Six strategies to strengthen and increase your luxury travel sales.
Luxury travel remains one of the hottest markets around—and experts predict it’s going to continue to grow more quickly than overall travel. In fact, according to the 2018 report “Rethinking Luxury in Hospitality” by Horwath HTL and Soul Luxury, the forecasted rate of growth of luxury travel is 6.2 percent whereas overall travel is projected to grow 4.8 percent.
And while luxury continues to grow, it also continues to change. “Luxury is no longer just about the best hotels and the most luxurious transportation,” says Jon Grutzner, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold. “It’s also about going outside your everyday experience to connect with locals through immersive experiences clients can’t create on their own.”
In order to create the most satisfying vacation experiences, today’s luxury travel advisors are taking new approaches in their interactions with clients, long having left the specter of “order taker” behind and continuing to adjust their techniques as demand changes.
One of the most striking changes Grutzner has seen among the most successful luxury travel advisors is “a move from looking at demographics to psychographics—they look for what is truly motivating the client in order to match the experience with that desire. They have moved beyond “Where do you want to go?” to the more telling question of “Why do you want to go there?”
Here’s a look at six strategies successful luxury travel advisors incorporate into their client interactions.
1. Redefine Luxury
While qualifying clients well is important in any travel niche, qualifying questions in the luxury market need to go a step farther. “The definition of luxury can be different for every traveler,” says Annette Nero Stellhorn, president of Accent on Travel, based in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “But one commonality is that it’s about finding a way to spark the traveler’s passions. So, for one person that could be a bike tour through Italy while for another it’s climbing Mount Kilimanjaro—my job as a travel advisor is to understand what kind of experience they’re seeking and then present options that fulfill and exceed that desire.”
To take it a step further, Stellhorn adds that for today’s luxury traveler, the luxury experience is: “Doing what they want, when they want, and how they want, within the financial parameters they choose.” She emphasizes that it’s especially important to prove to potential clients right from the start that the travel advisor understands what they are looking for. To that end, she says, “We teach our advisors to listen, then suggest, listen again and then collaborate.”
“Using time well is so important to our clients—they are seeking the very best experience for their time and money,” says Pamela Small, luxury specialist at Pam Small Travel LLC, a Virtuoso agency and affiliate of Travel Experts. “I recently worked with a young couple who were going on their honeymoon. I recommended a luxury guided vacation to Ireland with Luxury Gold based on their desired experiences because I could offer them so much—true luxury with all the details taken care of. They loved it so much that they came back and booked another vacation to Ireland with Luxury Gold for later this year to explore a different itinerary and different places.”
2. Highlight the Experiential
A better understanding of “why” clients are looking to travel offers advisors insights into the kinds of experiences their travelers will find most compelling. It also gives advisors the opportunity to demonstrate concrete ways a vague desire can be turned into reality.
“Our clients might tell us they want to do something ‘local’ even if they don’t have a concrete idea of what that means,“ says Freshta Shahalimi, travel designer, AAA Auto Club of Southern California. “And we’re the ones who can recommend ways to actually do that. In France or Italy, for example, they might be able to share a dinner in someone’s home, which becomes an amazing experience and local connection. But I have to let them know these experiences are available because they don’t know about them coming in.”
Patricia Farr, travel counselor with AAA Auto Club Group, based in Orlando, Florida, also finds that it’s the immersive experiences that can help clients make a final decision about a trip. “When I propose a guided vacation, for example, I go through the whole itinerary day by day and make sure to focus on the kinds of things that they might not be aware of, that I think they will find exciting, such as a local cooking class. These are the kinds of things that help them make a decision. They know they can’t create experiences like that on their own and that they will see and do things that they couldn’t possibly know about from a guidebook.”
Small relies heavily on her suppliers to keep her well informed about those kinds of new and interesting options. “With such limited time to stay on top of new developments, I count on my suppliers, including sales managers and sales directors, to keep me informed about new offerings and special promotions,” she says. “We get emails, we watch webinars and we also have suppliers who come into the office to do presentations so we’re always up to date.”
3. Present the Full Package
Savvy luxury travel advisors know that the best way to draw clients in is to present a full package, an experience that includes every element from start to finish. Clients want to understand—and book—their complete vacation experience in advance, especially in the luxury sector where convenience and exclusivity are two main drivers.
“We start with the ideal experience,” says Small. “It’s easier to eliminate elements if we need to than to add them on later. Plus, clients like to see how the whole vacation experience works together as a complete package. With a guided vacation, for example, they know that it’s all-inclusive and everything is planned before they even leave so there’s nothing to worry about while they’re on vacation.”
“We can arrange transportation to and from the airport, making it easy for clients at the beginning and end of a trip,” says Shahalimi. And some suppliers even take care of this for you. “Luxury Gold guests can relax right from the start of their journey with exclusive door-to-door private transfer service included in the vacation price,” says Grutzner. “It’s a great perk guests really love, and for travel advisors, one less component to book.”
“We will often book both a river cruise and a guided vacation if the schedule allows,” says Shahalimi. “When possible, we like to start with a guided vacation so they have an active and immersive experience first.”
Stellhorn says that with guided vacations, “We always suggest arriving one or two nights prior to the start of the guided vacation,” she says. “That allows them to recover from the stress of a flight and be rested before they begin their itinerary. And then afterwards, we often suggest staying in the final destination for another day or two to further explore or maybe visiting another destination close by.”
Farr makes sure to point out to her clients that “The flight is the same regardless of the trip’s length. We encourage clients to add time on as long as they are already in the destination.” Her overall approach? “Don’t be afraid to offer everything,” she says.
4. Start with the Best
Similarly, all the travel advisors Travel Weekly spoke with don’t just include all possible elements in their initial proposals—they start with the best of all those elements. “We start at the top because we want our clients to have the best experiences,” says Shahalimi. “If we have to, we can adjust down slowly, but we’ll never drop right to the lowest available. And if we drop, we have to make sure clients understand they might not be getting true luxury.”
Farr, too, starts with the best and goes from there if necessary. “I don’t ask the budget to begin with,” she says. “I don’t want to restrict what I can offer to a set number. I put together the best program I can for my clients, and then if it’s too much money, we can adjust down. It’s much easier to come down in price than to go up once the expectations are set. I start with the top suppliers, like Luxury Gold for a guided vacation, and then work from there if I need to.”
Stellhorn also says that in the luxury market, “I don’t go by the price point. I suggest the experience that I think best fits their desires.” She also notes that the higher end an experience is to start, the less that a client has to add on. “With Luxury Gold, for example, so much is already included that we don’t need to add anything. It’s a product that exemplifies the definition of luxury.”
5. Customize Group Experiences
In addition to working with individuals and couples, successful luxury travel advisors are always on the lookout for small group opportunities, whether in the form of a group of friends or multigenerational family looking to spend time together or a group united by a special interest, such as a love of gardens, wine or castles.
“A group might come to us with a general idea of what they want to do, and then we help fill in the details for them,” says Stellhorn. “We mentally take them there, describe the day by day, add tips and suggestions, paint a picture of the overall experience and the details as part of a collaboration.”
In the luxury market in particular, travel advisors are limited only by their imaginations when it comes to personalizing itineraries and experiences. Small has created customized luxury group guided vacations for multiple groups, including itineraries to the Chelsea Flower Show in England, as well as customized luxury guided vacations to Cuba, Australia and New Zealand, and more. “When we have a group of people, we don’t have to use a standardized itinerary,” she says. “We can create something unique for any given group.”
For the Chelsea Flower Show, for example, she worked with Luxury Gold, one of her favorites for creating a customized itinerary. “It’s a very collaborative experience,” she explains. “They’re very easy to work with and I have options—I can use one of their itineraries as is for a group, or I can take parts of an itinerary as a starting point and then they will make suggestions and put it all together in a unique way for a specific group, with luxury properties and unique events that cater to the interests of the group. Clients love it because they’re with their friends, they have great experiences and everything is taken care of—they always want to know where they can go next as a group.”
6. Stay Ahead of the Trends
Giving your clients what they ask for will probably result in a sale. Giving your clients more than what they even knew they wanted will likely result in a sale—and a satisfied repeat customer. The most successful luxury travel advisors can tap into deep reservoirs of knowledge about current travel trends and desires, as well as intimate familiarity with experiences the best suppliers are featuring that go beyond a traveler’s initial dream.
In 2019, for example, the Virtuoso Luxury Report shows that travel will be “highly personalized and inspired by a desire to experience new destinations in unusual ways.” Farr, for one, has seen a change in the destinations her clients are willing to consider, ranging from a newly reawakened interest in European countries to more exotic destinations like Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. And her more experienced travelers might want to return to a country they’ve already visited, but this time to explore country villages and back roads. Regardless of specific destination, she says most are seeking “more immersive and experiential luxury travel—the hidden secrets, the extras that might not even be printed in a brochure because they’re a surprise.”
Stellhorn, too, says that the destinations might vary, and might even be an expansion of what clients have seen on previous trips, but now her clients “want to experience it differently. They want to experience it their way. Luxury is being able to personalize and customize the experience we want on our vacations. They want a good fit for their personal interests, not just a homogenized experience.”
Grutzner notes that one of the biggest changes he’s seen in the past decade is the increasing desire for exclusive experiential aspects that foster a human connection. “In the past, a client who went to Vienna wanted to see the opera,” he says. “Now they still want to see the opera, but they also want to meet the musicians and see how the instruments are made—they don’t want to be a passive observer, but become a part of the experience and make personal connections in meaningful ways that they couldn’t do on their own.”
Grutzner adds that the exclusivity aspect is another driving force for today’s luxury traveler. “In addition to a desire for the traditional experiences, today’s luxury traveler wants to have experiences that are not available to everyone else,” he says. “In England, for example, our guests visit Alnwick Castle—not only can they explore the incredible castle, but they are welcomed by the Duchess of Northumberland herself, who guides the group on a private tour of her beloved castle gardens. This experience and many more like it, isn’t available outside of Luxury Gold.”
It’s those unique experiences that are truly at the heart of today’s luxury travel. “Our guests are seeking those kinds of ‘un-Googleable’ experiences,” says Grutzner. “They want to experience a destination at a level that is not possible on their own—and a luxury guided vacation provides the access to behind-the-scenes places, cultural connections and the chance to meet unique local legends that discerning travelers desire.”