Travel Agent's editorial director, Ruthanne Terrero, is on Hawaii's Big Island this week where she's covering Classic Marketing Partners Weekend and touring such properties as the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.
Classic Vacations is taking the challenges in the marketplace very seriously and, as a result, has put a number of strategies into play. The luxury FIT wholesaler, which is currently hosting its top-producing travel agencies at its annual Classic Marketing Partners Weekend on the Big Island of Hawaii, said that one of its newest programs allows travel agents to call Classic if they find a competitor with better pricing on a comparable product. Classic will then turn around a competitive analysis within two hours for the agent.
Classic's Million-Dollar Club
Additionally, Classic— which sells Hawaii and the South Pacific, Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico, Australia and New Zealand— will continue to place aggressive deals into the marketplace that combine hotel deals, airfare credits and travel agent bonus programs. For example, a current program for Hawaii offers generous value-adds from the local hotel market, up to $500 in airfare credits and an offer to travel agents to earn a $100 American Express gift card after five bookings. Greg Bernd, vice president of sales for Classic, said that that program has become the most successful in the company’s history. A similar offer for Europe was just launched and includes a $500 airfare credit for every five nights; meaning if the client travels for 10 nights, they’ll receive a $1,000 airfare credit. A program is also in the works for the Caribbean.
Tim MacDonald, president of Classic, said that the company will launch a booking engine for travel agents on its website in the first quarter of 2009. This is a capability that Classic’s top producers have been demanding for some time, said MacDonald. Right now, the only way for a travel agent to make a booking through Classic is by phone, he noted.
“This is something we've been behind the times on and we're so excited to have this new capability,” said MacDonald.
This major initiative for the company, which will streamline the booking process dramatically and save a great deal of time for both the supplier and its travel agent customers, has MacDonald optimistic for 2009. In fact, he is confident that the increased efficiency in the booking process will counter the tough times the entire travel industry is likely to face next year.
Times are indeed challenging. In Hawaii, overall visitation for the islands is down 25 percent. MacDonald noted that some of that downturn was spurred by the fact that Hawaii had become an extremely expensive value proposition and that, in some cases, consumers began going to Mexico instead. He noted that Hawaii room pricing had reached new record high rates and that airfares earlier this year were in the $1,000 range. Pricing on both hotels and air to Hawaii have come down recently and, for that reason, the destination will now become more of a value play for clients. MacDonald did warn though that it may take time for the perception of Hawaii as an expensive destination to change.
Other news that may help Hawaii tourism is the fact that the Mauna Kea on the Big Island is set to reopen in December; that property, which has been closed to undergo a $150 million refurbishment, is a long-time favorite of affluent consumers. The Princeville Resort on Kauai, meanwhile, is being rebranded as a St. Regis and will reopen early next year. The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki is set to open shortly after being closed for a $110 million refurbishment.
In the meantime, Classic Vacations will continue to enhance its customer service levels, said MacDonald. The company, which is already known for its top-level service, is focusing on continuously training its reservationists during this downturn.
“The culture of customer satisfaction is a number-one priority at Classic,” MacDonald told the luxury travel advisors at the Marketing Partners event. “Repeat business and referrals are the key to success for luxury travel agents. Delivery customer satisfaction is vital and Classic is dedicated to helping you with that.”
Classic will also launch a series of webinars for travel agents in 2009, to be presented by MacDonald and Bernd. “We will help you get through this time,” said MacDonald.
In other news, Classic announced that it is once again taking group bookings from travel agents. It had moved away from that practice but found that its agent customers were going to other suppliers who did provide the service; that discovery prompted the reinstatement of the program, said Bernd.
MacDonald pointed out to the audience that Classic now only works with hotels in the luxury segment, forgoing anything below the four-star level. He said that that decision was made because, historically, he has found that the vast majority of customer complaints are generated from hotels that are on the two- and three-star level. When working with such properties, “70 percent of the time is spent fixing those problems even though that level of hotels generates only 30 percent of the business,” he said.
agents will also find that Classic has modified the appearance of its
brochures. The new look, which features an elegant cover and larger
photos inside, was designed to create and aspirational feel to travel
to the places it is promoting. “Our hope is that travel agents will be
inspired to place these on their coffee tables and look at it as a
‘wish book’ for travel,” said MacDonald.