Confidence, firsthand product knowledge and personal contacts are three simple keys that can unlock the luxury market for mainstream agents.
That’s the consensus of four luxury travel sellers, recently returned from the International Luxury Travel Market in Cannes.
But selling luxury travel is not the same as selling mainstream travel. There are important caveats.
For instance, when selling luxury, never commiserate with clients about high prices. Also, don’t ever bluff your way through an explanation about the exquisite experience clients can expect at a certain five-star hotel.
And don’t expect to give clients a vacation perfectly tailored to their needs unless you have personal relationships with on-site contacts, particularly with hotel general managers.
Following are more practical pointers from experienced luxury travel sellers.
Get comfortable with high prices
“The best advice I ever heard was from Larry Pimentel (CEO of Azamara Club Cruises): Don’t think with your own pocketbook. When moving into selling luxury travel, keep in mind that there is a higher cost associated with luxury travel, and the clients who want this type of experience are prepared to pay the price for it. You can’t be timid or act shocked at the price of high-end hotels and luxury travel. The sooner you are comfortable with the higher price points the sooner you will be able to close sales in this segment.” – Stacy Small, president, Elite Travel International, Brentwood, Calif, Virtuoso
Know the product
“When you’re dealing with a luxury customer, you need to speak their language. You need to know the unique nuances between business class and first class on each airline. You’ve got to know what are the hottest, latest, hippest, trendiest hotels in the major cities and who’s got the best-chef restaurants. You have to know and speak with experience to these people, because they really want the very best that’s out there, and they want to know that you know what their choices are.” – Jill Romano, owner, Dimensions in Travel Inc, Novato, CA, Ensemble
“Don’t try to impress them if you don’t have the knowledge to back it up. If you’re unaware of the information they’re asking for, you’re better off saying, ‘Let me do research and I’ll get back to you,’ than to try and pretend you know something when you don’t. – Robbie Gold, president, TRAVEL CENTER TOURS, Chicago, Ensemble
“You really have to know the product that you’re selling. You cannot bluff your way through any of this. These are the folks that are going to look at everything with a fine-tooth comb. You really need to know what you’re talking about.” – Jill Romano
“Educate your clients by doing comparison shopping for them and showing them what the differences are. You might be talking about a $500 difference for a week’s cruise. Well, divide that by seven, and that’s not that much more. So say to the client, ‘This is what you’re going to get for (the price) you’re asking for. But if you do this, it’s going to be that much better.’ It’s no different than when you’re selling air and you’re trying to sell business class or first class.” – Robbie Gold
Cultivate personal contacts
“I find that the contacts I make in the course of every year make a difference in the following year. Contacts and the ability to call upon them to make things happen, especially when you’re dealing with the on-location people, can make us all look amazing.” – Robbie Gold
“All sales reps that visit the Los Angeles area come through our door. I just made an appointment for 12 Italy hoteliers to come in and visit us. So I get the experience of talking to 12 GMs of boutique properties in Italy, and that is something that my clients can’t Google. I have a personal relationship with somebody at a far-off destination, so I can guarantee that I can provide a better experience for my traveler than they can on their own.” – Steve Orens, president, Plaza Travel, Encino, Calif., Signature
“You need to constantly be proving to your clients that your relationships with the top hotels and companies will benefit them during their travels. This is one of my biggest keys to repeat business and overall success.” – Stacy Small
“This is my industry, so I’m immersed in it. I read the trades. I go to events like ILTM.” – Steve Orens
“Look to key partners – i.e. the key suppliers, cruises, tours, hotels – to get training one-on-one with them. Then you need to look at your own travel. Also, at (attending) things like the International Luxury Travel Market, so if you’re not going to stay in all these hotels, at least you’re going to meet all the general managers, the head concierges, all the people you need to know to start building those relationships.” – Jill Romano
“The education comes from a few key areas. I would say first and foremost it’s our affiliation with our consortium, so that we can get one-on-one training and educational trips. And then our own education; we have to get out there and experience these products ourselves, so we can speak firsthand. You also have to know Conde Nast and Travel + Leisure.” – Jill Romano
“Affiliate with an agency that is part of a luxury-focused consortium and take advantage of all of the training opportunities, trade shows, in-person supplier meetings. This is key.” – Stacy Small
See Part One, “Selling Luxury: When 5 Stars Isn’t Enough ,” Jan. 12, 2012.