The average traveler consults 17 different sources when planning a vacation, according to a recent study. So, for luxury travel advisors like Maggie Stein, staying one step ahead of highly informed clients is both crucial and challenging.
Stein, director of leisure travel for New York-based In the Know Experiences, is a proficient and skilled travel advisor who serves a largely upscale clientele. A 2018 Virtuoso Rising Star nominee, the 32-year-old has been selling travel for nearly a decade, so she brings the dual advantages of both youth and experience to the job, along with an obsessive devotion to detail and a seemingly tireless work ethic.
Yet even this savvy young travel professional is challenged by a sales environment where clients come fully armed with reams of research. It is tricky, she told Travel Market Report, “to find the best way to talk to people so they feel acknowledged for the information they’ve come to you with, but you also are showing your value, that you are a professional and that your recommendation should be taken seriously.”
It is also like trying to hit a moving target. “It’s always changing – the amount of access that people have to information, with more and more publications, blogs and new social media platforms,” said Stein.
The artful rebuttal
One way that Stein stays ahead of clients is by keeping up-to-date with the various online resources, including social media platforms and blogs, so she can respond convincingly when clients bring up information and misinformation that they’ve read online.
“Let’s say I recommend a hotel, and they say, ‘But the TripAdvisor reviews are not good.’ I’ll say, ‘Think of your favorite hotel and go read the terrible reviews on TripAdvisor, then tell me, would you have gone to that hotel if you had based it on that?’” People are far more likely to post comments when they’re unhappy, Stein explains to clients.
She also tells clients that “true luxury-level travelers are not as engaged in those type of forums, so you’re maybe dealing with a less-sophisticated traveler who is going to complain about things they don’t necessarily understand.”
Sound like a local
Stein relies heavily on suppliers to provide her with the insider expertise that allows her to shine with upscale clients looking for exclusive experiences. She pumps hoteliers and other local partners for information, setting up phone calls “to talk through their destination in detail” and to elicit their recommendations for standout restaurants, shops and local experiences.
This, too, is critical in today’s sales environment. “The high level of detail that I ask for from my suppliers is because our clients are so much more detailed [than in the past] – they have access to everything. I can’t know everywhere in the world, so I really call upon our partners to make me sound like I live there.”
Attending industry conferences and reading widely in both the trade and consumer press also helps Stein stay in-the-know about trends and products. “You don’t want clients coming to you about a new product that you’ve never heard of. You want to be able to say, ‘Yes I know, and I met the sales team a couple weeks ago.’ Then you sound like this all-knowing rock star.”
Detailed info at her fingertips
Stein transcribes her phone calls with suppliers almost word for word, then files the information away so she can access it easily in the future.
“It might seem excessive, but then when you get another request for that place, you have the information as if it were a conversation. You sound knowledgeable, because you can talk like you were just chatting about it yesterday.”
List-making is also central to Stein’s modus operandi. “I’m always making ‘top hotels in this destination’ lists, top experiences, top restaurants, or destination management companies. I’m always saving information and creating guides for myself. I organize by destination so I can easily click on Spain and see what I have saved.”
Stein sees this aspect of the job as essential to success. “The more thorough and detailed and organized you are, the further you will go in this industry, because you’ll have information available to yourself.”
Short on sleep, long on rewards
Stein is flexible about catering to her clients’ busy schedules and compulsive about the details, so she works long hours – basically all the time, she said.
If she’s not working, she’s probably worrying about work, and most nights she comes up short on sleep as a result. “I’m worrying about did I book that transfer? Are they going to be stranded at the airport? Did I get that restaurant confirmation? There’s so much follow-up. You have a 20-item list per trip of moving parts.”
At the end of the day, the rewards are many. “When someone comes back from a trip and it was the highlight of their year, or it was family time that they can’t get otherwise ... When it’s really meaningful and impactful to the clients, it makes it worth all the time and the sweat that goes into these things. I really love that aspect.”