Luxury travel advisors have always played a large role in travel decision-making for HNWI and UHNWIs. But in a world where health and safety is expected to be paramount, their role is even more critical as travellers look for first-hand assurance on aspects of their trip.
It helps to have an expert
Travel advisors were on the frontline when the pandemic struck and border closures and cancelled flights caused chaos. Travellers who’d gone solo and booked their own trips via the internet were left to sort out the confusion themselves. But those who had engaged an advisor had an expert in their corner to work through the perplexing logistics.
“We were there to help our clients with refunds, getting them home, and navigating all those things,” says Brent Wallace, director of Mr Wallace Travel and SmartFlyer Australia, a group of 40 home-based advisors. “The airlines were changing rules and regulations and refund terms daily. No one really knew what was going on.”
It’s who you know
One of the key trends coming through during the pandemic is that luxury travellers are suddenly vitally interested in the health credentials of a destination, says Michael Londregan, Managing Director of Virtuoso, APAC. This has never been a global concern before in this market.
When clients work with a Virtuoso advisor, they’re working with a community that has $30 billion in transactions a year, so advisors can leverage this influence with suppliers, he says. “If you work with a travel agent, you’re getting the advantage of multiple value points. If they have 15 clients going to Hawaii each month, they’re getting 15 times the amount of feedback of what product is great.” When clients are concerned with health and safety, the quality of on– the– ground intelligence is more valuable than ever.
Tell a story with your clients
Quentin Desurmont is founder of travel industry disruptor Traveller Made, a consortium of more than 400 luxury travel designers across 70 countries that caters to the very high end of the meta-luxury travel market. Having worked for French luxury brands before starting the agency ten years ago, Desurmont focuses on brand storytelling to create the ‘wow’ for discerning and much-travelled clients.
“In travel we all talk about service, quality,” he says. “But very few brands have the ability to really tell a story, to talk about the emotion. Selling the plane and the hotel is the backbone of the trip, it is only the beginning. We don’t make money with that and the clients don’t come back with stars in their eyes. They come back with stars in their eyes when we have organised a story, when we have organised something where they all have goosebumps.”
5 key areas of expertise
Traveller Made advisors have five key areas of expertise that are invaluable in these difficult times, he says. The first is the business model of having fewer clients, which enables a closer working relationship with each traveller. The second is that the advisors spend more than six months on average travelling and scouting the world, on research and development.
Third, they spend a considerable amount of time with their clients, listening to their needs, observing their habits, even to the point of visiting them at home.
And fourth, personal relationships with GMs and directors of sales and marketing around the world allow them to create bespoke experiences for their clients. He says the GMs love to hear the background stories of their guests. “If you’re a good hotelier there’s only one thing you want to do, and that makes wonders for the clients of your clients.”
Finally, crisis management is the agency’s fifth centre of expertise, and arguably the most important right now. “We find solutions because the embassy’s closed because Air France is closed, we are here. I rent some of my client’s satellite phones each time they travel because their impact on the economy is so big, they need to be reachable at any time.”
A changing and confusing landscape will still be with us for a while, but luxury advisors are emerging with renewed confidence in their own skills and in the value of their service.
“The optics on this are fantastic for us,” says Brent Wallace. “People will be seeking out the professional agents who have been around for a long while and, have the experience because I think we’ve proven our value.”