Luxury Summit 2008: Use the Recession to Differentiate Yourself

Luxury Summit 2008 panel.

Luxury Summit 2008 panel. From left to right: Jane Wells, CNBC business news reporter; Emmanuel Perrin, Van Cleef & Arpels CEO & president of Americas; Judith E. Murphy, Departures and Black Ink vice president/associate publisher; Suzanne Hader, 400twin principal; Liz Dunn, Thomas Weisel Partners managing director; Moderator Donald Strazheim, vice chairman of Roth Capital Partners in Los Angeles, former global chief economist at Merrill Lynch in New York City, a contributing columnist for and a visiting scholar at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Travel Agent attended Luxury Summit 2008 in Beverly Hills earlier this month, in the hope that we could glean some insights to help agents navigate through the troubled waters of a bleak economic forecast. An impressive panel of experts weighed in on the outlook for the luxury market, as well as the latest trends, forecasts and strategies in luxury consumerism, in the areas of retail, investment, hospitality and travel. Most of the session focused on consumerism, although by examining the panel’s comments with an eye towards travel, it was possible to get some clues as to how travel agents can actually take advantage of what many are calling the upcoming recession.

The Upside to Recession
“Tough times can present opportunities,” said Emmanuel Perrin, Van Cleef & Arpels CEO & president of Americas. “A recession is a great opportunity to make a difference against your competition. True luxury brands can establish themselves. Creativity is key to weathering the recession.”

Perrin noted that no matter what the economic situation, with ultra-luxury goods it’s important to sell not just the product but also an experience and to customize that in a way that connects intimately with your customers.

“The luxury customer is a little more insulated than the rest of those out there,” said Liz Dunn, managing director for Thomas Weisel Partners. “This year, we’ll no doubt see retailers that cater to ‘accessible’ and ‘aspirational’ luxury consumers shift their strategies; on the one hand, [they’ll] introduce more value into their offerings while also looking at ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors through customer service and unique assortments.” Touched on more than once were the new definitions and categories of “luxury,” from “accessible” and “aspirational” luxury to “ultra luxury,” and how to successfully market to the increasingly sophisticated luxury consumer.

“We’re not going to see the top end of the market affected immediately, although the aspirational customer on the edge of the luxury market is pulling back from luxury purchases—they’re recoiling,” said Suzanne Hader of 400twin.
Hader added that the true luxury client is looking for quality, value and service, and that they don’t want to be part of a broad marketing message.

“If you have the budget for market research, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck,” she said. “You want to know your customer better than your competition. You want to make your strongest branding statement, saying, ‘We’re a luxury brand.’ Your brand becomes the hook that gets your customer in. Service is what keeps them. The trust aspect is a serious issue for this customer.”

Judith E. Murphy, Departures and Black Ink vice president/
associate publisher, echoed this when she said, “The new wealth is all about the trust factor.”

In this age of specialization and market specificity for travel agencies, a comment by Dunn about retail luxury companies had special meaning for agents.
“The company that goes wrong is the one that lets its iconic product go everywhere instead of being exclusive,” said Dunn.


More From California
ANAHEIM, CA—For those travelers in California who aren’t attending conferences, Disneyland Resort and Alaska Airlines have a “Kids Fly Free” vacation package, which is valid through September 28, 2008.
The Walt Disney Travel Company is offering children from the age of 2 to 11 the opportunity to fly free on Alaska Airlines from major cities in the west when travel is in conjunction with its Southern California vacation packages. Travel must be booked 30 days prior to arrival or by May 31.
The offer may also be combined with Disneyland Resort’s “5-for-3 and fourth night free” vacation package. This package provides five days at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure for the price of three, as well as a fourth night free at selected Anaheim-area Good Neighbor hotels. For information, call 800-854-3104.       


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