Inside Luxury: Tips for Improving Your Business

Ignacio Maza at the Signature Travel Network's Owners' Meeting

Signature Travel Network hosted its Owners’ Meeting at the Fairmont Austin September 11-14. During one session, executive vice president Ignacio Maza highlighted several agency owners who are doing unique things with their business and used them as guides for helping those in attendance change up their business and boost their sales.

Here’s what’s working for Signature agencies:

Venture Beyond Your Core Business

Diana and John O’Regan from San Simeon Travel in Cambria, CA built a business mostly serving Africa, but they recently expanded to new destinations. Maza says the couple hosted 120 clients in Cuba and 20 in Japan this year. It was all about “getting the right message to the right audience” and it helped them achieve double-digit growth in 2019.

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With that said, they didn’t give up what they do best: The O’Regans will escort their 50th safari group in 2020.

Maza also highlighted Julie Steinberg of Rosenbluth Vacations, who has been in the business for over 30 years. She recently sailed on a Regent Seven Seas Cruise for the first time and, following, her Regent sails “went through the roof.” Sticking with your tried and true suppliers can be a great option, but it could also be beneficial to testing the waters elsewhere.

Focus on Group Bookings

Scott Caddow of Legendary World, based in Tucson, AZ, rebranded with a new focus on premium and luxury travel. Caddow put a focus on marketing and converting sales, according to Maza, and invested in a new team of independent contractors to help increase sales and find the right clients.

Maza adds that Caddow has found success in escorting groups and will operate a new group program with Silversea in the Galapagos in 2020.

Another advisor who is harnessing the power of custom group travel is Annette Stellhorn from Accent on Travel, headquartered in Rehoboth Beach, DE. She saved her agency and expanded her group sales by doing targeted, customized groups, while, at the same time, bringing in “fearless young advisors” to help with the bookings. In addition to groups, Stellhorn put an emphasis on villa and cruise sales. Year-to-date, she is up 35 percent over 2018.

Sally Jane Smith of Travelsmiths in New Jersey says that groups are the fastest-growing segment of the business. Like Legendary World, Travelsmiths recently completely rebranded, and Smith even took to the radio for advertising campaigns.

Network and Cultivate Referrals

Angie Schwartz of Windsor Travel Corp. in Houston, TX, is relying on a tried and true tactic: Building her business via referrals (her existing clients are her best salespeople she says).’’ One interesting place, however, that she’s networking and bringing in new clients is the Houston Rodeo. In other words: Find a local destination where you can meet a lot of like-minded individuals and potential travelers that fit your client base. (These have helped cut down on her advertising costs, as well.)

Maza says Schwartz is also focusing on first-time cruise clients and creating unique pre- and post-cruise programs using Signature partners to “wow” them.

Build Long-Term Partnerships

Maza says that building long-term supplier relationships can be difficult due to the ever-changing nature of the business, but “if you hitch your star to the right partner, and you really invest in that opportunity, you can go far.”

To note, Sunrise Travel Center’s Carol Crothers has built a strong, committed relationship with Tauck. They first partnered in 2001 and she has sold 67 Tauck trips year-to-date. When you know a brand inside and out like this, it helps put your clients in exactly the right situation and if anything goes wrong, you have well-developed relationships to rely on to straighten things out.

Training, Mentoring and Coaching Make All the Difference

Jade Chiarini of CTA Travel in Cerritos, CA started as an office administrator when she joined the travel industry. She spent the first six months going through extensive training with various advisors in the agency, and then CTA president Cathie Fryer insisted that Chiarini travel as much as she could to garner firsthand knowledge of the destinations.

“All of that experience and all of that training has led Jade to blossom,” Maza says. With a focus on selling luxury family travel, Chiarini is a rising star, with $1.5 million in projected sales this year and an 82 percent closure rate.

“If you invest [in your advisors], you will get so much back,” Maza says.

Accelerate Your Growth With SIG Tools and Resources

Ellie Noyes of Acendas Travel is a new member of Signature (having joined in January 2019) and began to apply the “best practices” discussed at the Luxury Summit held in Dallas in April; she capitalized on SIG Marketing, ClientBase, Hotel Connection and additional tools en-route to an increase of 37 percent in premium and luxury leisure sales year-over-year.

Invest in Additional Resources to Grow Your Business

Darl Bachman of Ford’s World Travel says his new marketing manager makes all the difference. The new hire is now taking care of marketing, promotions and organizing supplier visits, freeing up Bachman to other aspects of the business. It took time, effort and money to bring the marketing manager onboard, but it’s made a huge different, according to Maza.

Maza says Bachman’s also trained staff on specific products to boost sales (rather than destinations) and it’s helped increase luxury sales up 50 percent versus 2018.

Make Your Big Dream Come True

Eric Hrubant of Cire Travel took out a $100,000 loan to build his website and marketing program. “Sometimes, you have to take a leap to be successful,” Maza says. Hurbant emphasized search engine optimization and client targeting, and even created a marketing alliance with The Knot.

He’s also found success in converting his corporate accounts into leisure sales, Maza adds. Hrubant’s goal? To become a $50 million agency in the next five years. “I absolutely love having a big dream come true,” Maza says.

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