We’ve just concluded our fifth annual Ultra luxury conference. The event, held at The Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC, drew top luxury travel advisors and suppliers for two and a half days of thought leadership, networking and one-to-one meetings. Here are some key discoveries we made.

  1. Domestic travel continues to rise: Ever since we started polling attending advisors prior to the conference, they’ve told us they’re selling more luxury travel within the United States. In the past, it was because an aging clientele preferred to travel closer to home and didn’t want to take overnight flights. Most recently, domestic travel has benefitted from Zika and terrorism concerns. This year, California, Arizona, the National Parks, Miami, and Charleston, SC, have seen healthy upticks.
  2. Overall, the top destinations Ultra advisors are selling include Italy, France, South Africa, Mexico, England, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Hawaii.
  3. Iceland, Portugal and Japan were the top three new destinations that are becoming mainstream with affluent travelers. Other new top spots include Croatia, Cuba, Ireland, Puglia (Italy), Colombia, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
  4. The majority of Ultra advisors have clients in the 50-75-year-old range, however, they’re finding these clients want to be more active on their vacations. Advisors are “activating” itineraries with cooking classes and walking and/or biking tours. They’re also changing up trips by including city stays and country soujourns in one itinerary so their clients can enjoy outdoor activities.
  5. The desire to meet with experts on a dedicated subject matter continues to grow with the affluent crowd. They’re no longer merely seeking antique experts; they want to chat with someone who’s immersed in antique snuff boxes. Not just wines and wineries, but detailed histories of the Langhe region and vintner lineages. As a result, knowing the right DMC to source experts over generalists is critical.
  6. Instead of “the best” restaurant, clients are asking for experiences that are more authentic. They want that great bistro in Paris instead of the three-star Michelin restaurant. The same goes for touring; they want to experience something that matches their passions that they can’t get at home.
  7. Challenges for the future include aging clientele, an aging workforce and dealing with customers who want answers immediately via text.
  8. Have you heard of HENRY’s? These are “High Earners, Not Rich Yet” folks who comprise 58 percent of affluent travelers using travel advisors, according to Craig Compagnone, SVP of business strategy for MMGY Global, who presented the keynote at Ultra. The average age of this group is 31 and their average income is $350,000. As for the affluent consumer seeking “authenticity” these days, Compagnone noted that “authentic” means different things to different people. Perhaps the concept of “place” would suit well, as the destination and experiencing local life is important, but travelers still want to return to luxurious hotels and a bed they enjoy sleeping in, he told the audience.
  9. Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, led a discussion on how advisors can work better with suppliers. She said she is now working with suppliers visiting her agency’s office to ensure they are truly “selling” to her advisors by consistently asking if they have specific clients their products would be appropriate for. Scully noted that if an agency has all of its advisors attending a supplier meeting, that’s a tremendous amount of time they’re taking out of their week, so these meetings must produce sales results.
  10. Advisors in the audience also pointed out their preferences for supplier meetings. One suggested that longer one-on-one get-togethers would be useful and that if a supplier does visit an agency, they should make sure the home office knows what was discussed in case the agent calls with questions. Another advisor suggested replacing the phrase “fam trip” with “relocation trip” and for the trip’s host to provide advisors with a few hours each afternoon to retreat to their rooms to work.

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