Investing in the Best

In Kusadasi, Turkey: I’m just back from a Windstar cruise through the Greek islands and Turkey, where shopping is fun again.
In Kusadasi, Turkey: I’m just back from a Windstar cruise through the Greek islands and Turkey, where shopping is fun again.

More than a few years ago, Tom Baker and Ellen Kalish of CruiseCenter decided to trim back their client list after realizing they’d become “all things to all people.” They were spending their time selling and servicing a large number of discounted cruises to a large number of people.

And so they made the move to focus on those clients who bought higher-end vacations; and while they were at it, they sold more to these existing excellent clients, more FIT shore excursions and more elaborate pre- and post-cruise vacations. Today, the agency is reaping much higher profit margins, and Baker and Kalish are quite happy doing what they’re doing.

That practice of servicing those customers who appreciate the concept of what a travel advisor can do is being adapted far and wide. Luxury travel advisors no longer need to have a “fire sale” on their services, trying to harness any business that comes over the transom. The recession is over.

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It all comes back to selling your passion, doesn’t it? You love to make people happy and enjoy the details of finessing the perfect FIT by collaborating with suppliers. Crafting unique experiences makes your heart sing. Do this well and you’ll prosper.

If, instead, you get caught up in the tangled web of servicing ungrateful consumers who counter everything you offer them with pricing from a mass-market travel agent who rebates their commission simply to get the transaction, you’ll probably feel like retching several times a day.

Nevertheless, you’re going to have those days when potential customers just want to mess with you. Sometimes it will seem as if everyone got out of bed that morning deciding to question your expertise and to offer up how you can make their vacations better, all based on input from their sister-in-law or step cousin.

How to proceed on such days? Let this crowd sit for at least 24 hours. Instead of responding to them, take out a list of your top clients. If you don’t have such a list, make one up right now. These are the folks who not only spend the most with you, they’re gracious and express great happiness when they return from a trip you’ve sent them on. They love you and you love them.

Now, devise a good reason to call them. Do they have a birthday or anniversary coming up? When you do call them, be armed with trip suggestions, but above all, ask them about their lives and what they’re into these days. You might find out someone has embraced yoga; can you send them on a retreat? Has a long-term client just become a wine connoisseur? (Oh, the possibilities there!) Perhaps another has recently become single. Ouch. But you can help them! The point is to listen to what they’re saying to you and repeat it back to them. Acknowledging one is being heard is one of the greatest luxuries you can offer a fellow human.

After this well-spent time with your top clients, return to those who are giving you and your team a tough time. Some will be worth salvaging, others should be shown the virtual door of your agency. Tell them not to let it slam on the way out. My guess is you’ll save about 20 percent of these folks and bid farewell to about 80 percent of the others.

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