This is the second in a two-part series on selling villa vacations.
Villa vacations are a niche that requires an extra degree of knowledge both about the product and client preferences.
Not only do agents need to learn about the different types of villas available, and what that means in terms of client qualification, they also must understand what messaging to use when suggesting villa vacations to clients.
Sources for education
To get the specialized knowledge required for selling villa vacations, the best sources are your consortium’s villa program (if you have one) or a preferred villa partner, travel sellers told Travel Market Report.
“Go directly to the supplier because the supplier will educate you on what’s available in a specific market,” Viking Travel Service manager Laura Lukasik said.
Many suppliers offer webinars, courses and informational websites to help agents learn more, in addition to site visits. The Travel Institute also offers a villa specialist course.
Read, talk, visit
If you don’t want to depend solely on a third-party for product knowledge then you’ll need to make room in your schedule for reading about villas, talking to other sellers of villa vacations and traveling to destinations for firsthand visits.
“I read and read and I talk to colleagues,” Peter S. Carideo, CTC, president of CRC Travel in Chicago said. “I’m not shy to pick up the phone if I don’t know a destination.
“I work with a lot of destination specialists all over the world and one of the questions I always ask is ‘Do you have a villa product?’ Educate me on it. How do you pick them? Have you seen them?”
Carideo also said he’s “a great proponent of spending my own money to learn.”
“If your comfort sector is selling cruise vacations, do something out of the ordinary so you can say, wow, this is really amazing and now I can sell it with ease because I’ve walked in those shoes.”
Lukasik agreed personal experience is important.
“When I travel, I normally take one day and rent a car and I’ll go around and if that destination is known for villas I’ll have vendors set up a visit if they can,” she said.
However, visiting villas can be more difficult because there might be someone in them, she added.
Product knowledge essential
Knowing the villas you sell is vital to customer satisfaction.
“Even though some vendors rate villas like hotels from budget to luxury, there are no common standards from one villa to another,” Lukasik told Travel Market Report.
“But clients are coming to you because they want to know that it is a good villa, that the product is going to be delivered on the terms you say it’s going to be delivered on – the quality and service and that amenities in the villa are not broken or damaged.”
Trustworthy vendors play critical role
But with so many villas available it’s hard for any one travel agent to read about or visit them all. That’s why having the right vendor partner is essential.
“The key really is having a vendor partner that they can go to, that they trust, that can specifically give them the ideas to match their clients’ criteria,” Lukasik said.
Vendors that specialize in villa rentals can offer personal testimonials based on their own experiences or from clients they’ve sent there who were happy and enjoyed the experience.
Using branded villas also can insure the quality of the properties you recommend to clients.
“Selling villas within a brand helps you determine the quality and service clients are going to get,” Lukasik said. “When I say Ritz-Carlton you know what you’re getting.”
Value for the money
Knowing the product and matching the right client to the villa aren’t all that’s needed to successfully sell villa vacations. Travel sellers must also learn what messaging to use when convincing first-timers to try a villa.
Ron Skinner, owner of Patrik Travel in St. Louis, said he often breaks down the pricing to show that villas often aren’t any more expensive than an upscale resort.
“Yes, the villa may be $20,000 for the week but there are six people. So once you divide that out, that’s probably less expensive than staying in three nice suites at Secrets,” he said.
Breaking down the cost for comparison
Similarly, Carideo factors in the number of bedrooms the group wants, along with the “comfort number” of what they want to spend for a week. Then he divides the total amount by the number of bedrooms by the number of days needed.
For instance, the breakdown for a group paying $5,000 for five bedrooms for one week would be $150 a night per bedroom.
“So I’ll ask, ‘Are you comfortable with the caliber of a property where that bedroom may be worth $150 a night?’ That breaks it down into a very basic format for them. They may say $150 is a Holiday Inn, maybe I can swing $250 or $300 to bring it up to a Hyatt-level.”
Carideo also said he’ll often come back to them with a second suggestion that’s slightly higher in price than what was asked for, with a description of what the difference in price pays for.
Another message Carideo emphasizes, especially for families, is togetherness.
“For families, villas offer such incredible bonding because they’re all there together under one roof.”
To get started on selling villas, Skinner suggests combing through your current book of business to find clients who have spent $8,000 or more on all-inclusive resorts, particularly those who have traveled with others.
Another good target are clients who tend to visit destinations where villa options abound, including Jamaica, Fiji and French Polynesia, Skinner said.
For an overview of different types of villa products and clients, see Part One,“Villa Vacations: A Varied Niche Within Agents’ Reach,” April 9, 2012)