Sunriver Resort is great for family travelers. The top suite has a double-sided fireplace facing the living room and bedroom, a double deck facing west and a large bathroom.
Luxury Travel Advisor was on-hand in October for Destination Hotels & Resorts’ annual travel industry advisory board meeting at the very scenic and rural Sunriver Resort near Bend, OR, composed of Maureen Callahan, VP of marketing communication & PR for Destination Hotels & Resorts; Dan Beschloss, executive director, industry relations, Valerie Wilson Travel; Katie Cadar, general manager, TravelStore; Raschinna Findlay, luxury travel specialist, Protravel Beverly Hills; Suzanne Hall, senior director, Ensemble Travel; Renee Hudson, director, employee development and program manager, American Express Travel; Skip James, director of sales and marketing, Sunriver Resort; Jay Johnson, owner, Coastline Travel Advisors; Steve Orens, president, Plaza Travel; and Tama Taylor Holve, CEO/owner, Willett Travel in Los Angeles. Barb Taylor Carpender moderated the panel.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: How has the leisure traveler changed over the past year?
Suzanne Hall, Ensemble Travel: It’s all about local opportunities and authentic encounters. Consumers would now rather travel than own things. One trend that we’re seeing a lot of is the itemization of elements—demands on DMCs to come back with an itemized pricing of every single element that was included in an itinerary.
Other trends include women’s travel—lots of women traveling together—and health and wellness travel, holistic experiences where everything is locally grown; guests also expect hotels to open doors to maximize the sites of the area. This allows for selling up, so somebody who might not have spent as much will do so when it’s positioned that they can experience X, Y and Z. They’ll rethink it and they’ll spend the extra money for the experience.
Tama Taylor Holve, Willett Travel: I find that they’re spending more money and that they actually trust in (advisors) more; that’s been a nice evolution. I’m also wondering if we have changed the consumer because we have changed. We are becoming more confident and not being a prisoner of the price. We are actually learning that the client does need and want our advice.
I think we’re less intimidated by the online travel agencies and the discounters; so if we exude this confidence the client is going to trust us more. They are spending more money, and of course, it hasn’t been just in the last year; since September 11, many, many more families are traveling.
Katie Cadar, TravelStore: We’re seeing a demand for the more exotic experiential travel, especially with the aging baby boomers. Family and friends are traveling together a lot, too. They’re savvier, they research everything; they want to be involved and they want transparency, so it’s hard to bundle. They also want to be able to change their plans, which is really difficult. They’ll want to stay an extra night somewhere or get into a hotel room a day early or cancel a tour and stay on a ship even though we’ve arranged to have a private guide waiting for them. So we have to be more than clear about terms and conditions.
Pictured: Assessing the client: Katie Cadar of TravelStore and Dan Beschloss of Valerie Wilson Travel highlight travel trends.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: How are you acquiring new customers for your agency?
Tama Taylor Holve, Willett Travel: I actually see that the old snail-mail approach is really working again because there’s less clutter in the mailbox. We recently had a program where we rented a demographically correct customer list through our cooperative and we’ve had a terrific return on that. Because we’re in a service business, word-of-mouth is still incredibly important because it’s validation by a third party. We now have a very visible location; for many years we didn’t have that or want that. But I have to say that now our rent is absolutely offset 32 percent by our location because of the number of walk-ins and the call-ins, because we’re so visible. I think if you’re out of sight you’re out of mind. When they see a travel agency there they’re going to say, “Oh, I guess travel agents are not out of business.”
Pictured: Exploring Sunriver: Raschinna Findlay of Protravel Beverly Hills and Lindsey Dollahon of L’Auberge Del Mar.
The thing front-line agents and even some owners are guilty of is they’re not out there enough. (Travel advisors) are alive and well, but they’re not out there being involved in civic and community events. It’s about visibility. It’s about being a Rotarian, volunteering in places, accepting speaking engagements, writing the article in the local paper, and just being out there and explaining what you do. I don’t like networking groups or networking sites; everybody else wants business and they have no money.
We also have a travel academy at the office and so we’re training new people, and that has been very rewarding.
Renee Hudson, American Express: This is a difficult one for me because I sit behind a very large brand as an organization. Keeping people involved in our travel services is much easier for me than it might be for the rest of you around the table because this is based on membership, so you carry a certain level of the card and you get a (travel service) benefit with that. It’s one thing to get them to pick up the phone to call us, but how do we focus on keeping them? One of our biggest focuses right now is on the knowledge and expertise (of our advisors), those who can provide a level of knowledge consumers can’t get off the Internet.
Raschinna Findlay, Protravel Beverly Hills: Community outreach is really important to us. We have villages in Africa that we have been funding along with our clients, and when the Oklahoma tornado hit, (Protravel VP of marketing) Mickey Weill talked to all of our agencies and we were able to send clothing and anything that was needed to Oklahoma. He got a big rig and a driver and we sent them to Oklahoma to the Veterans Association there. From the beginning to end he took care of every part of it. Of course it led to our getting written up in newspapers, and we were able to get more clients because this is something that everyone loves to see.
Pictured: Enjoying a laugh: Maureen Callahan of Destination Hotels & Resorts with Suzanne Hall of Ensemble Travel.
We also became a host for Global Entry interviews when it was launched and we didn’t limit it to just our clients.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Are there any other outreach initiatives that you have found really effective in building new clients?
Tama Taylor Holve, Willett Travel: There’s nothing like a good affinity group. If you’re fortunate enough to get a pied piper who is really good and has the following, the results are just exponential. It can be extremely successful, and we got a lot of residual business, because you build a rapport with the clients. We have also found that radio advertising with one pied piper has been very successful for us.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: How do you see the trend of home-based travel professionals evolving?
Renee Hudson, American Express: It’s definitely something that is the way of the future, particularly for my organization. We have large call centers, but we have started to push a lot of people into a virtual environment. We will be shutting down, by the end of the year, all of our (owned) travel service offices. That’s definitely something that is going to continue to grow for us as an organization. One of the things that I’m tasked with is how do I take all of the engagement opportunities that we have, things that are face-to-face today, and make those virtual?
Suzanne Hall, Ensemble Travel: I think home-based is absolutely the future. There is a difference between an independent contractor and a true home-based agent but I do think that aligning with another entity really does help.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: How do you recommend hotels and/or brands communicate with and engage virtual agents most effectively?
Suzanne Hall, Ensemble Travel: If the agents that we know of are affiliated somehow, we go through that one source to help get down to the other layers. We get many of our suppliers to participate in their events or do one-on-ones and we facilitate that for them. For us, it’s really important to work very closely with one person who has the contact to all of those individual satellites. That is their business model.
Renee Hudson, American Express: We have tried to create numerous types of engagement opportunities, whether it’s phone, webinar, or video on demand. Among some of the other things that we highly encourage is for different hotels or airlines to host events in those larger markets where they can actually have one-on-one conversations, so you host an evening event.
Pictured: Catching Up with Friends: Jay Johnson of Coastline Travel Advisors, chats with Jamie Link of Wild Dunes and Ron Sandvig of Terranea.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: What are the best practices on familiarization trips, and how does it influence the decision-making process?
Katie Cadar, TravelStore: There’s nothing like firsthand experience. It’s absolutely the best and it definitely influences decisions, because if an agent comes back and they share that they had a great experience it filters through to the whole organization when they make a report on it.
I would like to see vendors put the request for the right agents through the managers first. It’s really difficult when I find out that an agent has been invited on a fam trip and I know that’s really not the right agent to take that trip. I’ve really been pushing for them to come and say, “I’d like to invite that person, do you approve it?”
Tama Taylor Holve, Willett Travel: I have found that some of the worst culprits—as the givers of fam trips—are the destination tourism offices, because it’s not their money. Often they have no clue as to what agency these people are with and they don’t have a clue as to what their production is. Vendors are a bit more cautious about who they invite, but not across the board. I myself am very frustrated by it and I don’t think that a fam trip should be a reward. I think it should go to someone else to learn about the destination.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: What have you seen in 2013 related to the lead time for booking?
Steve Orens, Plaza Travel: I surveyed our staff and they reported back that clients are booking further ahead for things they know are not as easy to get. It’s mixed, but we do still have a lot of people who book a month ahead of time for $10,000, $20,000, and $30,000 trips. They’ll say, “Hey, I want to go, if things look good I’m going to go.” When they look down and see they’ve got this five-day period in three weeks, they’re going to fill it. It’s all over the board, but I’d say the close-in bookings are for the smaller purchases and the long-term bookings are for the things that might get sold out.
Jay Johnson, Coastline Travel Advisors: I studied it, 25 percent of bookings are made for travel within 30 days; that was in 2012 and that’s actually now up to 35 percent. I don’t do a lot of short-term stuff, all my trips are all very complex, and so I’m doing things at 2016 already. The general rule is, the more complex, the further out, every time.
Dan Beschloss, Valerie Wilson Travel: I also sent the question out to a lot of our leisure folks to get good ground information. In 2013, the lead time for hotel bookings, especially for high season and festive season, has moved back to a more advanced booking time. Certain hot properties have to be reserved very far in advance or it’s difficult to clear space. Hotels that need to fill rooms or have short-term needs work closer with their preferred agencies in developing special packages or add-on amenities, such as booking upgrades.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: What recommendations do you have for properties looking to impact short-term-need dates?
Jay Johnson, Coastline Travel Advisors: It goes back to the bundling issue that we were talking about earlier. If you need help at the last minute, then look for things in your community that you can use to help promote your property. I’m seeing more companies and hotels promoting what’s around them, not so much what they have on the property. So it could be, for instance, a local festival or a sporting game. They are using those tools to get people to book at the last minute.
Steve Orens, Plaza Travel: That’s similar to not cutting the rates, but adding benefits and amenities. It takes away their credibility if they have to match rate.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Can this be done effectively without adversely affecting rate or branding integrity?
Pictured: Luxury Travel Trends: Ruthanne Terrero of Luxury Travel Advisor presents findings from past roundtables.
Dan Beschloss, Valerie Wilson Travel: The feedback I got on this was there is a negative impact when hotels discount rates on the Internet or through other vehicles. As a top brand, they lose their integrity and we advisors lose our integrity. Then there’s the frustration from advisors when they find out that a client who has booked in advance is paying more than the last-minute traveler who all of a sudden got his discount, even though it might not be apples-to-apples.
Steve Orens, Plaza Travel: Yes, it can be done; if they add benefits instead of discounting the rates, and send us the messaging first so we have the opportunity to reach out to our clients, then it can be done.
Tama Taylor Holve, Willett Travel: I want to add something that could be a benefit to your travel agency partners, or your preferred group. If the agency has an established client in-house, either upgrade them to a suite or give them the same package because they booked ahead. They should receive that benefit.
That’s what the cruise lines do. (Through Signature Travel Network) we now have a wonderful technology; if the cruise line comes out with a lower price then we’re notified as the booking agent. We can go to our client and we can say, “I can save you $200, but that’s not what I want you to do. I want you to upgrade [your accommodations with it].” You’re maintaining the integrity of the commission that you’re getting and the clients are able to spend the money and all is great.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: What’s the biggest trend you are seeing taking shape for leisure and/or high-end travel?
Raschinna Findlay, Protravel Beverly Hills: Multigenerational is continuing and it’s getting larger. Everyone wants to travel with their families now, at least once a year. Clients are booking 11 months or so out on big trips and that’s come back again; our clients are regularly leisure-booking further out, and the other trend is the exotic destinations, so it’s Myanmar and Bhutan. There’s been a huge rise especially in Bhutan; everyone wants to go.
Dan Beschloss, Valerie Wilson Travel: The general consensus was that more and more clients are looking for experiences within the hotel and not just “a room with a view.” Clients want to discover new destinations, so the repeat guest on the leisure side is fading away because people are constantly looking for the new destination.
Jay Johnson, Coastline Travel Advisors: I’m seeing hotels and companies promoting destinations, not so much the actual property itself. They’re using social media as a way to build a relationship with the consumer and the property at the destination. Ritz-Carlton and Foursquare are working together; when you go on Foursquare you can tap into a concierge who can tell you everything there is to know about that city; it’s not about the hotel itself but what there is to do in that city. It’s a great way for a hotel to be able to promote itself in a subtle way.
Suzanne Hall, Ensemble Travel: It’s not as difficult to fill a hotel when a major event is happening, the real key is to fill the hotel utilizing creative ideas when there isn’t as much going on. Hotels can create a happening to generate excitement outside of those major events.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: What does a leisure traveler of the future look like?
Katie Cadar, TravelStore: Aging baby boomers still want to continue on with their bucket list and do Bhutan and Myanmar. And they want to get there while they’re still in good health.
The other leisure traveler group would be millennials with plenty of money, and the way to reach out to them is through social media.
Jay Johnson, Coastline Travel Advisors: Millennials have money because they all live at home.
Tama Taylor-Holve, Willett Travel: My son is 36, my daughter-in-law is 32 and my grandson is two. For his second birthday they went to Costa Rica so that he could see monkeys in the wild. He’s two years old and he’s been to 14 states already. If there’s a destination wedding he goes. This is not uncommon; it’s the same with their friends. They work hard and play hard.
Suzanne Hall, Ensemble Travel: You’re going to see a lot more of learning journeys, couples with children who definitely want that educational component. They may go off and take a language course or tango lessons and while they’re doing that they’ll have their kids doing something for their special interests. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that.
Renee Hudson, American Express: More and more people need a reason to travel; whether it’s reconnecting with those they love, whether it’s a sport, whether it’s an event or for philanthropy, but they’re all looking for a reason to travel. I think the “flying and flop” has really gone away.
Pictured: Asking for Input: Skip James of Sunriver asks advisors for marketing solutions that work.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: We talked about the millennials and the baby boomers, how about Gen-X?
Steve Orens, Plaza Travel: Their kids are older, 18, 20, 22. We’re still doing a lot of big trips for those in our area where people have done well—they’re in real estate or entertainment. They’re spending a lot of money to go away, for example, first class to Australia, with their kids between the ages of 15 and 25 who are still at home.