Draw Outside the Lines: Raising the Bar on What's Possible

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Plotting out a luxury trip for a client should be a complicated process. An off-the-shelf itinerary should be only the beginning of a beautiful trip.

When I spoke with Bill Neuman, president of Travel One, Inc., who graces our cover this month with his brother, Steve, he spoke of the savviness of his travel advisors. Some have gone through Virtuoso’s Wanderlist program, which includes having the client list all of the places they want to go. That basic task allows the travel advisor to put the many pieces of a big puzzle together logistically and to suggest if you’re going to South America, why not add on a side trip to the Amazon? The Wanderlist allows advisors to create a practical long-term strategy for clients based on their desires (should you climb Mount Killimanjaro now or wait until you’re 85? I think not.). 

Wanderlist or not, it pays to take a close look at how you’re spending your clients’ precious time when you’re planning their travel. If you’re giving everyone standard itineraries, you’re giving them something that’s less than OK.

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Ruthanne Terrero and Ignacio Maza
Ruthanne Terrero and Ignacio Maza

I recently heard Ignacio Maza, EVP of the Signature Travel Network, address luxury travel advisors, cautioning that if they receive an itinerary from a supplier that doesn’t have a “wow” factor to it, to return it to them and ask them to rework it. He’s not suggesting an adversarial relationship, but he is saying you need to avoid the temptation to go to the boilerplate mentality. Maza is also all about combining destinations in one trip when it’s doable. He also suggests starting high when creating a proposal, because you can always take things out if the client balks.

“I think whenever we give an itinerary or a quote, we have to add components that your clients did not ask you for,” he said, when we caught up with him again recently. “For example, say that your clients are interested in the outdoors and you’re planning an itinerary to Iceland, maybe surprise them, if they have the time, to do an extension into Greenland, for example, or the Faroe Islands. They didn’t ask you for that, but you are showing them how resourceful you are, that you are one step ahead of the curve and that you are putting things in front of them that they didn’t even know existed. The clients might say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you could go to Greenland for three nights from Reykjavik. I didn’t know that you could have a farm stay in one of the islands in the Faroes.’ ”

In this issue, we also present a roundtable I conducted with top executives of the Oetker Collection. This hotel company, which manages icons such as The Lanesborough in London, Le Bristol in Paris and Jumby Bay Island, to name just a few, is led by CEO Frank Marrenbach, who is all about providing a consistent luxury experience across all of his hotels. But once a staff member learns the rules, Marrenbach encourages them to break them, when it makes sense, to delight the customer. This will become even more important now that Millennials are having children and expecting them to have the same wondrous and enriching experiences they had growing up.

Fabrice Moizan of Eden Rock-St Barths told us at the roundtable that his luxury hotel is looking long and hard at what types of programming they can provide in their kids’ club to meet the expectations of the demanding Millennial market. The hotel is already doing things like waking up guests (who have requested to be awakened) in the middle of the night to go see sea turtles laying their eggs.

Combine this dynamic with the fact that these days, consumers are super savvy, or believe themselves to be so. “I think we have never had a more educated consumer,” says Maza. “That is both a benefit, but it is also a huge challenge, because it’s almost like the client is competing with you, and in a way they are.”

But that makes this a fascinating business. Luxury travel advisors have to keep raising the bar on what’s possible and, fortunately, there seem to be an infinite number of experiences to arrange, if you have the right mindset and the right connections.

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