Firsthand Knowledge Is Key to Selling Luxury Travel

by Judy Jacobs
 Firsthand Knowledge Is Key to Selling Luxury Travel

Selling luxury travel takes knowledge, commitment, partnership and often a change of mindset, but agents will find that it’s well worth the effort.

Agents and suppliers established in the luxury market shared their tips and insights with Travel Market Report during the recent Signature Sales Meeting and Trade Show in Las Vegas.

It’s about the experience
It’s important to understand that luxury travel these days is more than just top-tier hotels and cruise lines – it’s all about the experience, said Marni Granston, director of sales for the tour company Ker & Downey.

“We’re seeing a big focus on the experience,” she said. “I (the client) still want to know that the backbone of my trip is luxurious properties, but what am I going to do during the day that will leave an impression?

“That cultural immersion is so important. You’re back home and telling your friends at a dinner party about the experience you had with a Khmer family making spring rolls. That’s what will really be remembered.”

Thinking in terms of a bucket list is a good strategy, according to Granston. She advised agents to ask their clients about what they really want to see and do during their lifetimes.

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda, the Congo, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos are among places and experiences high on many bucket lists this year, she said.

Know the destination
Agents hoping to sell luxury travel need plenty of first-hand destination knowledge, said Steve Orens, president Plaza Travel in Encino, Calif.

“Be more proactive in sending agents out (on luxury fams) so they can sell from their experience of being there rather than from their own taste or their own pocketbook,” he said. “It’s really important for agencies to send counselors who will be of mutual benefit to the staff and the vendors.”

Partner with luxury suppliers
Agents should also tap the knowledge of upscale travel suppliers who can help them close the deal.

Several tour operators told Travel Market Report they are willing to be on the phone with agents when they’re making a sale to answer any questions the client might have. Consider the tour operators who sell luxury travel as your partners in the market, they emphasized.

Overcome price perception
One of the challenges to overcome in selling luxury travel is price intimidation – on the part of agents and as well as clients, noted Granston.

“A lot of agents are intimated by the price, she said. “They need to really understand all the inclusions that are in that price, so they can communicate them to the client.

“The average trip to Africa is upwards of $1,000 per person per day, but then it’s a lifetime experience, and why it’s a lifetime experience needs to be explained.”

Keep up with changes
Another challenge is keeping up with the constant change in expectations among luxury clients, according to Orens.

 “The bar’s continuously rising,” he said. “We are providing more for them, even at a five-star hotel. We’re providing more bells and whistles. We’re giving them USBs with documents and destination info, for example.”

Agents are also seeing a change in travel patterns, some of which can be instigated by the agents themselves.

“We’re seeing people combining a luxury cruise vacation with a land-based luxury vacation, whereas before it was either or,” said Cathie Lentz Fryer, president of CTA Travel in Cerritos, Calif. “On the custom luxury side, we’re finding it’s more the private car and driver in every country we take clients to.”

Move clients up
Fryer has been able to move a lot of her premium clients up to luxury, convincing them that it’s a better deal. And in many cases it is. “We can offer them a better experience on a luxury cruise line than with a suite on a premium cruise line where they’d have to buy everything,” she said.

“We had a client who had to have the premium line, and he bought five suites.  I asked him to bring back all of the receipts for his onboard spend, and I showed him that if he had been on Crystal he would have saved money, based on his spend.”

So when a client comes in and wants a premium cruise product with a suite, Fryer offers them a luxury cruise, explaining that more is included in the fare.

“Always offer the client what might be a little bit of a reach. When they want a suite, that’s the key,” she said.

Maximize referrals with events
Fryer is trying to find ways to maximize her referral business – which is huge – and make it grow. She and her staff usually meet their luxury clients at a restaurant or a home.

A new strategy has been to ask clients to invite friends to a wine and cheese evening held when the agency presents them with their travel documents. Fryer flew team members to Canada to put on one of these evenings, which drew 10 or 15 couples and resulted in four new clients. She plans to host more such events next year.

The event tactic is one that any savvy agent can initiate, but it has to be backed up by plenty of firsthand knowledge, Fryer added.  

“You can’t sell luxury unless you’ve lived it, breathed it, traveled it,” she said.

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