Qualifying is not up for debate when it comes to the consultative sales process. If you want to satisfy your client and provide them with the best possible vacation experience, then making sure their vacation choice is the right fit is an absolute necessity, say travel industry experts.
And while most agents would say they currently qualify their clients, it’s never too late to brush up on or even shake up your methodology. Are you approaching this process carefully and thoughtfully? If not, you could be overlooking the potential to upsell, cross-sell or just plain satisfy them with the vacation of their dreams.
We spoke to a number of travel agents and industry experts about how to properly qualify a client as well as how to qualify them specifically for a luxury escorted journey and here was their advice:
Listen to Them. As a salesperson, there is often the temptation to take control of the conversation from the start, providing the client with all the information you have in your arsenal. However, seasoned agents will tell you this is the wrong approach. Rather than starting to sell from the outset, your best path is to let them speak. This simple first step will help you gather your intel and set the stage for the rest of the qualifying process.
Sally Fisher, an agent with more than four decades of experience in travel sales, puts it simply. “The way to interview a client is to listen to them, you need to zip your mouth and let them talk.”
Dig Deep. Who? What? When? and Where? When it is your turn to talk, these are your “go-to” questions, but be sure not to stop there. “The deeper you dig, the better the options you can offer,” advised Catherine Buda, a travel consultant with AAA Penfield in New York, who is also a veteran agent with over thirty years in the industry. “Typically I start with the destination that they are interested in and why they want to travel there. I look at the logistics of getting to the destination and I ask about interests, wants and expectations.” Fisher adds that interviewing a client is critical to ensuring that what he or she wants is really the best for them in terms of time and money. “Sometimes people have no clue what the cost would be to go on the destination of their dreams. Once they are informed, excitement begins and the game changes. It boils down to time, money and desire.”
Be Candid and Confident. If you’re not quite sure how to answer some of your client’s questions, assist with those you can handle but then tell them you’ll do more research and get back to them soon with the answers. “I do not over promise that I know everything, and they respect my honesty,” said Buda, adding that clients do not expect you to be a miracle worker but to simply feel assured that you’ve got it covered. “Not all travelers are created equal, but when you interact with them, you must always make them feel what they book is the best trip they are going to have.”
Emphasize Value, Not Price. Price is absolutely relevant to your qualifying process, but it shouldn’t occupy the majority of your discussion with a client. Instead, focus on value, which means taking the time to explain all of the inclusions and experiences that are encapsulated in one vacation experience versus another. If you are selling a luxury product, this also means helping your client understand what products are considered luxury, and specifically those that deliver unique experiences. “For example, agents should recognize that not all tour companies are alike in terms of unique experiences, and that is what you as an agent want to offer – the unique experience. For me, luxury is private tours, 5-star hotels, business class, private drivers and unique experiences. You need to know your client and understand their expectations,” said Buda.
Are They Suited for a Luxury Escorted Journey? The clientele for a luxury escorted journey could include a vast and diverse number of people. So to help narrow your focus, the following characteristics will assist you in making a more precise determination. Studies show that those travelers most suited for a luxury escorted journey are well traveled, interested in fine dining, enjoy sightseeing in a VIP capacity, prefer traveling in small groups, and are more likely to stay in a four- or five-star hotel.
Travel agents agree that the definition of a luxury escorted journey has changed in recent years. Today’s journeys include traditional experiences but with different activities to choose from, giving travelers all-inclusivity with the added benefit of options. Upcoming destinations like Russia and Japan are two of many that are well-suited for this type of travel and dining has become an integral part of these trips, with food being reflective of the culture of the destination. Last but not least, these journeys also provide a high level of authenticity demanded by the consumer, while at the same time not compromising on the level of luxury.
Marketing to the Luxury Escorted Traveler. Travel agents should be seeking out clients that independently have booked high-end hotels in the past and should be cross-selling to clients that cruise with luxury companies. They should also be targeting clients that have previously spent more money traveling independently but are now at a point in their life where they seek the comfort and security of a luxury escorted journey. As one agent said, “Luxury journeys should make guests feel as if all their personal vacation needs are being met within a vibrant and friendly group dynamic.”
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