Selling Luxury Travel: Look Beyond The Super Rich
by Robin Amster

Travel agents who sell luxury need to look beyond the “uber-wealthy” and cultivate “upmarket” travelers, according to Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises.

Luxury agents often focus too narrowly on the super rich who are a relatively small share of the market, Pimentel told travel advisors attending Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas earlier this month.

But upscale customers who may not be able to afford the super deluxe are open to up-selling, he said. “They are a huge market and an enormous opportunity for you.”

Pimentel had the following tips for agents who want to expand their luxury travel sales.

Tip #1. Know today’s market.
There’s been a “sea change” in the target market for luxury, according to Pimentel.  The super-rich, like the Rockefellers of the past, have given way to the middle class and now to the “monied masses” and the concept of mass luxury.

These are people who will “reach up” to luxury travel, Pimentel said. They shouldn’t be ignored.

“Too often at Virtuoso, advisors speak about the uber-wealthy, but they’re a small market,” he said.

Tip #2. Don’t pigeonhole clients.
Agents need to keep in mind that all clients are not the same, Pimentel said.

“The concept of travel is not homogenized, and luxury is not the same for everyone,” he said. “What may be one person’s luxury is another’s necessity.”
 
Pimentel also advised agents to discard pre-conceived notions about luxury clients. They don’t, for instance, just live in big cities; they can be found in small towns too.

Tip #3. Sell the experience.
Agents’ definition of luxury should encompass not just the “flash” but the experience, he said.

“You need to dress the client in the experience,” he said, adding that the Internet has given clients a great way to imagine the kind of luxury experiences they seek.

Tip #4. Talk plainly.
The affluent are not into “hyped conversations,” Pimentel said. “Hype leads to tuned-out.”

Better to focus on the art of plain talk.

“Verbalize honestly and succinctly about what is offered,” he said. “Never, ever talk down to someone. Don’t try to be too clever, don’t bore them, listen.

“And assume they [potential clients] are talking to you because they want to book,” he said.

Tip #5. Focus on value, not price.
Clients expect a luxury advisor to be “a value interpreter,” and that means looking beyond price, Pimental said. “Price doesn’t determine quality and it also doesn’t determine value.

“If you sell on price alone, you lose,” he said. “Consumers can always find a lower price.”

Tip #6. Connect with your clients.
“People actually like buying. Help them have fun; help them dream.” Those are great ways to connect with clients, Pimental said.

Planning an event that brings together potential clients is also a good way to connect. An example: On a trip to Canada Pimentel contacted a client there and asked if she’d want to bring some of her friends together with him on a particular evening. She was happy to host a cocktail party with several prospects.

Selling is about referrals, he added. Ask for them.

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