Clear-cut lines are hard to come by in the luxury market these days. Both the concept of luxury — and the potential client base for it — are vastly different now than in the past.
And that’s good news for agents looking to increase their sales.
“Luxury today is a very personal experience. It encompasses everything really,” said Suzanne Hall, senior director, land supplier partnerships for the Ensemble Hotel & Resort Collection.
The phrase “experiential travel” has been bandied about for a while. But it takes more than catchy buzz words to excel in luxury sales.
“Every luxury traveler today has certain expectations. They expect to become enmeshed in a culture. They expect certain elements such as farm-to-table,” said Hall.
But that’s not to say that all local experiences are geared to the luxury traveler.
“Luxury travelers expect an entrée into services that others may not have access to,” Hall added. “Everyone’s ground operators are out looking to develop more authentic, intimate experiences. That type of thing comes with a price tag.
“So it’s the luxury travelers who are the first to try them.”
It’s also important to know how clients define luxury.
“You have to be very clear about what luxury means,” said Daniela Harrison, a travel consultant with Avenues of the World Travel, a Signature agency in Flagstaff, Ariz.
“Certain things may be more important than others,” Harrison said. “Food may matter more than the view or vice versa. You have to be very clear to qualify your clients.
“For example, my husband would consider a treehouse stay in Africa as the ultimate luxury. For him, being under the stars would be a once in a lifetime experience. For me, surrounded by all those bugs, it would be a nightmare,” she said.
Being the first to experience something is a big part of the luxury traveler’s motivation. That makes it especially important for agents to be informed and up-to-date.
“Clients start asking about hotels as soon as they read any mention of them. If it’s in Travel & Leisure, you can bet we’ll get requests about it, said Katie Cadar, director of leisure sales for TravelStore, a Signature agency in Brentwood, Calif.
Everyone wants to do something that the neighbors haven’t done yet.”
Cadar’s agency stays on the top of its game with frequent onsite visits and strong inter-office communication.
“We have daily ten or fifteen-minute meetings. Whoever has just returned from somewhere will tell everyone about what they saw or did. We share information with each other, especially if someone’s just experienced a new hotel,” said Cadar.
More than five-star
It’s not simply the traditional five-star luxury experiences that attract clients.
“My high-end clients will definitely go off the beaten path to reach somewhere extraordinary, Cadar added. “Many clients are interested in eco-travel options or voluntourism.
“And everyone seems to be a foodie right now. They want market tours, cooking classes and a home-hosted dinner.”
Expanding client base
The range of clients interested in luxury is expanding as well.
“It used to be that luxury clients were your empty nesters. But now we’re seeing multi-generational travel as the strong segment that continues to grow,” said Nicole Mazza, executive vice president, marketing for TRAVELSAVERS and The Affluent Traveler Collection.
Luxury travel with children is also on the rise.
Cadar has a regular client whose bookings include young children, two nannies and a grandmother.
“It blew my mind when they wanted to take a one-, three- and five-year old to an overwater villa. I had to get the hotel to completely childproof the villa, put netting all around it and net the pools,” said Cadar.
Luxury clients are also looking for specialized activities for children.
“I’ve had a mom and daughter does a gelato tour in Italy. They learned to make it and also served it to customers. We’ve done great scavenger hunts in the Louvre for kids. I work with our partners on the ground to plan activities for children nearly every day of a trip,” said Cadar.
Even destinations not typically associated with children are bowing to demand.
Karin Jones is the managing director of tour operator Anastasia’s Africa. She’s seen an increase in parents wanting to bring young children along on luxury safaris. And the options for them are increasing.
“More and more lodges are coming up with family tents. And there are camps that have full children’s programs now, with rangers, guides and activities. We’re seeing more and more requests for that,” said Jones.
Millennials are another segment with big luxury travel potential. But agents need to cultivate them a bit first.
“Millennials don’t have quite the budget yet. It’s a matter of grooming them,” said Harrison. “I’m a millennial myself. I know what it’s like to have just paid off the student loans and bought that first house.
“They want to have the luxury, but they can’t afford the same things that their parents can. What I do is match them carefully to a luxury product,” she added.
“We’ll perhaps do fewer nights, but it will be worth it. They love to be pampered. It gives them something to aspire to on the next trip.”
Customization is key
Individual client preferences are especially important when dealing with the luxury market. And that’s true regardless of age range, interests or destination.
“Customization is one of the most important points of luxury these days,” according to Hall. “When you think of the luxury market and how it’s going to evolve, it’s by increasing awareness of the special needs of the customer.
“Paying attention to the individual tastes of customers doesn’t mean the hoity-toity white glove anymore,” Hall added. “It’s about learning their names to greet them in them in the hallway. It’s the little things that make you feel welcomed and valued as a customer. Luxury travelers expect that.”
David Rubin agrees that personalization is key to successful sales. Rubin specializes in customized, luxury travel as CEO, travel consultant and general counsel for DavidTravel, a Virtuoso agency in Corona del Mar, Calif.
“The industry has gotten a lot more sophisticated in tracking preferences,” he said. “We have software programs to help.
“Hotels should know that not every guest wants the same type of blanket or toiletries,” he added. “Not all wear the same size bathrobes or like the same herbal teas. As hotels change, they need to make it apparent that they’re giving a lot in return to the guest.”