A two-bedroom condo in Hawaii. Photo: Private Trade Winds
Lodging firms, cruise lines and entrepreneurs are getting into the niche of selling villas—and travel agents might well consider joining them and becoming villa sales experts.
The demographics of travelers who book villas are a perfect sweet spot for agents looking for the next growth trend, said Judy Sweetland, director of marketing at Private Trade Winds, Newport Beach, CA. Research shows that the median income of a typical villa traveler is about $250,000 a year. “They’re business owners, high-paid executives and entertainers, in their mid-forties; 88% of them are married, and they’re reluctant to trade down in quality,” Sweetland said. “If you have the skills, you’re talking about working with people spending $15,000 a night in many cases.
But the villa sales niche “is not for every travel specialist.”
Sweetland has over a decade of experience in private home management, vacation management, and finance. As asset manager for Private Trade Winds, which was launched in 2008, Sweetland helps locate properties, negotiates special rates and oversees all of the property managers who are on-site at their 400+ locations.
Its recent survey of 100 consumers found that 55% travel four or more times a year, with 41% of their trips averaging a week and another 27% lasting two weeks. Forty five percent of those trips are taken in the U.S. and Mexico. In all, 63% said they had taken a villa vacation and 93% want to take one in the next year.
Even better, consumers are looking for villa experts because only 30% have confidence in their own ability to vet properties, and 31% said they would trust a travel agent most.
“You have to have exceptionally high customer service skills, lots of patience, the ability to anticipate needs,” Sweetland advised, because these customers expect the highest level of superior service. “This means you have to be tactful, even under trying circumstances, and have the ability to make things happen other agents won’t touch.”
While the villa market attracts high-wealth clients, these clients still highly value their ability to get value for their money. The Private Trade Winds survey shows that 89% of consumers think booking a villa is more cost-effective than booking multiple hotel rooms and 74% are parents who are looking for ways to cut costs, like having a full kitchen to cook meals instead of having to go out for dinner every day of their stay.
“Some villas come with gourmet kitchens, so families can prepare their own meals,” Sweetland said. “That compares with resort restaurant meals, which add up really fast.”
Doing your due diligence
Agents who truly want to make a professional commitment to selling in this space should perform their due diligence first, Sweetland said—including getting to know the different villa purveyors serving the market, understanding what a minimum quality standard should look like, and developing their sales skills.
Private Trade Winds has helped The Travel Institute develop a training course for potential villa sales specialists. Sweetland, who helped write the course, advises agents to take the training so they can begin to understand the nuances in this niche.
With AirBnB becoming so popular, some homeowners are now trying to sell their homes as villas without truly understanding a villa traveler’s expectations. For example, said Sweetland, “Will there be owner’s pictures on the coffee table? Will a closet have the host’s clothing in it? Some travelers are okay with that. But agents need to be able to send their clients to a place where they are confident the experience will be like staying at a five-star resort.”
Nothing could be worse than offering a substandard product to a prospective repeat, high-wealth client. “If you see a listing but you can’t phone someone, be suspicious. A live person should be able to answer all of your questions,” she said. She also recommended studying reviews, but taking them with a grain of salt. “I Yelp things all the time, but there are so many companies out there paying people to write reviews,” she said.
Once a travel agent feels comfortable selling in this space, it’s time to prospect for sales. Sweetland advises speaking to suppliers about developing blogs for their websites. “We ask for guest bloggers on our website,” Sweetland said. This way, an agent can share in the marketing exposure a larger company is already generating.