Luxury travel is one of the most lucrative segments for travel agents, but success depends on offering highly personalized experiences, says Robb Report editorial director and travel expert Bruce Wallin. Here’s what he told TMR in a recent interview.
1. What is the most significant luxury travel trend you have seen in the past 12 months?
High-net-worth individuals are not just going to the same old destination and doing the same activities every year. They are always expanding their horizons. We’re seeing that both from the destinations and the types of trips. Even in the private jet sector, people aren’t repeating the same routes. Customers are going different places all the time.
2. In which destinations should travel agents become expert to keep up with the luxury market?
Traditionally, it’s the backpacking set that is pioneering destinations, and luxury follows. That continues to be the case with many destinations, but there are some places where luxury is coming in first and fast. For example, Nicaragua is rising. It has a number of world class resorts that have opened up recently, on the beaches and in the jungles. It has a new private jet airport that recently opened. It still has a limited audience, because not everyone is comfortable flying a jet down to Nicaragua. It’s like Costa Rica was several years ago. But Costa Rica had a gradual build in its luxury product. I would argue that Mukul is nicer than any resort in Costa Rica.
3. What do you see changing in the family travel arena?
We just posted a story about the 10 over-the-top Spring Break family adventures. It might be a little extreme for some, but it encapsulates the mentality. There are families heli-skiing in Iceland, hunting with eagles in Mongolia, paddle boarding in Galapagos. People are really doing these things. Part of that is bragging rights for the parents, and part of it is for the children now too.
4. What is the biggest myth about luxury travel consumers?
We’ve learned over the years that the high luxury traveler is still looking for a good deal. No one, especially an A-type personality, an entrepreneur, wants to be taken advantage of. If you think you can oversell, and provide options that don’t also offer high value, that could hurt your relationship with that client.
5. How can a travel agent looking to break into this segment attract these travelers?
In terms of skill sets, it’s about the ability to completely customize and personalize the client’s experience. You need to be able to tell these customers with confidence that what you have planned for them has never been planned before. It needs to be exactly right for them. You should know based on experience why it is better for someone to stay at the Four Seasons or the boutique hotel down the road. Or maybe they should skip the Louvre and explore a smaller Paris museum.
This is more important than ever because there is a desire in this segment for everything to be unique and personalized. They want to go to Peru one year, Iceland next year, than Hong Kong, so agents need to have a broad range and depth of knowledge to fulfill all these needs.
This means agents need to be out there, checking out not just the hotels, but also the experiences once their client leaves the hotel. For example, I was recently at a top luxury hotel near the Chilean desert, probably the nicest place in town. The grounds are beautiful. Everything is special on property. But when you leave to visit the desert, there are 30 tourist buses out there with you. Your experience is no longer exclusive and everyone else is paying half the price. To win the new luxury traveler, you have to be able to ensure your customers will be able to do things in a fashion different from everyone else. It’s all about this personalization, this differentiation.