Travel Advisor Renaissance: The Luxury of Simply Showing Up
Amid the chaos of 2020, the pandemic’s initial waves were drowning travel agencies in refund applications, credit vouchers and legal technicalities as their advisors were forced to become insurance consultants, healthcare aides, crisis managers and rescue operators.
With the stranded jetsetters phenomenon now (mostly) in our rear view mirror, travel advisors can return to their luxury roots; crafting bespoke, consciously-curated experiences for now unrestricted wanderlusters.
Designing the travel experience has never been a simple task yet the genesis of Web3, post-pandemic value shifts and the rise of convenience culture have ignited a re-examination of the travel sector through a new, adaptable lens.
While it will never take over the industry, the metaverse is prepped to complement real-world experiences, even giving potential guests the chance to visit virtually in a ‘try before you buy’-type model. But until tech becomes trusted enough to create tailor-made travel experiences, travel advisors are the luxury adventurer’s go-to for everything from destination selection down to in-flight entertainment.
What are high-net-worth and mass-affluent clients looking for from online travel agencies?
Insurance & Reassurance
After unparalleled (yet absolutely necessary) limitations on personal freedom, travellers are feeling unfulfilled and turning to advisors to take over the less glamorous side of planning like pre-travel formalities (insurance, visas, health checks), transport services and risk-reduction.
All the while tailoring an itinerary that lets clients live for the now.
Although being stranded in our chosen destinations was almost dreamlike to us two years ago, it became an underwhelming reality for many in 2020.
Clients, whether they’ve lived that experience or otherwise, need reassurance that won’t happen to them and it’s become a fundamental service from agents.
Even more so now, luxury travellers are usually time-poor with money to spend. When they choose a travel advisor, they’re buying their peace of mind.
High-net-worth individuals rarely have time to play with and what time they do have wants to be spent in the moment, creating memories, experiencing life – not on the mechanics of making those moments happen. Advisors need to adopt a hakuna-matata-esque approach, taking on the worries so there’s none left for their clients to even fathom, let alone feel.
Unpackaged, Untamed, Untouched
New influxes of flyers have popularised pretty much every overseas location you can think of, meaning agencies have to work twice as hard to find untouched corners of the world for luxury consumers who want the untamed and unbelievable. The kind of experience that elicits envious looks from dinner party attendees.
Hand-picked, unconventional destinations that aren’t packaged but painstakingly personalised to the individual are becoming the expectation with clients now coveting consultative, loyal travel planners as a luxury.
The industry ‘reset’ offers agencies a chance to build a revitalised understanding of luxury travel that’s culturally relevant, soulful and sensitive to what’s important for each client they work with. Whether it’s acquired music tastes or a love for the peculiar, they can take curated itineraries to another level – well above what clients could plan for themselves.
And with this loyalty, both to and from the client, they can craft beyond a singular trip. Jamsheed Posha, Co-Founder of The Pelican Club, has seen an influx of membership enquiries as well as a boom in business from pre-existing members; ‘Each of our members has at least four – with an average of 7.5 trips – planned in 2022 from small hotel stays to bigger adventures.’
Crafting a person or group’s trips for the whole year, building on previous experiences and preparing new ones that tell a story based on their lifestyles, desires and even their lifelong dreams, is a colossal part of travel advisors’ appeal and with money to burn, potential clients are looking for the personal, the private and the peaceful.
Not a hyperbole. More than merely avoiding long lines and tourist traps, trip advisors must go beyond easing the realities of travel to provide once-in-a-lifetime, money-can’t-buy experiences.
Post-pandemic, everyone is hunting for escapism harder than ever before. Chartering flights across Antarctica’s snowy shearwaters. Private viewing parties of the total solar eclipse in Chile. Exploring the caverns of an uninhabited archipelago on Madeira’s Desertas Islands. Being blessed in a traditional Balinese ceremony at dusk.
Experiences that seemed otherworldly not six months ago are the new currency in travel. A golden dust held by luxury advisors and, despite Midas’ mythical warning, many of us are reaching out to touch it.
Showing Up Sustainably
Since lockdown lifted, luxury travellers have been dusting off their monogrammed suitcases searching for the perfect destinations in order to make up for lost time, yet many are boarding planes with a newfound vested interest in conscious travel.
‘Luxury travellers have evolved with time. They have started to realise what brings them joy and are willing to pay for it. Rather than ticking things off a bucket list, they are weighing the experiences on the value they add to their journeys.
For some, it may be uniting with nature, or exploring charming neighbourhoods and interacting with the local community, and for some, it may just be a quiet association with a destination that propels peace within themselves.’ – Akanksha Lamba, Senior Vice President of Operations, The Postcard Hotel
Still wanting to escape their realities in unforgettable experiences, luxury travellers are now seeking out agencies with a strong sustainability policy or who are working toward a more responsible and regenerative future for travel.
More than three-quarters of high-net-worth travellers feel sustainability initiatives are an important factor when selecting a travel company with 70% believing that travelling sustainably enhances their experience, according to a recent white paper published by Virtuoso.
Circling back to knowing your client, sustainability could be a really viable, effective selling point for travel advisors curating to client values. And its significance is soaring in hospitality brands too.
Ensuring the experience lasts beyond the final flight is something each agency should place real creative importance in.
Selecting resorts with renowned in-house photographers; weaving in custom, locally-made elemental jewellery experiences to the itinerary for a rare and special souvenir; crafting a bespoke coffee table book (the current concept du jour); having a hamper of local delicacies and preserves waiting when they arrive home to literally draw out the flavour of the experience, the potential for creativity is endless and something to be capitalised on.
‘Meaningful experiences that enhance local livelihoods and champion ecological initiatives offer a sense of personal fulfilment, accountability and enlightenment that will last long after returning home, helping to improve lives for future generations.’ – Carrier, Luxury Travel Experience Agency
Because capturing or evoking memories for a lifetime is a luxury in itself, and it will show not only loyalty to your clients, but real attention-to-detail and care. None of which are qualities they’d enjoy opting for DIY travel.
Channels of discovery are everything.
The desire for human-centric experiences created by human experts somewhat depletes the efficacy of digital marketing collateral for hospitality brands. When guests are booking through Travel Advisors, your website may no longer be the direct point of conversion but it is a space to be discovered, approved of and pined for.
Emphasise these three key tenets and potential guests won’t be able to look away.
Without trying to sound like an old but very relevant record, experience is at the heart of every element of travel. Evocative messaging, meaningful imagery, striking video. Every piece of content contributes to a brand’s story and when that story is tied to place – explorations of history and heritage, curiosity-inducing cultures and more – the narrative becomes that much more compelling. When done right.
More than a digital touchpoint, your website should be a taste of the experience. A gallery of what visitor’s lives could look like while they’re with you, at your hotel, in your world. As luxury travellers look for unique, conscious experiences, showcase how you cater to their desires in unmatched ways. Position yourselves as a unique experience. Incorporate conscious, nuanced thinking into your strategy and embed that into your storytelling.
Caused by a desire for culturally-authentic surroundings, hospitality developers predict that immersion in local traditions, cultures and cuisines is now defining luxury travel. Brands who can offer differentiated, unheard-of experiences will be the most appealing to the high-net-worth and mass-affluent consumer base. From handcrafted, locally-sourced decor to dinner experience collaborations with native chefs, incorporating your hotel’s immediate surroundings and appealing to guest’s senses is a simple and natural way to build authenticity.
Takeaways for Luxury Travel Advisors
1. Do the Groundwork
Once agents, now advisors, who knows what travel expert will be termed next.
CEO and Co-Founder of luxury travel company Zicasso, Brain Tan, throws a new title in the ring: ‘Today, successful travel agents have deep knowledge of a destination and a Rolodex of local contacts and can customise travel experiences based on a client's special interests and needs. We call them “travel specialists.”’
Whatever they’re called, it’s expertise that defines them and persuades clients to trust companies enough with their escapes. Prove your advisors’ knowledge of not only destination travel but human desire and experience too.
2. Anticipate and Act
No one likes the feeling of worry. Be the brand that means your clients never have to. Act before they’ve ever had the chance.
Whether it’s cancelled flights, closing borders or a plethora of other travel troubles, luxury clients are paying luxury rates to not have to sit in an airport bar or watch for their room to be ready.
An advisor or agency that anticipates such set-backs and plans accordingly could secure a lifelong clientele simply with a little problem-solving prowess.
3. Enjoy the Demand
As the world gets more comfortable with travelling again, the demand for luxury travel advisors is on the rise.
Travellers are visiting destinations for longer spans of time, not only to treat themselves but to make the trials of transport worthwhile, meaning more planning to outsource.
On top of that, younger generations with money to spend are leaning into the luxury lifestyle, sourcing travel advisors to find flavourful places that aren’t necessarily classic or traditional but are luxury nonetheless.
Travel advisors are now appealing to all demographics, an allure that looks unlikely to diminish. While the exclusivity element endures, luxury travel is becoming everyone’s most coveted summer plans as advisors are riding high on their renaissance.
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