Guided Vacations for the Luxury Market

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Luxury travel is hot. The sector already accounts for as much as 20 percent of all global travel spending, according to World Travel Monitor figures. And the outlook is bright for travel agents selling luxury travel: According to Travel Leaders Group luxury travel advisors who participated in the 2017 Fall Travel Trends Survey, the vast majority (92.6 percent) say their luxury travel bookings are higher than or on par with the previous year.

And there’s even more reason for travel agents to woo this lucrative market: ILHA estimates that luxury travelers spend as much as six times more on trips than other travelers and take 5.6 trips a year, compared to 3 a year for average travelers.

Still, today’s luxury traveler is not the same as previous generations. They’re looking for something different. The need for high levels of service is a given. And they still want to see the most famous international sites. However, it goes beyond simply seeing these destinations and sites—they want to experience them at a personal level. In fact, according to Virtuoso’s 2018 Luxe Report, one of the top trends for luxury travelers is the desire to be a traveler, not a tourist, to enjoy authentic immersive experiences that they can’t find in a guidebook—and that they can’t create themselves.

Enter luxury guided vacations.

“Well-traveled, high-end clients want access to places and people behind doors that are normally closed,” says Susan Reder, managing partner of Frosch Classic Cruise & Travel in Woodland Hills, California. “They also want flexibility, special treatment and door-to-door service, which is why I like matching them with a luxury guided vacation. This style of travel is hassle-free and a beautiful vacation—my clients come back raving about how much they love it.”

Exclusive Experiences

So if exclusive, authentic experiences and personal fulfillment—along with ease of planning and traveling—are the ultimate luxury, what does this mean for your business and your high-end clientele?

Luxury guided vacations offer an end-to-end experience for the client that includes flexible dining options, deluxe transportation, accommodations in top hotels and plenty of free time so that guests feel relaxed, rather than rushed. With the smaller group sizes of luxury guided vacations, travelers are able to enjoy the camaraderie that comes with traveling alongside likeminded people from around the world.

Perhaps most importantly, luxury guided vacations also feature one-of-a-kind experiences that clients simply can’t find on their own—and that even travel agents can’t arrange with a standard FIT package. From dining with a French count at one of Paris’ oldest and most authentic cafes to shucking fresh oysters with an oyster farmer along the coast of Croatia, guided vacations foster real-life connections and a chance to gain insights not otherwise available. This is true, whether the experience is as carefree as learning how to make homemade pasta in Tuscany or as heartfelt as hearing personal stories from a survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

Tootie Bonacorso, a travel and group consultant with Pearson’s Travel World, a member of Virtuoso, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, finds that luxury guided vacations give her clients the level of personal attention, exclusive access and in-destination expertise that lead to high customer satisfaction and repeat business. The key to her success is qualifying the client and properly positioning the right guided vacation for that particular guest.

Bonacorso lays it all on the line for her luxury clients. “If the traveler wants their own agenda, can handle the stress of the language barrier, can deal with the pressures of how to get from one place to another, doesn’t mind waiting in long lines for attractions and doesn’t believe the location of their hotel is particularly important, then yes, independent travel is for them,” she says.

Quite simply, she says, “The pros of a luxury guided vacation far outweigh that of an FIT.”

What if clients aren’t aware of the advantages of luxury guided vacations? Oftentimes, it comes down to introducing the concept to clients and addressing misconceptions about this style of travel with anyone who is unsure if it’s a good fit for them.

“The best way to get your clients on board with a luxury guided vacation is to show them how this style of travel is the best value and a truly unforgettable journey,” says Bonacorso. “Luxury guided vacations offer VIP experiences with local historians, accommodations in five-star hotels that are outstanding and centrally located, meals in Michelin-rated restaurants and their own concierge who is available throughout the trip.”

Forget about spending hours researching the finest hotels in the right locations, trying to secure a booking on preferred dates and arranging transportation from point A to B. Travel advisors can best show their true value to high-end clients by exploring exactly what guests are trying to get out of the trip and researching various luxury guided vacation itineraries to find the best match.

“We know that the luxury traveler is looking for personal enrichment, new destinations and authentic experiences, so what a consultant can do is find those components in a guided itinerary and really emphasize them to clients,” says Phil Cappelli, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold. “Show clients how luxury guided vacations blend guided and independent travel, with the camaraderie of traveling with likeminded people.”

Boosting Sales

Luxury guided vacations are not only an excellent option for the discerning traveler—they can also be an extraordinary source of income for travel advisors. Rather than booking with multiple hotels, day tour providers, transportation services and other suppliers, a travel consultant has the ease of making a single high-value transaction with a guided vacation provider. There’s no need to chase down dozens of commission checks, and agents have peace of mind knowing that every detail of the trip has been vetted and evaluated by experts, many of whom have decades of experience in the region.

“I like selling luxury guided vacations because they are so easy,” said Reder of Frosch. “FITs are very time-consuming, whereas selling a guided vacation is a seamless way of doing business, and it’s all put together for you. You do a deposit, a final payment and you’re done.

Within this growing segment of the industry, commission structures are competitive, and individual commission checks can be quite large due to high price tag of the trips. “An average commission check for a two-person booking with Luxury Gold is between $1,600 and $1,800,” says Cappelli.

Another advantage to selling guided vacations: Once a client tries the luxury guided product for the first time, odds are good they will want to continue to travel this way. According to Cappelli, both Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold have repeat rates of nearly 50 percent.

Bonacorso reports a boost in sales from selling guided vacations. She’s building her business with repeat customers, as well as referrals who want to try luxury guided vacations for the first time. “I find that clients have such an amazing experience that they often book another luxury guided vacation in the future,” she says. “Most of the time, clients tell all their friends what an unforgettable time they experienced, and then, these friends will call to book, too.”

Ulla Hefel Böhler, CEO of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, also notes that “There is significant cross-sell potential with your ocean and river cruise clientele, who are perfectly suited for guided vacations. Agents can harness this opportunity to capture travelers who alternate among multiple travel styles.”

With competitive commissions on high-value bookings, repeat clientele and hassle-free trip planning, luxury guided vacations are just the ticket to growing your business substantially and swiftly in 2018.

Courtesy Travel Weekly

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