ULTRA Summit: Takeaways From the Educational Sessions

Ruthanne Terrero and Anne Morgan Scully ULTRA Summit 2017
Ruthanne Terrero and Anne Morgan Scully

The first official event of the 2017 ULTRA Summit, the preeminent event for the luxury travel market, was the "Welcome & Overview: A Look Inside Your Business."

The event included Ruthanne Terrero, vice president of content and editorial director for Luxury Travel Advisor, assessing the results of the survey completed by the attending advisors, keynote speaker Craig Compagnone, senior VP of business strategy for MMGY Global, conveying findings from the 2016-17 Portrait of American Travelers report, McLean Robbins, digital consultant and luxury travel advisor, Elite Travel International, discussing how to maximize impact on social media and how to market yourself, and Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, discussing how to help suppliers and advisors alike optimize their partnership.

Prior to ULTRA, Luxury Travel Advisor sent the attendees a comprehensive survey on who they're selling travel to, what destinations they're selling, and what type of travel they're selling. The findings found that the "sweet spot" for the advisors were individual leisure was the most important segment to advisors, followed by family groups, social groups, individual corporate, then meetings and incentives. Europe was the overwhelmingly most-sold destination among advisors with 53 percent of sales, while domestic travel coming in a distance second at 11 percent. Terrero speculated this could be due to numerous reasons: Zika virus, terrorism, or aging clients not wishing to travel far could all be reasons for increased travel within the U.S.

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In fact, 59 percent of attending advisors saw an increase in domestic travel.

However, it should be noted that the top 14 individual destinations represented four continents (with South America, Australia, and Antarctica unrepresented). This could mean that although some international travel has decreased, many travelers are still willing to go to a destination as long as there's a flight to get them there. Among the newest trends: bike tours, cooking classes/foodie travel, multigenerational travel, celebration travel, and villas/multi-bedroom.

The forecast for 2017 and beyond is looking good: 97 percent of advisors have recorded a spending increase of at least 5 percent this year when compared to 2016, and no advisor is selling an average vacation of less than $5,000. Among the biggest challenges that luxury advisors may face, however, is remaining relevant, communicating in a timely manner, the airline industry, and transitioning to selling to Millennials.

Attribution/Copyrights Paolo Galli

Compagnone followed Terrero to digest some of the information from MMGY Global's 2016-17 Portrait of American Travelers report. His main observation: "authenticity," which we put in quotes since it may mean something different to each person. 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.

A short film titled "My Mother's Motorcycle" had the message that the narrators grandfathers were in search of experiences, feelings, and enrichment, while the narrator was happy when he purchased a motorcycle. When he realized this, he said he lived in a fake reality, where he valued things over experiences. In the end he sold the motorcycle (to his mother; hence the name), and began a life inspired by his grandfathers. Compagnone translated this to the travel industry. Luxury travelers are in search of enrichment: they want to learn something when they travel.

He also noted the key market of the immediate future: HENRYs, or High Earners, Not Rich Yet. The average age of this group is 31 and their average income is $350,000. Fifty-eight percent of affluent travelers using advisors fall into this category. By sub-dividing a group (say, Millennials), Compagnone and MMGY was able to find the exact market that advisors should be marketing towards. (While he, overall, argued Millennials are a key segment in travel, he felt that over-categorizations like this can be misleading.)

Additionally, Compagnone set out to divide luxury travelers and affluent travelers. In essence: luxury travelers travel more than affluent travelers, and luxury travelers use advisors 33 percent of the time, compared to just 15 for affluent travelers. When you combine this with the fact that 58 percent of business travelers wish to extend their stays for leisure (with 77 percent of Millennials adding leisure time to business trips), it's easy to figure out where the potential lies in the industry. Compagnone used the term "bleisure" for this travel.

Attribution/Copyrights Paolo Galli

McLean Robbins followed with a talk about social media and content marketing. Her primary point: every post, tweet, photo, blog, etc. must tell a story, and that story must be consistent across all channels. However, the voice and the point of the story may vary from medium to medium.

According to Robbins, storytelling has four roles: the way we feel, think, act, and behave. In order, a story should: cause an emotional investment, pique and hold the audience's interest, bring additional energy to the overall message, and cause the audience to take action. In other words, the Instagram post of you on the beach with a coconut cocktail in hand is meant to open the door (how the audience feels and acts), and then you complete the sale by explaining the story and getting your clients to want the same. She notes there is a difference in the way you post: brand accounts must have a point, while personal accounts can have more fluidity but still reinforce the story being told on the brand account.

It's also very important to know your audience. By knowing the exact people you're speaking to, and not just a population of people, you can better tailor your posts and stories. Robbins brought up the old PC versus Mac commercials, where PCs were old and stuffy while Macs were hip and cool. According to Robbins, both are good, as long as that's the audience you're selling for. 

Among the top luxury brands in the digital market, they've all made it their primary focus. The brands have put an emphasis on social media and mobile compatibility. Individuals and agencies have been succeeding with app features like city guides and insider experience blogs. Each post made online must be "snackable," as Robbins called it. The average human has an eight-second attention span and sees over 3,000 brands per day. She stated that 65 percent of people are visual learners, making that photo you posted on Instagram all the more important.

Robbins said advisors' online presence must also be conversational: remember to share partner posts. Some of her final points for a successful campaign are to be timely, share often, utilize hashtags, engage in conversations, tag the brand on all personal accounts, and use tracking data.

The morning's events concluded with Anne Morgan Scully discussing how advisors and suppliers can work more in unison. With every point that a supplier makes at a meeting, they should be asking the advisors "Can you think of a client that would be good for this?" If the supplier and the agent aren't a good fit, it can be a waste of both sides' times, making it crucial to communicate before and during the meetings to make sure that you can benefit from each other. 

Scully called agencies "treasure chests" for suppliers so it's important for the advisors to prep their suppliers on what their needs are. Working smarter, not harder, was her reaction. "How can we make the most of our time together?" Scully asked.

Terrero joined Scully on stage for an open conversation with the suppliers and advisors in attendance. 

Some notes from the crowd were:

  • Longer one-on-one meetings would be useful
  • Finding the right advisor at each agency to meet with is more important than just meeting with one that the supplier may have the best relationship with
  • Suppliers who do meet with large groups must treat the agency the way advisors treat a family vacation, and find something that makes everyone happy 
  • "Relocation trips" could be the new FAM trip, where trips include both weekend days and/or include half days so that way attendees can get work done while traveling
  • Suppliers should reach out to hotel/company support staff regarding advisor meetings to complete the relationship between the brand and the advisor 
  • Meeting with competitors can be a good thing

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