ACTA Summit: The Power Of Specialization – How To Earn More & Work Less

As travel returns, leisure and luxury lead the way, robbing more than two years of vacation time from Canadians eager to get back out there.

You are ready to go. Are you ready to help them on their journey?

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At a breakout session of the 2022 ACTA Eastern Canada Travel Industry Summit, a panel of experienced luxury sellers offered advice on identifying and nurturing luxury clientele. It’s a specialization that, if executed successfully, can result in higher earnings with less work.

The panel was moderated by Denise Harper, who recently joined the Virtuoso luxury travel network in a Partner Relations role. The panelists were Carla Brake, Director of Business Development, Avalon Waterways, Beverly Vickers, Director Sales & Marketing, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Aida Silva, EVP Cruise Sales and Supplier Relations, Tully Luxury Travel.

A perennial theme in luxury selling is the stumbling block of travel agents struggling to sell something they couldn’t afford themselves.

“The sticker shock is still happening. You have to get over it,” Vickers said. “Don’t spend what you have in your wallet. Spend what is in them.”

A compelling example of this came from a consultant in the audience who booked a family in an inside cabin on Disney Cruise Line. The customer called and asked how much it would cost for a one bedroom concierge category.

“Sit down,” said the counselor. “It’s $35,000.” “We’ll take it,” said the customer.

Despite a successful sale and an ongoing relationship, the flaw in the counselor’s approach was to ask if she would sit down. “Just put the price and shut up,” Vickers said.

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Silva, who worked for the company originally founded by Mary Jean Tully as The Cruise Professionals for 32 years, says she always remembers a piece of wisdom she learned from Larry Pimentel, a well-known cruise industry executive.

“You can spend $1,000 on a vacation and feel like you’ve wasted $1,000. Or you spend $2,000 and feel like you have the time of your life.”

“Luxury travel is an investment,” said Silva. “They don’t remember what they paid when they come back. And luxury providers offer amazing experiences that are completely stress-free.”

Selling luxury requires knowledge and experience. But you can learn it.

“You have to invest in yourself by investing in the luxury and the high-end experience,” Vickers said. “Use agent discounts and fams to make it accessible. You must become the storyteller. Nothing tells a story better than your own experience.”

According to Brake, luxury products are more profitable for suppliers, so more resources are devoted to the consultants who sell them well. “Access to BDMs and support services has become easier.” Vickers agreed, suggesting consultants do some research and “select suppliers who will support you along the way and help you learn.”

cruise suite
Regent Suite aboard Seven Seas Splendor.

Regarding the search for luxury cruise candidates, Vickers suggests that agents search their database for prime land customers and offer them a new experience.

“High-end hotels charge $900 to $2,000 per day. Compare that to what they would pay for a luxury cruise, which often includes business class airfare.”

Vickers also said daily pricing is an effective way to present options to customers, even if they’re over their stated budget.

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“I suggest you tell them, ‘You can get this for $200 a day. You can get that for $400 a day.” Just put it in front of people. The worst thing they can do is say no.”

An open-air balcony in a panoramic suite on the Avalon Envision.
An open-air balcony in a panoramic suite on the Avalon Envision. (Photo via Avalon Waterways)

According to Brake, using social media can be a low-cost mining method for upscale clients. “Suggest higher quality alternatives. Open the conversation. You will be surprised.”

All panelists stressed that the long pandemic hiatus has given people plenty of time to reconsider their future travel plans. Brake said: “People are more aware that life is short. Help them create a travel plan for the next few years. Show your care and be forward-thinking. Don’t wait for them to ask.”

Silva agreed: “Know your customers. Segment your database. Find out what they have done and what they want to do.”

Many luxury travelers are in their golden years, either because it took them so long to accumulate the wealth to travel well or because their careers left them little time to travel before retirement.

RSSC’s Vickers says some people wait until it’s too late to start chasing their travel dreams. “Wow your customers. Encourage them not to wait until they are in a rocking chair on the porch.”

Similarly, she advises that because of the older demographic, agents need to “keep filling the bucket” with new luxury travel prospects. The unspoken fact is that customers sometimes quit before the bucket list is complete.

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