Tapping into the luxury sector can pay off for agents, but how do you start appealing to that slice of the market? Charlotte Cullinan asks five luxury specialists for their advice
Tending to the travel needs of high-net-worth clients can be incredibly lucrative, with big ticket bookings bringing in more revenue and commission.
All the statistics show that it’s a sector worth investing in. Global luxury travel network Virtuoso’s international agents generated $23.7 billion in sales in 2017, up year-on-year from $21.2 billion.
At The Global Travel Group, luxury travel was trading 18% up for the year ending September 2018, while in the last 12 months Travel Counsellors has seen triple-digit growth in demand for its in-house, tailor-made and experiential booking service for luxury holidays.
But if you’re new to luxury, where do you start, and how do you get those juicy bookings? Here, five luxury agents share their insider tips.
We made a conscious decision six years ago to step away from bucket-and-spade deals and focus on luxury. Now, it accounts for around 80-90% of our business, and we do a lot of tailor-made holidays, intrepid travel and luxury cruises.
We started by socialising with the right suppliers, and going to more luxury events. We’d talk about it on social media or in passing, and saying we were with an operator in The Ivy the night before made it sound like we meant business. With the supplier support came marketing spend, and we started going on more fam trips and arranging events with them.
Our whole business image needed to represent luxury, so we rebranded and launched our Travel by Appointment Lounge, which was designed and opened by Changing Rooms presenter Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
Networking is key with luxury travel. We’re based in a very affluent village, and the majority of clients live within 30 miles.
We support local events and businesses heavily, which helps to attract clients. Our sporting pastimes also help. I’m a member of the local golf club, and travel conversations are often sparked in the clubhouse, where we host numerous events.
I’d advise other agents looking to make a similar move to have a clear idea of where they want to be, and the steps they need to take to get there. For us, it was a bold move, and it didn’t happen overnight, but it’s paid off.
For me, it’s key to build connections to enrich my clients’ possibilities. Over my 10 years in travel I’ve made fantastic relationships with hoteliers, operators and ground agents, and can offer experiences that aren’t available via more traditional routes.
This has included afternoon tea with royalty in India and a private samurai sword lesson in Japan with the lead choreographer from the Kill Bill movies.
Once customers confirm their booking, I can arrange restaurants and excursions, assist with visas or check them in for flights, so everything is taken care of.
I regularly post inspirational ideas or exclusive special offers on social media, which has led to many new high-net-worth clients and even celebrities. Word-of-mouth has also grown my database. By offering that high level of service, clients tell their friends and family or post a thank you on social media.
I’ve been lucky enough to win a couple of awards, which builds clients’ trust, and I’ve been able to grow my celebrity branding through those I’ve met or who have travelled with me, which increases the confidence in others looking to book with me.
Often, it’s not about the money with luxury clients. Yes, they want value for money, but they want to be pitched to at the right level, as they know about the finer things in life. So it’s about perhaps putting in an extra experience for them – something they’re not expecting but one we think they’d like.
The thing that sets us apart is who we know. All agents have great tour operator partners, but we have extensive connections with hoteliers, so we can call a general manager and say our client needs feather pillows, or needs to have all alcohol stripped from the room because they’re a recovering alcoholic. It’s about knowing the client, where they are travelling, what they will need, and having the insider links. That’s what takes you to the next level with ultra-high-net-worth individuals. It’s about unlocking doors.
To retain luxury clients it’s important to ensure nothing goes wrong and, if it does, to sort it out in a timely way. It’s also about contact, so when they are back we get in touch to see how their trip was and what they’re thinking about next. If they like to do something every year, we’ll hold flights as soon as they are released and let them know. It’s about thinking ahead for them.
Currently, 35% of our business is luxury travel. We host a client event once a month, and two a year will be ultra-luxury ones, often with cruise lines. We held an afternoon tea withn AmaWaterways in our lounge, which is above the store. It worked really well and we got quite a few bookings as a result.
Lead-in time on luxury bookings from an event will always be longer, and can be months. Often, luxury clients don’t want events focused on destination talks, they tend to need a different approach. We find they prefer an afternoon tea, or an experience. Next year, we will do more hospitality-themed events, such as getting tickets to the theatre, or sporting events, so we can spend more individual time with luxury clients.
They definitely prefer smaller group numbers and being with like-minded people. We’ll often invite existing clients and ask if they’d like to bring along two friends, as they often feel more comfortable doing that, and we’re less likely to get no-shows.
We’ve been offering appointments for 18 months, but last December we did a complete shop refit and opened two lounges for luxury and cruise appointments, plus a reception desk.
Before an appointment, we’ll speak to a customer and determine their needs. If someone wants two weeks in Benidorm, any of us can do it in the shop, but if they want to explore Machu Picchu, or to sail out of Phuket with Star Clippers, we’ll put a date in the diary for an appointment. The client can sit with a specialist and spend as long as they want, to make it really special.
We’ve had a 100% conversion rate. Luxury customers are looking for something niche, know their budget, and want someone to look after their booking, and we’ll do our research before they come for their appointment.
They’ll always deal with the same member of the team and customers absolutely love it. We’ve had lots of word-of- mouth recommendations and people see us as a specialist now.