Written By: Scott Koepf, Vice President of Strategic Development – Cruise Planners
“The affluent buy people, not products. They like dealing with their own type (confident), require thoroughly thought out plans, itineraries and research, require you to take care of all of the details but do not want to hear about them.”
– Jeff Gordon, The Gordon Group, Florida
Many Travel Advisors aspire to specialize in luxury travel, or at the very least to sell more luxury travel. However, I suggest you change your focus from specializing in luxury travel to instead specializing in the luxury traveler! The key to success in this part of the business is knowing your client and providing a much higher level of personal service. But before providing specific suggestions on how to do that, let’s look at the term Luxury a bit more in-depth.
What exactly is luxury? Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, it has become an overused word in the travel industry and may have lost some of its luster. That does not mean less people are looking for it, indeed quite the opposite is true. We should not put our own definition on it, but each customer’s definition instead. More people are aspiring to travel in luxury and there are more customers who can afford to than ever before. They will all tell you they want luxury, but what does that mean? For example, a client who is on a strict budget and needs an inside cabin on a mass market ship is looking for, and in their opinion, will experience a luxury vacation. This may offend some upper crusts who want to stake a claim to the word, but luxury is defined by the recipient based on their individual expectations. This mass market cruise is going to have meals served, dishes done, and beds made for a week – luxury to many people (like me) without a doubt!
So, if almost all travel can be luxury, is it therefore luxury? No, it is only luxury if it met or exceeded that client’s perception of luxury. But as we all know those perceptions can be very different for each customer.
We tend to separate products into convenient categories to help us differentiate and categorize them. While that can be beneficial from a product knowledge perspective, I believe the labels themselves are misleading. For example, for cruise ship product knowledge the following categories are commonly used:
• Mass Market/Contemporary
• Upper Premium/Deluxe
Twenty years ago, this was a neat and tidy list and almost every ship and/or cruise line fit in the proper slot with clear differences between each level. Not anymore. Today the budget category has virtually disappeared. It is not that cruises are not available at budget prices any more, the value and actual cost is better than ever. However, it used to be the budget category had all of the really old ships and they undercut the mass market prices. Most old ships are gone because a twenty-year-old ship is now considered too old and the economics (fuel, crew, berths) of the new ships eliminated the ability to undercut prices. The lines between every category level have become fuzzy as there are constant improvements at each level. A recent travel agent survey asked luxury agents who they would rank as top luxury suppliers, and this is the result for Ocean, River and Land:
There are certainly surprises here but it just indicates that defining luxury is subjective and that many suppliers can provide a luxury experience. In that same survey it was also interesting to note that over 80% of the customers who purchased luxury products also purchased Contemporary or Mass Market products at different times.
No group of travel advisors could sit in a room and agree on which suppliers go into each category, just like no group of consumers could agree on what constitutes luxury. Your job is not to determine which product is deluxe or luxury, but to determine what luxury means to your clients and then deliver it. Simple? Sort of.
Qualifying and building a relationship with your clients is basic Sales 101 and every good advisor should have a list of questions to ask every client to make sure they can provide the perfect solution for each client. However, the more discriminating client is going to require more time, more questions and more knowledge from you. You do not have to exclusively specialize in selling the top end products (notice I didn’t write luxury products) to sell them, you just need to commit to those three things (time, questions, and knowledge) as you qualify the client. You may eventually decide to focus on the discriminating client (once again, not luxury client), but remember that it requires a real commitment. If you look at the best Travel Advisors in this sector they did not just wake up one day and have 50, 100 or 200 clients spending large sums of money on travel with them. They built their clientele one at a time over a long period of time and grew their business by word of mouth. The line used by suppliers of “our commissions have comas in them” is certainly appealing, but it should be followed by “if you are willing to make the commitment to earn them!” If the client’s expectations of a supplier’s products are high, then their expectations of their Travel Advisor are even higher.
“As consumers go up, they pay less for what you do and more for who you are.” – Dan Kennedy, Marketing to the Affluent
If you are ready and willing to sell the best of the best, then you need to start by making yourself the best of the best. And what will that take? The three things I noted earlier: Time, Questions and Knowledge (of clients and products). If this is your passion then you can sell. . . oh alright, just this once. . . LUXURY TRAVEL!