Luxury Travel Advisor’s Ultra Summit took place at La Cantera Resort & Spa in San Antonio, Texas in late July with top luxury travel advisors and suppliers meeting one to one to forge new relationships. Aside from the business development and networking opportunities, all in attendance were privy to some useful luxury travel insights that will help them form future business plans.
Alexi Khajavi, group president of the Questex Hospitality + Travel Group, shared the results of a survey of the advisors in the audience. Setting the stage were statistics showing that nearly 80 percent of the advisors in the audience book vacations with an average spend between $10,000 and $50,000; eight percent have an average spend of $50,000 and above. This clearly shows that Ultra advisors are not only selling to an exclusive group of affluent customers, they are also upselling them in to villas and suites, private tours and first-class airline seats. These heavy hitters also have strong influence over where their clients travel to.
When asked what advisors learned in 2020 and how they’ve used those learnings to innovate, the top three themes were: Increased communication with clients, redefining the value of supplier relationships and understanding the value and positioning of the advisor role. These three “lessons” touch upon the fact that advisors had to stay in touch with clients during the pandemic to issue refunds, but they also became counselors to their clients, and in some cases, good friends. The good advisors hosted virtual wine tasting events, had suppliers host virtual fam trips and stayed in touch every way possible with their customers to maintain the relationship. Many report being closer to their clients now than ever before.
As for redefining the value of supplier relationships, some travel companies rose to the occasion and worked very well with advisors during the pandemic, even though there were issues with cancellations and refunds. Some took the low road and didn’t communicate well at all in regard to business operations and for many advisors, that bad behavior still stings.
Lastly, when it comes to understanding the value and positioning of the advisor role, luxury travel advisors know they supplied stellar service to their clients during the past year, working for free to get refunds, rebook trips and staying on the phone for hours and weeks to get their clients resituated. Many are now charging higher consultation fees, as well as cancellation fees but the best part is that their clients now understand the value of their advisor more than ever before.
Moving forward, advisors said that the greatest opportunities they foresee for their business in 2021 and beyond include being better versed in travel restrictions (which speaks for itself) and growing their sales teams to meet increasing travel demand, which is very good news. And, not surprisingly, Ultra advisors expressed a renewed interest in smaller, more exclusive booking, particularly when it comes to cruises.
What are Ultra advisors most excited about when it comes to new luxury travel supplier offerings in 2021? Discovering domestic properties right in their own backyard, which was a necessity since clients couldn’t travel internationally. Along those lines, they are excited to learn about new U.S. luxury ranches, farm-to-table opportunities, as well as new ocean, river and expedition cruising products. They also noted a new interest in all-inclusive resorts. This industry niche performed well in 2020 with most major brands publishing very clear hygiene protocols to make clients feel at ease. Many also took on the task of making it very easy for their guests to get COVID testing onsite, which took the mystery out of a process whose policies in some cases changed daily. All-inclusives also provided a bubble for clients who could stay on property and not venture out, an attractive option in a world that was suddenly uncertain.
The United States topped the list of destinations clients are most interested in, followed by the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe. It’s no surprise the Caribbean and Mexico became even more attractive over the past year as they were accessible and close to home and most resorts in both destinations did a very good job with hygiene protocols (as stated above) and making clients feel very welcome and relaxed during a challenging time.
We asked Ultra advisor what motivates them the most to sell a particular supplier. “The relationship with the sales representative” was the top option, which means the advisors at Ultra book with reps they trust, hence making the meetings they conducted with suppliers at Ultra extremely important.
Luxury travel advisors admitted in the survey that their motivation to sell particular suppliers has changed since the pandemic; indeed, there are lists of travel companies advisors no longer want to sell because they feel they failed miserably in giving refunds, not relaxing policies and not communicating well during COVID.
There is a bright spot, however! Nearly 60 percent of these advisors said they do see a way forward to repair these relationships, making it more important than ever that advisors and suppliers keep communications open.
What are some of the most unusual requests advisors have gotten of late? We saw a trend of “Money is no object” in the answers. We assume this is because clients are rewarding themselves for not being able to travel last year and, so, are spending some of that savings now. They also don’t know if they’ll have another lockdown so they want to travel now and make the experience an amazing one. They are also taking longer trips, considering that since travel can be a bit of a challenge in this new era, if simply only because of the need for testing or proof of vaccination, they may as well increase the length of their vacation to make it more worthwhile.
Luxury RV domestic road trips was another new fun trend and we’re certain that travel advisors are appreciating the fact that many clients are requesting “very advanced planning into 2023/24.” We believe that this is because during lockdown clients had time to dream about their bucket list trips and are planning further out with their advisors to ensure they get the premium space, such as top suites, villas or first-class seats on airplanes.
Other top trends include requests for private jets, private villas and private tours, all of which makes sense as people want to travel without other people they don’t know, in a bubble where they are protected.
Family travel has been big for quite some time but it’s now wildly popular, with nearly 90 percent of Ultra advisors seeing this as the top growing trend coming out of the pandemic. We believe this is because families that were quarantined together during COVID want to retain that closeness as a clan and travel together. Advisors are saying that their biggest clients are not asking necessarily to go on major business trips these days, rather, they’re booking major family vacations to make lasting memories.
As we emerge from the pandemic it’s not surprising that 92 percent of our Ultra advisors expect the performance of the luxury leisure travel sector to grow over the next 12 months but perhaps the best news was that 67 percent of the surveyed advisors expect their businesses to grow by 25 percent or more over the next five years. Thirty-one percent expect their businesses to grow by 15 percent to 20 percent over that same time frame.
Good days are ahead for the luxury travel industry, particularly since the relationship between advisors and suppliers in most cases is stronger than ever. Clearly the tenet that “We’re all in this together!” that was the recurring theme of 2020 remains even stronger in 2021.