Surprise and Delight

Awards of Excellence: I'm shown here with Hermann Elger, general manager of The St. Regis New York, who is accepting the award for Best Luxury Hotel in New York.

How did luxury travel become so electric over the past 15 years? It used to be all about the stuff in a hotel room and service that was haughty was, gasp, acceptable. Now, luxury travel suppliers and advisors are all about delighting their guests and their clients. They actually take the time to ponder how they can choreograph an experience that’s beyond memorable. Have you noticed that most people in this business walk around smiling most of the time? We’re all about pleasing others, endlessly.

The only drawback to all of this is that time actually is money. So where do you stop to ensure your profit margins are intact, that you’re not on some wild quest to wow a person, who, in reality, is a stranger who’s paying you money to do something nice for them?

The answer is for luxury travel advisors to work with fewer clients who deliver more profits. In other words, more high-yield clients, fewer of those who take your best energy and time, but book inexpensive trips.

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The majority of the advisors at our recently concluded Ultra Luxury Summit told us that working with more high-yield clients is exactly their goal and so we asked them how they’re executing this strategy. The top response was that they’re actually firing their low-yield clients and no longer accepting those of this ilk into their portfolio. Marketing specifically to that high-yield client was another logical way to achieve this result and one of my favorite responses was that they’re delegating that lower-yield client to newer travel advisors.

We launched Ultra, which was held in May at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando, as a collaborative event three years ago. Our desire was to bring together top advisors and suppliers to talk about their pain points and to have conversations so dynamic and inspiring that they’d leave the summit totally jazzed to go back home and sell more luxury travel in different and more insightful ways.

This year in Orlando, we also asked attendees to define what luxury travel actually is. Some focused on the nuts and bolts, the great hotel that recognizes an individual and seamless, hassle-free connectivity when it comes to transportation. “Maximizing the value of time of our high-end clients,” was one great response; “The art of designing and implementing a unique, personalized, upscale experience for the discerning client,” was another.

Perhaps the most insightful was this: “Luxury travel means many different things to people. The job of a travel advisor is to listen and give our clients what they believe is luxury travel, not what we believe is luxury travel.”

Which all comes back to delighting clients, not just with “stuff,” but with the act of listening, acknowledging an understanding of what’s being desired and then, of course, executing that beyond the clients’ dreams. That’s probably the most valuable service you can deliver.

At last year’s Ultra, Peter Yesawich of MMGY Global made it all sound so easy when the topic of delivering value came up.

“Value is the difference between the experience and the expectation,” said Yesawich. “When the experience exceeds the expectation, that’s good value. So, ask the client what the expectation is and then over deliver.”

Sounds logical, no? Most great ideas do. For more coverage of this year’s Ultra Luxury Summit, watch future issues and check out

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