Selling the Luxury Market

Tips for Winning the Luxury Client

Don’t think with your own pocketbook. Just because you think something sounds extravagant, don’t be afraid to quote a price to your client. If a client asks you how much it costs to charter a private jet and you find out it’s $50,000, tell them that’s the price. Maybe they want to impress their friends. Maybe it’s their 30th birthday.

Dress the part. People feel comfortable doing business with people who remind them of themselves. They don’t want to hand over a $25,000 check to someone wearing jeans and sneakers. Dress as if you are a financial advisor or an attorney. Be sure everyone in your office does, too, or send them home.

Push experiences to them. Don’t assume a 68-year-old frequent cruiser doesn’t want to go whitewater rafting. They might have a “bucket list” of experiences they’ve always wanted to enjoy, but haven’t articulated to you.

Manage their trip portfolio. Interview them to find out what their wish list for travel entails and keep a file on them. Keep in touch with them and notify them when there’s a good time or opportunity to start pursuing one of their “wish-list” trips.

Keep them engaged—even after you’ve taken the deposit. The anticipation of the trip is sometimes the best part. E-mail them articles on the destinations they’ll be visiting. This keeps your relationship with them alive. You can even stay in touch with them during their trip via e-mail if they’re BlackBerry users.

Even in difficult economic times, there is a segment of the market that will always be looking for a luxurious vacation. Finding those prospects and selling them on a trip can mean big commissions for the agent and a potential long-term relationship with a recession-proof client. According to data released at the American Express Publishing Luxury Summit 2008, there are now more than 9 million people in the U.S. with a net worth of $1 million or more. And, like everyone else, those people need vacations.

One of the key things to remember is that there is no typical luxury consumer. They range in age, background and demographics. Many of today’s luxury consumers are from practical middle-class backgrounds. They want to spend money, but they want value. This is how they obtained their wealth to begin with. Give them value-added items such as breakfasts and transfers from the airport.

Who Has the Money?

It’s hard to tell just who the wealthy are these days. For the most part, the era of the ostentatious, wealthy traveler is gone. They are playing it down, being less conspicuous. Today’s young and wealthy person wants to appear “normal,” not arrogant and stuck-up—contrary to the images of the young, rich and out-of-control that we see in the tabloids.

Look at Generation Y. This group, born between 1983 and 1997, has grown up having access to what they want because they know how to get it cheap on eBay. They don’t hesitate getting something they want and they have tremendous buying power. Don’t assume because they are young, they don’t have money. Trying to “sell them down” to an all-inclusive or mass-market brand can be a costly error. These people are hedge-fund managers who want to spend $15,000 to $25,000 on a vacation.

Of course, what this means is that you might not always know who your prospective wealthy clients might be. You’ll have to dig a little deeper as you speak with them to find out if they are affluent travelers. How do you do this? Ask questions—find out where they spent their last trip. What is their preferred hotel brand and cruise ship brand?

Remember, these clients know a lot. They are on the Internet and they are also comparing notes with their peers. They will question you along the way. They’ll go online to compare hotels or they’ll get advice from their friends who have just returned from their vacation. They will call you to tell you what they have found out.

Rules of Engagement

People can buy virtually anything online, but they still choose to shop in stores because they enjoy the ritual of purchasing something expensive. Think of going to Tiffany’s or Cartier, of being greeted by name, being given a glass of champagne, sitting in a comfortable chair in a sophisticated environment. Who wouldn’t want to do that? This is what they are paying for.
And that is what luxury clients expect from their travel professional— to be kept engaged and involved in the process of planning the trip. If they can walk away excited every time they interact with you, you are providing them with value.