led the charge on cutting rates for agents who book groups, had a huge presence at the show last week in Sao Paulo. In fact, Louise Bang, vice president of global sales for the company in the Caribbean and Latin America, said the company is quadrupling from one to four the number of representatives it has working with agents on luxury in the region.

Hyatt Hotels used the show to not only highlight the opening of two new properties in Latin America but to tout a new invitation-only program for top-selling luxury agents.

Hyatt Prive, which was launched globally at the end of February, now includes about 200 agents, said Tristan Dowell, who heads Hyatt's luxury sales force. It's focused on providing clients extra perks like free breakfast, guaranteed upgrades and property credits. But, he added, Hyatt is also looking to provide extra perks for agents.

Hyatt Prive provides a web portal with additional information about the hotel and the destination as well as contact information: for example, names and numbers for chefs and concierges, as well as recommendations for, say, "a hole in the wall restaurant in New York that only a local would know," he said.

"What became really important in the beta test in building the program, advisers said, 'we would really love to know who the general manager is,'" Dowell said. "So we've created a platform where we've got pictures of them. We've got their numbers." 

Like ILTM, agents have to qualify to be invited. He said agents are evaluated on criteria such as sales revenue and the number of suite bookings.

But agents don't have to wait to be invited. "We are very open to people who apply," Dowell said. "Because we want to support the luxury travel agents. It not only benefits them, but it helps to understand our brands as well."

Connecting with the the right luxury agents remains a top priority for the major chains as well as small, new hotels and large well-established properties, if the roster of hoteliers at ILTM was any indication.

The famed Florida Biltmore, for example, usually exhibits at the main ILTM conference in Cannes, but it also came to the Latin America show this year for the first time. Cathy Rodriguez, its international sales manager, said the show proved to be  invaluable because "the caliber of agents that I meet here are the highest for my product. I would never have the time or budget to travel to meet with them all on my own."

Also present was Koray Edemen, proprietor of the 11-suite Ariana Sustainable Luxury Lodge in Cappadocia, Turkey, which is still struggling to recover from a steep tourism drop that followed terrorist attacks and unrest in the country in 2016.

Edeman said the agents selected to attend are "relevant, professional and great decision-makers."

So how does ILTM, which now has seven regional shows in addition to the main event in Cannes that draws more than 3,000 buyers and sellers every year, stay relevant when many of the exhibitors are often the same? It makes sure the regional shows include well-qualified agents who for the most part wouldn't go to Cannes or the other shows, said Simon Mayle, director of ILTM's events in the Americas. The regional events focus on selling to agents in those specific markets, enabling ILTM to invite more smaller, front-line and home-based agents while also enabling exhibitors who might not have the budget or need for Cannes to meet with targeted audiences.

ILTM also works hard to bring lots of new faces to all the shows each year. 

"Our invites to ILTM North America are about to go out, and I think 70% have never been to an ILTM," he said. "The only time there is potential crossover is in Cannes, but that is more about the big relationships with the major agencies and owners."

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