|Eric Maryanov was an earlier adaptor of the Internet and has married classic luxury travel consulting to his online expertise.|
A few years ago, Eric Maryanov’s mother proudly told him she had purchased something online—a bathroom faucet. “Good for you,” said Maryanov. “Did you actually point and click and buy it?”
No,” she said. “I had questions.”
The reality was, Maryanov’s mother had found the faucet online, called a toll-free number for more information, decided she wanted the item and then given her credit card number over the phone. “But in her mind, she had purchased it online,” says Maryanov, who is president and CEO of Los Angeles-based All-Travel.com.
The incident had explained a lot to Maryanov about consumer behavior and the online world.
“In the travel industry, when we talk about all these people buying online, we almost always assume that it’s Expedia and Travelocity they’re buying from,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “But there are a lot of people shopping online who are actually buying from people like us, who are traditional retailers. Online is just how they found us.”
Many of All-Travel.com’s customers find them via the web and then book their luxury experience through a one-on-one relationship with its travel advisors. The agency focuses largely on the luxury cruise lines, with an emphasis on Crystal Cruises, Silversea, Regent and, increasingly, Oceania. Its efforts are paying off: All-Travel.com is consistently a top producer for the lines, all through a staff of 29, which includes 19 luxury travel advisors and a group of marketing colleagues.
Maryanov says that the personalization aspect of being a travel advisor is vital to All-Travel.com’s philosophy, especially because time is such an important asset these days. “If you have a parent or grandparent planning the big family trip, it’s not about the cost; it’s about bringing all the pieces together. It’s being sure we've thought about what the grandchildren will like and whether Grandma and Grandpa will be comfortable while the little ones and everybody else in between have a fabulous time. It’s all in those details.”
|Maryanov is shown in these photos at the Parker hotel in Palm Springs, the city in which he grew up.|
Being the client’s champion throughout the experience is also absolutely necessary, Maryanov notes. “After the cruise has been purchased, it’s important to educate travelers on how the experience can be extended, first by protecting the investment by purchasing travel insurance, then by arranging shore excursions that will be memorable.” Important as well is the pre- and post-cruise itinerary to create an overall luxury experience. “It’s really about being their travel advocate from the moment they leave home until they return and every step along the way,” he says.
This keen focus on select luxury suppliers and then emphasizing a customized experience to complement the cruise has paid off well. All-Travel.com earns more than $20 million in revenue a year.
To learn just how the agency got to this point, it’s important to take a look back. Maryanov has been in the business for 31 years. In fact, his first travel agency gig was at a mom-and-pop business during his senior year at UCLA. His mother had suggested he get a job at an agency just the year before; the Maryanovs were well-traveled, having taken an annual overseas vacation since he was nine. He worked on the books at the agency, and meant to leave when he graduated college. But he didn’t. It was 1980, the early days of automation, when people were still working on Apple II computers. The agency owner had developed a back-office system and Maryanov helped him sell it to other agencies. Eventually, they built a base of 120 clients in the U.S. and Canada and Maryanov became the support desk. He also helped with administrative work and went out to train agencies in back-office accounting. The experience enabled him to truly know and understand the retail agency from the back office.
Even better, he was able to dispel the myth that you can’t make money in travel. “I knew the numbers; I knew how it was supposed to work,” he says. He opened his own agency in Los Angeles at the age of 24—albeit with no clients and no front-office experience.
The year was 1984, and he became extremely successful in selling corporate and entertainment travel (think Stevie Nicks, Cher and the band Chicago). “It was a great ride, it was a lot of fun,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
The advent of airline commission cuts changed everything, but ever the astute businessman, Maryanov did the math and realized he had to start charging service fees.
A more positive sign of the times was the emergence of the Internet as a marketing tool. All-Travel.com, in fact, was an extremely early adapter and launched its first website in 1996. The technology was still developing, but Maryanov knew he had a new way of communicating with customers. There was another challenge soon enough—the huge drop in overall travel after September 11, 2001. To remain profitable, All-Travel.com focused on selling sun-and-sand vacations like Hawaii and Mexico to the niche of middle-Americans who had two weeks of vacation a year, which had to be used or would be lost. During those post 9/11 days, however, it also acquired an upscale agency in Los Angeles, and many of those advisors are still with him today.
“Part of it was kind of forging ahead with a determination and a vision even when the world throws some interesting obstacles at you,” Maryanov recalls.
The move to luxury was forged when the agency was approached by Crystal Cruises to step up its commitment to selling the line; All-Travel.com launched a website dedicated entirely to selling Crystal and has been one of its top producers ever since. The agency then added a focus to selling Regent and Silversea and, most recently, Oceania.
“We have always used the Internet to create the connection but our strategy has always been about one-on-one dialogue and consulting with a traditional agent who has years of experience and a strong background,” he says.
Initiating that one-on-one connection in the right manner to determine the customer’s real reasons for traveling is key because there is such a distinct personality difference among the luxury cruise brands, says Maryanov.
The web strategy has spurred All-Travel.com to officially start the day at 7:30 a.m., although many of its advisors are already online at 6 a.m., responding to queries that have come in during the night. Maryanov himself is typically in at 6:15 a.m., a practice that’s been in play for 20-plus years. The agency also keeps weekend hours to respond to online queries.
Over the years, Maryanov has seen a pattern develop in terms of how bookings play out on the weekly calendar. “Sunday inquiries are in the early stages of planning and tend to be a bit more upscale and for the higher-end cruises. Saturdays tend to be a little more of the premium sun-and-sand market,” he says.
One important factor is that some of the cruise lines now have booking engines that are useable on Sunday; “not all of them do and they aren’t open for reservations,” he rues. “So, here we are wanting to work with them and yet the vendor is not accessible.” Another frustration is that some suppliers end business hours at 5:30 p.m. EST, when it’s still mid-afternoon in Los Angeles.
While Maryanov still remains very much an expert at selling the luxury travel product, he has transitioned over the years to focus much more on marketing, along with All-Travel.com’s vice president, David Van Ness. Together, the two structure the agency’s position in the marketplace and, in turn, drive traffic to All-Travel.com’s advisors.
The agency uses ClientBase Plus heavily to track new inquiries from prospective customers. The advisor builds a profile based on every conversation they have with these customers, not all of whom may actually take a booking. The accumulated personal information is used to determine which marketing collateral will be sent to the prospect.
This targeted and focused approach often pays off. Clients who have remained dormant in the database for several years, but who continue to receive e-mail promotions, have called out of the blue to book a cruise. For instance, recently, one such consumer called up after receiving a promotion and booked four cabins on Regent for a $100,000 sale.
While Maryanov and Van Ness are expert marketers, they turn to their consortium, Signature Travel Network, to leverage its preferred supplier relationships as well as its technology. (Both Van Ness and Maryanov have long sat on Signature’s technology committee.) Signature, in fact, powers All-Travel.com’s website. Maryanov and his team then take Signature’s vendor offerings, slice and dice them through the agency’s database and feed them into its websites.
“So, in essence, we have our own unique twist on taking advantage of their massive amounts of technology and their promotions—add the connectivity and personalize it all,” says Maryanov.
All-Travel.com also taps into Signature’s hotel program to create pre- and post-tour itineraries for guests. The agency, courtesy of Signature, has relationships with 600 pre-selected hotels worldwide and touches about 75,000 to 85,000 people a week via e-mail marketing.
The agency also makes use of city-by-city information that Signature embeds in its cruise offers so that its advisors are able to speak to their clients as destination specialists for each port. This enables them to arrange private shore excursions.
“So, it’s using all those Signature tools in conjunction with getting the agent to appear as the superstar,” says Maryanov.
Much is accomplished via electronic marketing, but Maryanov and team also take out the time to speak to their advisors to find out exactly which promotions are working. “We spend the time to find out where we are not closing the sales and where we are almost immediately closing the sale so we understand what works. We also then give feedback to the vendor.”
Maryanov also credits TRAMS: “It really forces us to stop and look and listen to ourselves, to analyze our own businesses. It also gives us the opportunity to share best practices with owners and bring it all back to the agency.”
These days, client retention is a huge issue for all travel advisors and Maryanov and his team work to maintain customer loyalty by following up immediately after a trip is completed. This helps advisors find out new information about a destination or cruise line and determine where the client is thinking of going next.
The All-Travel.com team also reaches out while the customer is still on the trip; through ClientBase Plus, advisors receive ticklers to check with their customers proactively to see if there is anything they can do to make a trip go better. Such communication enables the agency to fix little things that the client may not mention.
Such matters could include a promised ship credit that for some reason wasn’t posted to a client’s account. That’s a problem that can easily be corrected with an e-mail to the person concerned at the cruise line, says Maryanov. “This solves specific issues but it also makes the client realize they are special to you.”
The advisor can also check in to see how a client has enjoyed a private shore excursion and if they’d like another at a different port.
All-Travel.com also has an internal one-to-one marketing program where the staff spends time each week reaching out to past clients who have not booked over a period of time or haven’t been heard from. That information goes into the database, and when new things come along that might interest them, the agent gets back in touch.
All of this is accomplished with 19 luxury travel advisors, five are homebased.
“I think our other strength is longevity of our staff. Most of them have been with us for more than five years, many more than 10, and a handful at 15 plus,” says Maryanov, noting that Van Ness has been with him for 21 years. At the same time, All-Travel.com is about bringing new blood into the industry and has two advisors who have been with them for less than a year. The two young men came through an ad for salespeople that was posted in Craigslist. “We hyped up the travel element of it, and it was interesting that the people that responded were male and under 35. We found two very good candidates; both had traveled in the past but had no industry experience,” says Maryanov.
While Maryanov has always been all about managing the change that the travel advisor community has undergone, he still sees one element that is still the same. “This is still a people’s business 30 years later; I don’t see that changing. The Internet plays a key role, but so does personalization. The level of affluence doesn't matter—nobody wants to waste their free time when they are building special family memories.”
There isn’t much that’s going to shake Maryanov’s confidence these days. “Remember, years ago, the industry said when the airlines got 800 numbers, ‘Oh, that’s the death of us, everyone will call the airlines direct.’ Then when the airlines started taking credit cards for booking, it was, ‘Oh, that’s the death of us, the client will go direct.’”
For him, the mantra of success is simple enough: “One has got to find one’s niche and make sure it is delivering value,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor.