The following guest column is the latest in an occasional series on selling travel by the founder of Talking Travel.
Luxury travel has been identified as a sure-growth area in the travel agency industry (along with cruises, adventure and family travel). For travel agents, selling luxury travel is a challenging hands-on specialty that has many rewards.
Savvy travel professionals who know how to qualify clients to determine their needs – and then fulfill the client’s vision of luxury – are sowing the seeds of their own success. They’ll enjoy more take-home pay, a higher profile in the community, an enviable level of referrals and greater career satisfaction.
Here are 9 tips for success in this lucrative market.
1. Know your customer. Listen to clients for key words, then ask them to clarify what they mean. For instance, a client who says he’s looking for “luxury” may be satisfied with a Holiday Inn because he usually stays at Motel 6 – or he and his wife may be looking for something upscale, such as a Four Seasons Resort or a private villa.
2. Create mind pictures for your clients. Pique the clients’ curiosity and inspire them to try something new (cross-selling) by titillating the senses. Then go one better and suggest the benefits of an ocean-view room or higher-quality amenities and services, all for a relatively higher cost (up-selling). Your clients will start seeing a different vision of their vacation.
3. Don’t assume based on the client’s demographics. Every traveller in every age category has individual needs and wants. Determine why the individual client wants to travel and what they are looking for. Remember that luxury travellers can be fickle — they may or may not have brand or destination loyalty. Each experience may need to be totally unique – and that’s where you fit in.
4. Know the movers and shakers. Your strength as a luxury travel expert depends on your contacts at destinations, resorts, cruise lines, airlines, suppliers, tourist boards, etc. Learn to go to the source to get the answers to detailed questions. Call or Skype the resort manager in Bali to arrange for a special client request; the tented camp in Namibia to ensure the client’s expectations are surpassed; the wedding specialist in Aruba to check on details, etc. Build quality contacts by attending trade shows and going on fam trips.
5. Don’t judge a book . . . Luxury travelers don’t walk the streets in tuxedos or Dior gowns. Steve Crowhurst of SMP Training gives the example of a frumpy looking woman who walked into his agency some 30 years ago carrying a brown paper bag. The staff ignored her, but when the manager asked her if he could help, she put the bag on the counter, pulled out $25,000 in cash and asked if he could find a cruise for her life-dream vacation. Don’t jump to conclusions about people. Get to know them.
6. Know your stuff (and never bluff). Master knowledge of the products and services you sell. Luxury travelers are looking for value, plus they are doing their own online research and speaking with friends and family. You need to have an intimate knowledge of the nuances that make each experience unique. You gain this through personal experience, interacting with suppliers, talking with clients after they return from a vacation and your own research.
7. Know who you are. Learn to express what you do in a single simple sentence and practice conveying this to others. For example: “I’m a luxury travel expert, specializing in the Caribbean.” Exude confidence by being straightforward, not by throwing up a wall of words.
8. Don’t let price be an issue. David Lowy of Renshaw Travel in Vancouver, British Columbia, uses a phrase that every travel seller should have on their desk: “Price is only an issue in the absence of value.” Know the value of your products and services and communicate that in a way that shows clients how their needs will be fulfilled. Higher value translates into higher costs, so stating the price complements the nature of the product you are selling.
9. Get started today. Now is the best time to put together your action plan for selling luxury travel. Write down your goals, your talents, the products you already know. What would you like to accomplish in Year One? What new approach or attitude can you take at trade shows or on fam trips so you build the right contacts?
Start creating a vision of luxury for those clients who think they can’t afford it. For those who already want the best, develop that rich network of contacts who can deliver spectacular experiences.
Finally, be patient. Building your luxury business is not going to happen overnight. It takes time to build trusting relationships. This is a career path, not a part-time job.