Ignacio Maza, the executive vice president of the Signature Travel Network, gave a terrific presentation on luxury travel to member advisors at an educational forum in New York recently. Maza, always a dynamic speaker, was especially on point in noting how luxury travelers have changed over the past few decades. In the ’70s or ’80s, he said, their wealth would be apparent, perhaps driving to their travel agent’s office in a Cadillac, dressed in very bespoke clothing, to book a vacation to Capri or St. Barts. Today, it’s much different. If the agent meets the affluent client at all, they could easily be dressed in ripped jeans and a T-shirt as they drop $30,000 to stay in an over-the-water bungalow in a tropical destination. Along those lines, a wealthy client could spend their morning at Costco to save 20 cents on the cost of paper towels and then drop a lot of money on an extremely expensive lunch later that day, said Maza. “Clients are taking JetBlue to the Turks and Caicos to stay at Parrot Cay,” he said, in amazement.
Despite the conundrum of understanding this new traveler with such disparate characteristics, Maza told his audience that selling luxury travel is the place to be right now because the number of affluent consumers is increasing and, because many of them have all of the possessions they want (think multiple cars and houses), travel is increasingly important to them. And, more than ever, they want to come home from their vacations changed in a positive way through their experiences. “We have to be ready to serve that up to them,” said Maza.
Other key elements luxury travelers are seeking include exclusivity (consider the allure of the blue Tiffany box), a sense of place, access (perhaps the ability to tour a museum after the crowds have gone), and, of course, a meaningful experience. Celebration travel has grown exponentially, said Maza, noting with humor that an eighth grader graduating middle school might once have been given a slap on the back as congratulations, but these days it’s possible that same teenager could be taken to Africa on safari with a very large group of friends and family to pay tribute to his astonishing accomplishment.
Having studied the habits of several successful travel advisors within the Signature Network, Maza shared several of their tips. These included acknowledging that there are no shortcuts when it comes to selling luxury travel, and also owning up to the fact that you will be tested again and again and again by your wealthy clients. For that reason, he suggested advisors stop working with those people who continually ask questions and take up your time, but never buy.
Another sage piece of advice? Don’t just say a destination is “nice,” when a client asks about it. “You need to be able to tell the story of that cruise, of that hotel or that small lodge in New Zealand. We are storytellers,” said Maza.
Among his many other tips was that you must know everything about your best customers. He suggested determining who is on the top 20 percent of your client list and then taking the time to really get to know these people well, so that you can plan the intimate details of their vacation. The best takeaway? Learn what they don’t like and what their pain points are, so you can troubleshoot for them ahead of time, then be sure to let them know that you’ve done so.