A 'Who's Who' of luxury travel
CANNES, France — In the travel world, the annual
International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) is widely viewed as the premier event
for connecting the world’s top buyers and sellers of luxury travel.
Indeed, the roster of attendees reads like a “Who’s Who”
of luxury, ranging from the world’s top
agents to the most famous and exclusive hotels and resorts, not to mention
still-to-be-discovered properties, private islands, cruises, spas, safaris,
But not just anyone can attend. For agents, it is an
invitation-only, hosted event, and those selected are culled carefully based on
the affluence of their clientele and their sales volume of high-end travel.
For each exhibitor, ILTM sponsors a luxury agent,
ensuring that there is a balanced, one-to-one ratio for three days of
interactions. This year, 1,500 agents were paired with 1,500 representatives of
luxury brands in 60,000 meetings over two-and-a-half days.
So how does one get invited? The event’s manager, Gareth
Baguley, said the process of identifying potential attendees begins immediately
after each year’s show ends, based on Reed Exhibitions global database of
12,000 agents and its relationships with consortia such as Virtuoso, Signature
and Ensemble, plus key agencies and exhibitors.
Many of the world’s top luxury agents are invited
regularly, but Baguley said the goal is to have a minimum of 30% new agents
each year. This year, about 300 agents were invited from the U.S.
While many attendees are selected based on
recommendations from top agencies, consortia and exhibitors, Baguley said
individual agents can also apply through ILTM’s website. But there is a
rigorous screening process, and those selected must provide references to
ensure they book a sufficient amount of luxury travel in multiple regions.
And while the show, in true Cannes style, includes plenty
of social events, it is not just a junket. Invitees are often prescheduled for
long days of meetings, and repeat invitations in subsequent years are based on
agents’ attendance and how much product they buy.
CANNES, France — Although people are increasingly glued
to their mobile phones and other devices, when it comes to luxury travel, their
desire and expectations for personalized service and the human touch are higher
than ever, new research shows.
The trends and data discussed here at the International
Luxury Travel Market paint a bright future for travel agents. But fast-evolving
technology and the ubiquitous addiction to mobile devices also present new
In the keynote at the premier luxury show that connects
travel suppliers with professional buyers from around the globe, Claire
Bennett, executive vice president of American Express Travel and Lifestyle
Services, detailed results of a new survey suggesting that high-touch service
matters the most to affluent travelers; in fact, it is becoming more important, not less.
But the options for ways to connect with consumers to
bring that immediate and highly personalized service through technology are
also accelerating, she said. “So, that high-touch piece becomes even more
important as devices become ubiquitous.
And linking those two together is the critical piece.”
Today, she said, 80% of Internet users connect from their
mobile devices. And while the survey revealed that 90% of millennials use their
desktop to book travel, they start their search using a mobile device. What’s
more, mobile booking is expected to rise as more companies roll out mobile
In responses to the American Express survey, conducted by the Futures Company, 93% of consumers said human touch is irreplaceable, and 45% of
all travelers and 35% of millennials would travel more if they had personalized
“In the next 10 years, the customer experience will
actually outpace the price and the product itself as the most important thing
for consumers,” Bennett said. “So we’re going to continue to see this be
critical, as well.”
To keep up, Bennett said, the industry must focus on
upgrading its technology and ensuring it can connect through all devices and
interact with consumers throughout an entire trip, not just before and after or
when a problem or emergency arises.
“These are big investments,” she said, but ones that must
“We’ve seen examples in the industry recently of
companies that aren’t harnessed by the technology that they’ve had for hundreds
of years [being] able to quickly launch new things,” she said. “So I think the
onus for all of us when we think about the future of the travel industry is
making those investments and making sure we disrupt ourselves … before others
disrupt the industry. That’s really the opportunity. I think it’s also a very exciting
For example, just a few years ago, many consumers were
wary of sharing their personal information. Today, Bennett said, the American
Express survey suggests that 76% of respondents globally favor letting brands
track purchases to deliver a more personalized experience.
At American Express, she said, the company is focused on
updating its technology to connect its global offices and databases. For
example, it used its American Express Connect system during the Paris terrorist
attacks to contact clients to make sure they were safe and to see how the
company could assist them.
She said the company continues to expand that system’s
capabilities to offer travelers local deals when they arrive as well as things
like last-minute show tickets that might be available and of interest, based on
their personal profiles.
The ability to remain connected with consumers and share
their preferences and profiles globally is part of what is driving new
partnerships and mergers, Bennett said. And while that presents competitive
challenges for smaller agencies that rely on sometimes antiquated GDSs, Bennett
said, it also offers opportunities for technology startups to find ways to
connect the smaller players to information that global giants will have an
easier time tapping into.
Underscoring the demand for tailored travel, the survey
revealed that 45% of all travelers and 35% of millennials would travel more if
they had personalized service.
That desire is driving growth for travel agencies, which
in the early years of the Internet were widely predicted to be dying, industry
Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch said the luxury travel
consortium grew 26% in 2015, to 11,429 advisers, with expansion of existing
agencies being a key driver of that growth.
Also helping to fuel that expansion, he said, is growing
demand for personalized service and experiences from tech-savvy millennials,
who many feared would shun personal service in favor of their devices.
The merging of technology with that increasing desire for
personalization and the human touch, Bennett said, offers many opportunities
for the industry to create, rebuild and innovate in the next few years.
“I think it’s just really exciting, “she said. “It’s
going to be a really fun time to be in the travel industry.”
Data in this article came from an American Express survey, conducted by the Futures Company.A previous version of this article erroneously stated that the study was conducted by Walker Research.