WE'VE JUST WRAPPED UP OUR NINTH LUXURY TRAVEL EXPO, WHICH WAS ATTENDED BY NEARLY 4,000 TRAVEL AGENTS AND SUPPLIERS. One of the many aspects celebrated about Luxury Travel Expo is its educational seminars, and one of the best I attended this year was called "Luxury Hotel Trends: What's In? What's Out?," which was moderated by Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network, and attended by Paul McManus, president/CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World, and Anastasia Mann, CEO of Corniche Travel.
During the course of the discussion, Maza asked what clients expect when they enter a luxury hotel these days.
"The client's expectation is that they'll get a constant level of service throughout their stay," Mann replied. "It's about training, which can never stop. Even if you have a temporary employee in for just a short time, it can destroy the experience. Check-in can sour your taste; it can set the tone of your entire stay. It's the little things—it's the room service—those are the places where hotels tend to fall down."
That comment could apply just as easily to a travel agency trying to court an affluent clientele. There are so many instances where the level of service can falter, spurring clients to go elsewhere for their travel bookings. Think about it. Who answers your phones? Is it someone who is trained in customer service, or is it someone who considers this a chore they get stuck with?
I once worked for a company whose backup receptionist was so belligerent it was as if she were trying to pick a fight with everyone she encountered at the other end of the line. Her ultimate goal in getting through the call was to tell the person "no" in as many ways possible. Whenever I was off site and had to call into the office, I felt as if I needed therapy following every conversation I had with her. Does this occur in your office? If so, it's a virus that should be eradicated.
Dress to Impress
Are there other areas in which your customer service falters without your realizing it? How about the way the agents dress in your office? Running shoes don't belong anywhere near a corporate setting, nor do sweatpants, jeans or shirts that have logos or writing on them.
"Dress the part. I've seen travel agents who look like they're going to sweep out the garage," said Maureen Jones, president of All Horizons Travel, during her Luxury Travel Expo seminar, titled "Follow Your Passions and Profit! A Luxury Agent's Perspective on the Benefits of Becoming a Destination and Niche Market Specialist."
Jones, who has taken 39 destination specialist courses since becoming a travel agency owner 18 years ago, had other sage advice for attendees. "Join travel organizations, such as PATA, ASTA and ARTA, for networking. If I don't know the answer to something, I know who to call to get it."
She also recommends selling up at every opportunity. "Always suggest the suite. If they say it's more than they want to spend, go to the junior suite."
Don't be afraid to sell yourself, she advised. "Market yourself constantly. My goal is to give out six cards at every cocktail party."
Interact with your community and get involved with various organizations to raise your profile. "Join community groups. Volunteer to be on committees," Jones said.
And my favorite of all her tips? Know when a difficult client is simply not worth your time. "Don't be afraid to fire a client. If someone takes up a lot of your time, you'll find you are making 10 cents an hour!"
RUTHANNE TERRERO, CTC EDITORIAL DIRECTOR