Special Report on the Luxury Travel Front


Maui Luxury Roundtable Participants
Paticipants included: Front row, left to right: Ruthanne Terrero, vice president/editorial director of the Travel + Hospitality Group, who moderated the panel; Michelle Mangio, owner of Magical Escapes Vacations in Attleboro, MA; Alyse Cori, owner/president of Travelwize in Sonoma, CA; Monika Weinsoft of Jet Set World Travel in Chicago; and Lynn Axe of FCm Travel Solutions in Bannockburn, IL. Back row, left to right: Lois Shore, vice president of distribution and marketing services for Outrigger Enterprises Group in Honolulu, who hosted the event; Anne Kulhanek, manager of Premier Travel in Luxemburg, WI; Janine Elder, owner/president of TravelSeeker4u in Murrieta, CA; TJ Oesterling, general manager of The Kapalua Villas; Anne Scully, president of McCabe World Travel in McLean, VA; Ellyn Jones, owner/president of SeaLandAir Travel in Paw Paw, MI; Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau; and John McMahon, vice president/group publisher of the Travel + Hospitality Group.



Mccabe’s Scully and Outrigger’s Shore
Mccabe’s Scully and Outrigger’s Shore. Scully finds websites such as TripAdvisor a threat to travel advisors. “If you don’t expose clients to travel on an ongoing basis, they’ll go to TripAdvisor to book,” she warned.

Luxury Travel Advisor and Outrigger Enterprises Group hosted a luxury roundtable at the posh Kapalua Villas on Maui. Travel advisors in attendance enjoyed a stay in a villa and learned about the resort’s facilities, which include two championship golf courses. (Note: You can view the roundtable in its entirety at www.luxuryta.com.)

Is there a new “luxury” client vs. what we’ve considered a more “traditional” luxury client in the past?

Monika Weinsoft, Jet Set World Travel: Many of my luxury clients want to be hands-off for the planning process. Their time is so valuable that part of the luxury is not having to be involved in the planning.

Michelle Mangio, Magical Escapes: Some of my luxury travelers have a lot of money to travel, but their lifestyles aren’t very high-end. You have to be careful because seeing them on the street, you wouldn’t know that this is someone who is going to plop down $10,000-$20,000 on a vacation. They want their five-star luxury and they want to be taken care of.

Alyse Cori, Travelwize: One of the things that the economy has taught us is that you have to enjoy your life now; you certainly can’t take it with you, so you might as well spend it while you are here.

Is the younger demographic discovering the value of what a travel advisor can do?

The Panel
The Panel. Travel advisors bandied techniques and recommendations about selling travel in 2011 and identifying the traits of today’s affluent customer.

Janine Elder, TravelSeeker4u: I think so. They are very computer-savvy so they do a ton of research, which can make for an excellent client; they’re a lot more knowledgeable.

Mangio, Magical Escapes: That’s where your connections become really important to the younger crowd. They sometimes know as much as you do about the place they want to go to and they are coming to you because you know all the people there.

Lynn Axe, FCm: Some of them still haven’t figured out that there is an Expedia room and there is a travel agent room.

Elder, TravelSeeker4u: I tell clients that they are talking about apples and oranges when they are booking a room for the same price via a travel advisor and an OTA.

Are you seeing web-savvy clients coming back to you with OTA burnout?

Elder, TravelSeeker4u: The young honeymoon clients are finding that more and more. They walk into my office with horror stories about booking online and having their flight canceled and not knowing where to turn. Their wedding is three weeks away and they are frantic. I just walk them through resolving it and the next thing you know, 10 of their friends are knocking on our door and they’re all vowing to never book online again.

Mangio, Magical Escapes: Some clients have information overload. I have honeymoon clients who, having tried to research their destination, finally come to me and say, “I can’t figure out where I want to go; there are so many hotels and they all look so wonderful and I can’t figure out which is the right one for me.”

Axe, FCm: I just got an e-mail while I was here about that very same thing. This girl said, “Can you please help me? I was on Facebook and asked if anyone knew a condo I could go to for my honeymoon in Hawaii.” Everyone was giving her advice and she was overwhelmed. I wrote back to her in capital letters: E-mail me, call me—I can certainly advise you on which is the best place for you.

Travelwize’s Cori, Travelseeker4u’s Elder and Sealandair’s Jones
Travelwize’s Cori, Travelseeker4u’s Elder and Sealandair’s Jones. Panelists agreed that social networking is here to stay and can be a great marketing tool.

Anne Scully, McCabe World Travel: I think the biggest change has occurred because of TripAdvisor. It used to be we went in and out of our clients’ lives; now we are contacting them four or five times throughout the year. Because of the economy, you can say, “What’s your budget for travel? What are you going to put aside for your trip?” If you don’t expose them to travel on an ongoing basis, they will go to TripAdvisor to book.

Does anyone else keep in touch with their clients that way, conferring with them on what their bucket list might contain?

Ellyn Jones, SeaLandAir Travel:
All the time. I am also very active in my community because a lot of the older people aren’t that Internet-savvy; they don’t want to be and that’s why they want you. I am very involved in clubs like the Rotary, which is where a lot of them are.

We have the baby boomers turning 65 and some are retiring. Are they traveling?

Jones, SeaLandAir Travel: Baby boomers are between 50 and 65, and that’s exactly whom I market to. They are still traveling, but everyone is traveling more carefully.

Cori, Travelwize: All my friends are losing their parents and they are inheriting that money, and they are spending it on travel. Some are realizing they can’t take it with them and so they’re traveling with families. That’s really important: Giving somebody money is one thing, but giving somebody the gift of travel is a lifetime memory. 

Elder, TravelSeeker4u: I just had a couple who were booked on a cruise that got canceled and within two days I got them to Waikiki in a beautiful resort and they took their seven-year-old granddaughter there. Within a few months, the gentleman passed away suddenly at 65 and his wife came to me and burst into tears saying, “Thank you for insisting that we take that trip because that memory for my granddaughter she got to share with her grandpa is absolutely priceless.”

How difficult is it to establish that kind of rapport with your client, where you’re able to insist they take a trip?

Fcm’s Axe and Premier Travel’s Kulhanek
FCM’s Axe and Premier Travel’s Kulhanek. The Kapalua Villas on Maui hosted the event.

Cori, Travelwize: You have to be a real person. You have to really put yourself in that person’s shoes and become a friend. You become someone trusted so much by your client. They always say, “thank you,” and you realize the value of that.

I constantly compare professional travel agents to fast-food restaurants. I say going to an online agency is like going to Burger King: you are going to get something cheap, basic and it will be okay. But you didn’t know that the nice restaurant down the block is offering a two-for-one special and if you went there, you’d get quality and something you’d remember. I think you have to make the comparison to things like that.

Is anyone else using social networking aggressively but in a good way?

Scully, McCabe: Blogging is huge. We have an agent who loves to travel. She traveled to see the polar bears and she blogged to all our clients. It exposed them to something they didn’t know they could have. Then she went to see the tigers and she not only saw the tigers, she saw them mate and had all of that on film. What was really wonderful for clients was that it was almost like a journal. The clients then get really interested in following because we are posting the blogs on our website. We are trying to get our clients to send us pictures for our website, which we want to be really interactive. We want it to be a place a client wants to visit.

Weinsoft, Jet Set: That’s another way you can use Facebook. We have our clients post their pictures from their trips because everyone wants to brag. It gets it out to not only people that they know but that they don’t know and then, of course, that comes back to us. I think the key thing to remember about social media is that you are not going to post something and get a direct-dollar business response; it’s more about exposure and the whole concept of information going viral.

Mangio, Magical Escapes: You also never know where it’s going to go either. I use Twitter more when I am traveling because I like to tell people where I am and what I’m seeing. I was twittering from Hawaii Travel Exchange about where we ate dinner—things like that. It doesn’t always necessarily get you an immediate direct booking, but even while I was at the Hawaii Travel Exchange, I got an inquiry from a client who said that someone forwarded her something I tweeted about locations in Waikiki.

Any tips for closing the sale after you’ve been going back and forth with the client?

Cori, Travelwize: When you know the client and you know what their likes and dislikes are, you can say, “I know you are going to be happy; there is no doubt in my mind that you are going to enjoy this property. I know that maybe you’re a little stretched right now, but the way you will feel when you come back is worth everything.”

Elder, TravelSeeker4u: I have some difficult clients for whom it takes months to put their trips together, especially for Europe, and at some point I just have to call and say, “All right, I am going to use the credit card I have on file for that deposit, is that okay?” At some point you have to stop and ask.

Scully, McCabe: I think you have to find out if they have some objection. It could be you were never talking to the decision-maker. Maybe it’s that their son doesn’t want to go with them. I had a family who didn’t want to go to Africa because their son was gong to miss his girlfriend. If it’s an objection that we can deal with, we can say, “Bring the boy in and we’ll show him some videos of what he is going to see in Africa.”

What makes a good supplier? What are the common traits?

Anne Kulhanek, Premier Travel: A supplier who is entirely knowledgeable about their destination as well as what their product offers and who is there to help in the unlikely event that there is a snafu.

Weinsoft, Jet Set: As our clients are becoming more well-traveled and looking for different experiences, I need to work with a supplier that will never say no. They might say, “That’s not something I have done before, but let me look into this and we can make it happen for your clients.” That’s the most important thing for me.

Jones, SeaLandAir Travel: Although a good agent is well-traveled, we can’t go to every place, so we need to have a supplier that can work with us one-on-one and also give us those little suggestions that make a trip special.

Mangio, Magical Escapes: Another key point is to have someone that I can work with one-on-one and really build a relationship. I need to have access to their phone number and their e-mail address to be able to get in touch with them if I have questions or problems.

Lois Shore, Outrigger Enterprises Group: When I counsel our general managers and our salespeople, I tell them to be absolutely honest—to save the hyperbole when you are working with agents. Your credibility is ultra important and so is theirs because you don’t want to cause them to lose a client. If you promise it, deliver it.

Scully, McCabe: I think they respect that we move market share and they know they need to step up to the table when we need a room cleared. One of my favorite lines is "failure is not an option."

Axe, FCm: I am going along with the reservation agents who are totally knowledgeable about the products and who help me. Also those with whom I have the personal relationship, who will say, “Let me call the property directly and I will see what we can find for you.”

My other major thing is documents. If the client is spending $20,000-$50,000 on a vacation, I do not like to give them printouts.

Elder, TravelSeeker4u: I like suppliers not just for their knowledge of the destination but for their recommendations in terms of what clients can do in that destination.

Cori, Travelwize: I like to work with a luxury wholesaler who knows when you are booking, let’s say, an ocean-view room, that you are not getting an ocean view where you have to hang off the terrace by your toes to see it. 

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