Tales of the luxury travel vanguard at Signature event

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"Luxury is, without a doubt, our single biggest opportunity from a business perspective," said Ignacio Maza, Signature's executive vice president.
"Luxury is, without a doubt, our single biggest opportunity from a business perspective," said Ignacio Maza, Signature's executive vice president. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

DALLAS -- Signature Travel Network welcomed over 250 members to the Grand Hyatt DFW here for its inaugural Luxury Summit on Wednesday.

"Luxury is, without a doubt, our single biggest opportunity from a business perspective," said Ignacio Maza, Signature's executive vice president.

During the event, featuring a number of speakers from both in and outside the travel industry, Maza shared success stories from members employing unique techniques to sell luxury travel.

First was Kareem George, principal of Culture Traveler in Detroit.

"His secret is selling from your home," Maza said.

George hosts events in his home, inviting one or two supplier partners and 12 to 25 clients or prospective clients. The events are catered, and suppliers make presentations about their products. Maza emphasized that it's not a hard sell.

"This is very subtle," he said. "This is just educating, educating, educating the client."

George has a close rate of 80%.

Jane Lee Winter, president of Town and Country Travel in Thousand Oaks, Calif., also hosts events at her home, Maza said. They might entail something like bringing in a chef or guide from a safari lodge in Africa to have a cookout. Clients can talk to the guide about their experiences, and Winter has realized great success from her home-hosted events.

From there, Maza said, she blossomed into hosting invitation-only groups. She curates the clients on each trip to ensure they all get along, and she's selective, picking five or six couples for each trip.

She makes the trips exclusive and private, and her groups are in great demand, Maza said.

He also shared Ivy Tjok's technique. Tjok, president of Prestige Travel in Vero Beach, Fla., has worked social media to promote unique, luxury experiences, Maza said.

She came to a Signature event last November and took photos on a private jet that she posted on social media. As a result, she had a $809,000 sale with TCS World Travel, which Maza said was the single largest sale TCS has ever had. That was the first private jet experience Tjok sold.

At Legacy Travel in Dallas, Philip and Catherine Banks have a solid recruiting strategy: they incentivize their agents to sell more by offering an annual trip once they reach a certain sales point.

Legacy was selling a lot of mid-tier, premium products before, Maza said, but the whole agency has shifted into the luxury sector. The advisors realized they could move up to sales milestones much faster selling luxury than by selling less expensive trips.

The incentive trips are particularly enticing because the advisors are able to bring a traveling companion, Maza said, and generate office-wide excitement when the annual destination is revealed.

Adam Lazarus, Wendy Hathorn and Ryan Hansen of Bon Voyage Travel in Tucson, Ariz., have also turned to events to drum up interest and clients, Maza said. But they did it with a twist. One hour before the event started, they held a preview hour for top clients.

At the main event, consumers could wander through a trade show or separate breakout sessions being held concurrently to learn more about different types of travel from advisors.

"The consumers love it," Maza said. "They absolutely love that information."

Steve Shulem, president of Strictly Vacations in Santa Barbara, Calif., has taken a slightly different tactic. Realizing he was spending so much time traveling, he decided to put all his possessions in storage and travel the world, and he hasn't been home since, Maza said. He works under the theory that the world is his home.

While Shulem does keep employees in Santa Barbara to complete paperwork and fulfillment, he has successfully stayed in touch with his clients while traveling. Maza said he just had his best month ever: he did $1 million in sales in January alone.

Finally, Maza highlighted Kathleen Stahl, owner of Kathleen Stahl Travel Services in Des Moines, Iowa.

Stahl was faced with a predicament: her best sales person was retiring. She decided to reinvent her entire business and partnered with a local state university.

She arranged to have paid interns come in to her agency and learn the travel business. The program has been so successful that she had over 100 applications for one open internship spot in her agency.

"They really are the future," Maza said.

All the travel advisors he highlighted have one thing in common.

"That is confidence," he said. "They have this belief in themselves. They have this belief they can do these things."
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Correction: Ivy Tjok's record sale was $809,000.

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