It remains one of the best ways for a travel advisor to set themselves apart from competitors, online and offline: Developing outstanding personal supplier relationships. And John Oberacker is “crushing it.”
Honored this year by his supplier peers at VTW as 2019’s Most Innovative Advisor, Oberacker was held up as a model for other advisors building a book of business on the ability to deliver immersive, customized experiences.
“The key to being successful in this industry is authentic relationships, and John is such a genuine person, that he becomes your trusted friend, in whatever capacity you may need,” said Anna Q. Vo, vice president, Tahiti Legends. “His passion for the industry is contagious, but truly it is his integrity as a person that wins him business.”
Vo has designed father-and-son sports fishing trips to Tahiti with Oberacker and his team; a private lagoon cruise with a professional photo shoot for honeymooners in Bora Bora; and diving in Fiji at the Great Astrolabe Reef.
“Often our luxury advisor partners have demanding clients, and due to the pressure, some are not quite as understanding to our reservations team. But John is the epitome of the classic gentleman, and our reservations team love him because they feel he respects them,” Vo said. “So, when John needs something for his clients, our team will jump through hoops for him without me even asking.”
Oberacker’s personal integrity and infectious approach permeates his entire team. “John has chosen a very good small team of quality advisors, like Jill Robbins and Diana Cooper, who all travel as diligently and share their discoveries with their clients, just as he does,” Vo said.
“John has a deep relationship with his clients and knows what each is looking to achieve with their stay with us,” said Janet Kato White, vice president, leisure sales, at Montage International.
“It can be a multigenerational family that wants to create new memories, a special celebration, an experience to unplug and be pampered, or discovering a new destination,” said White, who has worked with Oberacker for more than 10 years. “John knows how to gently upsell and include items to enhance each stay, and communicates clearly how we can ‘wow’ his clients.”
White continued: “We personalize each stay, creating loyalty to John. In turn, John is loyal to the Montage brand. It is a win-win all the way around.”
Oberacker, who owns Eden for Your World, in Long Beach, California, isn’t so sure he does anything different than his peers. “We are all innovative in our own way. We all can do special things,” he said. “But yes, being connected with our suppliers allows us to set up those special experiences.”
Uri Harash, president and founder of Perfetto Traveler, a destination management company, appreciates Oberacker’s “genuinely fair, pleasant and caring character. He is a delight to work with, and our entire team always serves him and his clients with gratitude and appreciation.”
Recently, on short notice, Perfetto Traveler secured for an Eden for Your World client access to a site in Rome not generally open to tourists. At the very last minute, the clients had to cancel their trip due to medical reasons, “but in light of our warm relationship with John, we were able to hold the funds as a credit towards a future trip, even though the services were non-refundable.”
Know your client
For Oberacker, the first step is knowing your clients extremely well. “That enables you to drive the right business to the right suppliers. Not every supplier will work well with every client,” he said.
For example, one of Oberacker’s clients is a member of a royal family from the Middle East. On one vacation, they wanted to travel to a very popular beach destination, but naturally needed a secluded home and private beach.
“Finding the right island and the right area on that specific island wasn’t easy, given their very strict needs,” Oberacker explained. “They also wanted to do some hiking to a certain spot that would have taken a day or two out of their whole schedule. So, we had to arrange a helicopter to take them to the spot. While there, they also wanted to make sure there was a place to use a restroom, so we had to fly in facilities to that location. We found a way to make it all happen.
“Another client, interested in Egyptian art and the pharaohs, recently wanted to visit Egypt, but right now, tens of thousands of artifacts are currently being moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum, including the famous Tutankhamun burial mask. The museum isn’t scheduled to open to the public until late 2020.
“Through a very good contact of mine, we were able to get her into the new museum, and get her access to these pieces.”
For every single Eden for Your World client, prior to their arrival at their hotel, Oberacker’s agency personally emails the hotel an extensive description of the client, and their wants and needs and expectations. “I think our suppliers realize that I care so much for my clients, and for them, and that our mutual client should have the best experience possible,” Oberacker said.
Build a vast and deep knowledge base
Finding ways to be innovative often comes from personal experience. Oberacker and his partner, Kasra Esteghamat, log about four months traveling each year. “It’s so important to experience these things, these countries, the people, so you can really know what you are talking about,” Oberacker said.
It shows. Vo at Tahiti Legends described Oberacker as “very knowledgeable, thorough and organized. By the time he comes to us for a booking, he knows exactly what destination, what hotels, what activities the clients want, and their expectations. He would never send a client somewhere that he would not stay himself.”
“John possesses very good knowledge of both the destination, in my case Italy, and of his clients,” Harash said. “His inquiries are concise, professional, well-outlined. He's always on top of every detail and is very invested in every aspect of the booking process.”
White appreciates how Oberacker and his agency keep track of their clients throughout a journey. “He is clear and following up to make sure his clients receive all of the Virtuoso member value-added amenities, to help make his clients feel recognized and special. He always makes sure that his clients have a seamless arrival … everything prepared and expected,” she said.
“No matter where he, himself, may be traveling, John’s clients can trust that he is always taking care of them because he can reach all his suppliers, like me, anytime of the day if needed,” Vo said.
Oberacker has had to invest a great deal of time to build these relationships, as most trade shows and supplier visits are scheduled in and around downtown Los Angeles. Eden for Your World is based in Long Beach, California, 24 miles away, and subject to the region’s notorious traffic delays.
“We’re out in the middle of nowhere, so we made a conscious effort, when we started 12 years ago, that we would attend as many supplier events as possible, regardless of sitting in traffic,” Oberacker said. “Our best suppliers appreciate the time we take out of the office, to build relationships with them.”
But while Oberacker and his favorite suppliers try to exceed client expectations, that isn’t always possible, and Oberacker has learned to be realistic: “I would like to say yes all of the time, but I’m not shy to saying no if I think there is a low probability that we can make it happen. Setting false expectations isn’t helpful to anyone, so I want to make sure that I first tell them, ‘That will be very difficult, but I will try to make it happen for you.’”