Travel Agent And Supplier Creativity Bodes Well For Luxury Travel Growth

by Doug Gollan
Travel Agent And Supplier Creativity Bodes Well For Luxury Travel Growth

From left to right: Kathryn Mazza-Burney, Rick Mazza, and Nicole Mazza

Bucking trends in the larger luxury industry, luxury travel is on a roll. And executives believe the good times will continue, spurred by agents and suppliers who have developed a potent recipe of innovative products, creative marketing, and top-notch personalized service.

While social media and digital marketing are critical, agents selling luxury need to make sure they are taking a holistic approach to branding and marketing. Speaking during The Affluent Traveler Collection 2016 Symposium at the JW Marriott in Desert Springs, CA, the group’s CMO Nicole Mazza noted that old-school direct mail remains a highly effective marketing vehicle, echoing the sentiments of Tauck’s Rick Baron.

Tom Hayden, ATC’s senior vice president of sales, emphasized that successful luxury sellers are not using technology as a silver bullet or replacement for attentive service and personal relationships. A veteran of Hertz and American Airlines, he joked, “When they invented home lighting, people used to turn the light switch on and off because it was a novelty,” 

Retail sales of luxury items seem to be slipping; exports of Swiss luxury watches have dropped for 10 straight months and many jewelers attending several major trade shows in Las Vegas last weekend reported tepid demand. Luxury travel, however, continues its powerful growth curve. 

Mazza praised suppliers for creating “affordable luxury,” pointing to NCL’s Haven and MSC's Yacht Club. Cunard is adding single staterooms, attractively designed for solo travelers, as part of an extensive refurbishment of Queen Mary II that will create new lower lead-in prices below the cost of single supplements, enabling a broader range of consumers to have a luxury experience.

At the same time, innovation is also helping travel continue to gain share of the consumer wallet, Mazza said, using Crystal’s expansion into private jet vacations, yachts, and river cruises as examples. The jet vacations will start around $150,000 per person. “Unlike jewelry and other luxury goods, everyone believes it’s their right every year to travel,” she said.

Mazza believes the success of the luxury travel segment despite an ever increasingly complex product mix underscores that “agents are doing a good job of finding the right product for the right client at the right price.”

During an interview with Travel Market Report, Hayden added, “Hotels and cruise lines understand that today rooms and cabins are the launching pad for experiences.”

The Affluent Traveler Collection is an elite group of about 250 agencies that are members of NEST and TRAVELSAVERS, two other consortia owned by Oyster Bay, NY-based American Marketing Group.

“What is luxury? Everyone’s perception is different,” Mazza told TMR, noting, “It comes down to service and value. Within luxury, there is a higher expectation of service.” 

In a speech to members, Mazza urged agents to “be brand-consistent (and) exude luxury in everything you do. Be consistent with your brand. If you sell honeymoons, and you also sell luxury honeymoons, make sure you have a luxury honeymoon microsite, and link your luxury promotions to it.”

She told agents to pay attention to everything, from the paper quality of their letterhead to business cards and direct mail pieces--and even the clothing choices of staff members. While the trend has been toward dressing down at work, employees are more productive when they are dressed professionally, she noted, and when selling luxury, “you’ve got three seconds to make the first impressions, and studies show it makes a difference. Dress the part. Speak the part. Be the part.”

In terms of marketing, Mazza said, “Know your customer. Know what they are interested in. Know how they like to be communicated to.”  She said marketing initiatives work best when they are customized and integrated together, for example direct mail, followed by email and calls to follow up, as well as conveying the same message via social media.

Hayden applauded Silversea, whose vice president of field sales Kris Endreson told attendees the line is expanding its suites and connecting rooms. Hayden said multi-generational luxury trips by families are growing fast, and while the first is often initiated and paid for by grandparents, the trips become “a family rite.” Bookings can cross into six figures, and become an annuity for smart agents. Endreson said Silversea now offers over 800 destinations in an effort to provide an unending list of possible experiences, including expedition cruises.

“We will wake you up in the middle of the night to see Aurora Borealis or a captain might divert the itinerary one day (on its expedition vessels) if there is something unique and interesting. Customers want to be surprised and excited,” she said.

Other areas agents can tap into when targeting the luxury consumer are gastronomy and arts. Hayden noted that luxury travelers increasingly are interested in local experiences when it comes to dining, and art interests are increasingly diverse. Suppliers are upping their game in these areas, he said. On the Muse, Silversea will have eight restaurants as it continues its relationship with Relais & Chateau chefs to design onboard menus. Marriott International’s Autograph Collection also offers consumers unique design experiences when traveling. 

Hayden cautioned that suppliers cause confusion when they misuse marketing lingo. “A 419 room hotel is not a boutique hotel,” he said, noting ATC defines boutique properties as those under 100 rooms. Agents can’t rest on their laurels. He said,

“If you’re going to be in the luxury end of the business, you have to keep changing to stay relevant," Hayden said. "Luxury 10 years ago is markedly different than it is today, and in two or five years, it will change again.”

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