Can High Tech, Soft Touch Satisfy Travel Agents’ Luxury Clients?

by Richard D'Ambrosio
Can High Tech, Soft Touch Satisfy Travel Agents’ Luxury Clients?

Skylark offers discounts and perks on upscale air and hotel packages, like here at the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona. Photo: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group


The luxury travel niche always has been defined as demanding high-touch, personal servicing from travel agents. Recent media coverage has focused on offerings like in-person consultations and custom-designed trips.

But Skylark, a company that bills itself as “the first hybrid luxury travel agency,” thinks it can succeed leveraging a combination of a robust online booking platform combined with traditional luxury leisure agent service and support. Skylark CEO Paul Tumpowsky is banking on the little extras, like added amenities from exclusive negotiated packages, emergency/disruption travel services and custom trip curation, to deliver excellent service to luxury clients.

“We believe we can wrap the right content together for a do-it-yourself shopping experience, with the peace of mind only a human travel agent can provide throughout your trip,” he said.

Skylark, a Virtuoso member, is backed by Ovation Vacations. It is using inventory from both entities to inspire clients to book packages (which it calls “collections”) “literally in one click, without agent intervention,” Tumpowsky said.

Layered into these “collections” are negotiated airline rates from a host of major carriers, and even preferred airline vacation package offerings. Also, there are “Skylark Originals,” special amenities like a Hudson River cocktails and hors d’oeuvres cruise on New York City’s Mark Hotel’s vintage schooner.

Launched as a private beta test about two years ago, Skylark only recently began inviting the public to visit its website. It doesn’t charge per trip or travel consulting fees, but expects to charge a $500 annual subscription fee that essentially will help fund “customer-service issues clients have been screaming about for years,” including airline refunds and extended ticketing times.

“That level of service just doesn’t exist for someone who wants to book online with an OTA, and still have that peace of mind that an agent is caring for them while they’re traveling,” Tumpowsky said. Customer service during the trip is provided by a combination of live Skylark and Ovation agents.

Technology tools used to inspire
Skylark is targeting 30- to 50-year-old affluent customers who prefer an online-first point of sale, but value service and support. “Our feeling is there is an opportunity here to target a younger traveler, someone who has never used an agent, or used one once. We want to show them the reason they had the bottle of wine on arrival at their hotel was that they were working with a luxury travel agent. “

Luxury travelers prioritize other services only a live agent can provide, like finding adjoining rooms for families, Tumpowsky said. “That’s not available online. It’s an offline process, and at some hotels, it’s based on relationships agents have with our hotel partners.” To reach these travelers, Skylark primarily markets through its website and a weekly e-mail newsletter.

Skylark’s website does utilize an agent chat feature, but Tumpowsky said it is used primarily “to start the conversation” and take care of servicing issues, ”small changes to your itinerary, or simple trips where you know where you have to go.”

So far, bookings are up 225% from last year, Tumpowsky said, with more than two-thirds of Skylark’s transactions requiring agents to spend 15-20 minutes live with the consumer. About 80% of transactions end with a live agent.

“There is no question that the answer in the luxury space will be resolved with a combination of technology and knowledgeable and trusted agents. There is no future without the peace of mind a traveler has working with an agent,” Tumpowsky said.

  1
  0
Tip of the Day
Daily Top List

Travel Tricks Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

1. Have a System for TSA Security.

2. Prepare Electronics for Continuous Work.

3. Pack for Success.

4. Plane Etiquette.

5. The Best Credit Cards for Travel.

Source: Forbes

TMR THIS WEEK
http://services.travelsavers.com/AMGService.svc/REST/GetImage?ImageID=45d3fb43-bb5a-e811-ba59-782bcb66a2f2

How Travel Agents Can Stay Relevant When the World Thinks They're Not

Sponsored by Travel Planners International

Stop trying to change consumers' perceptions of what a travel agent is or does. Instead, focus on changing the perspective of who you are.

TMR Recommendations
Top Stories
Ponant Sets Schedule and Reveals Itinerary for Cuba Return
Ponant Sets Schedule and Reveals Itinerary for Cuba Return

Lectures about the country’s history will be offered onboard, while onshore excursions focus on music, dance, art, and the local people.

Puerto Rico’s Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Officially Sets Reopening Date
Puerto Rico’s Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Officially Sets Reopening Date

Dorado Beach joins two other high-end properties, the El San Juan Hotel and St. Regis Bahia Beach, welcoming guests again in October.

Virgin Voyages Previews Onboard Spaces for Its Debut Ships
Virgin Voyages Previews Onboard Spaces for Its Debut Ships

Among the onboard spaces revealed this week was the top deck’s Richard’s Rooftop, upscale modern Mexican restaurant, Pink Agave, and The Manor, the signature nightclub for Virgin Voyages.

Las Vegas’ Mandarin Oriental to Be Reflagged a Waldorf Astoria
Las Vegas’ Mandarin Oriental to Be Reflagged a Waldorf Astoria

Upgrades at the rebranded Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas will include new dining concepts, views of The Strip from the hotel’s exclusive 23rd-floor bar, helicopter rides, and spa retreats.

AccorHotels to Open First Raffles Hotel in North America
AccorHotels to Open First Raffles Hotel in North America

Boston's Back Bay area will host a new luxury property that will include a mix of the brand's signature hotel services and public spaces.

AmaWaterways Unveils Details of Newest Ship, AmaMagna
AmaWaterways Unveils Details of Newest Ship, AmaMagna

AmaMagna, one of three new vessels coming to AmaWaterways this year, is scheduled to be almost twice the length of traditional river cruise ships.

News Briefs
TMR Report Cards
Advertiser's Voice
Advertiser's Voice: Norwegian Cruise Line