In a post COVID-19 travel world, the exclusivity of private villas and yachts may be key to recovery. And since luxury travel means different things to different people, it holds even more potential.
Comfort, abundance, ease, exclusivity, privacy — these are all words that spring to mind when thinking about luxury travel.
“Luxury travel, the definition of that will really be different depending on who you are talking to,” said Ilana Valo, Founder & CEO of TWIL Travel during a recent Baxter Media #TravelWebcastWednesay on Selling Luxury Travel. “Some might see luxury travel purely as the five-star resorts, the luxury yachts, flying private, fully bespoke itineraries, whereas others might see luxury in the less tangible things like saving you time, creating an itinerary that is so specific to your individual needs, interests and travel styles. The ability to spend time in beautiful destinations with people you love. It doesn’t have to be opulent, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive, it doesn’t have to be the most sumptuous, but it does have to be personalized. Depending on who you talk to, they will all have a different definition for you.”
Valo, who has a team of more than 20 travel advisors at her boutique travel agency, says the first thing her team does when working with a new or prospective client is learn about what luxury means to them, how they define service and how they want to spend their time while travelling.
Some of the key questions to ask to better get to know their needs and wants, include inquiring about the last three places they’ve travelled to, their top two favourite resorts of all time, and some of their most treasured travel memories.
“The answers will be very telling around what kind of travel that they like to do,” she said. “If they are telling you about their travel memories and they say they want it to be more exclusive or they want to have more adventure, or if they want you to create a more tailored itinerary, that has more private excursions and tour guides, then you can use the information that you have to work towards their goals.”
Especially with new clients, she says if someone calls asking for a trip to a certain resort, she suggests to dig a little bit deeper into why they want to go there.
“We don’t just say okay, what are your dates? We ask them why do you want to go here? A lot of people say my friend went there and they had a great time,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a great fit, based on all of the questions that we ask them, and sometimes there might be a better fit and we will propose that.”
Although it’s a delicate conversation, she says people are coming to them for advice and expertise.
“We have spent years personally visiting different properties, different destinations and have a much better idea than the average person as to know which properties and which destinations are appropriate for various types of travellers,” she added.
For Valo, it’s just as important to follow up with clients when they get back from a vacation to understand what they thought of the experience and their likes and dislikes.
“One of the first things I say is that I welcome positive feedback, but more importantly, I encourage constructive feedback because constructive feedback is really the best way to get to know a client.”
Within her own agency, most new clients come from word of mouth and referrals, an approach she likes because more often than not they are met with likeminded travellers. Other ways to drive growth includes utilizing social media and engaging with friends and relatives. Those who are specializing can also look within local surroundings like tennis clubs, gyms and book clubs.
“Your friends, your families, your acquaintances, let them know what you are doing, let them know where you’ve been,” she suggested. “I find whenever I go on a trip and I’m posting on social media, without fail I will get comments from friends and family… so put yourself out there, it doesn’t have to be a sales pitch. Just let people know where you are, just let people know where you are going. It might not be so apparent but they are watching and they’re listening, and you never know when they will come back to you and ask for some help.”
Once travel COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, Valo sees luxury travel as being the first sector of the market to rebound as privacy and exclusivity are what many travellers will seek from a vacation.
“Luxury travel, especially on the very high end, is designed for that — exclusive rentals, flying private, yacht charters, those are all tailor made for social distancing. You’ve got the place to yourself, it doesn’t get better than that,” she said.
More travellers will also find the price of flying in business class more appealing considering it will offer more space with less people in proximity.
“Those that historically haven’t necessarily made the jump to business class or considered booking a villa or flying private might start thinking about that route because historically it may have been thought of as a little bit frivolous or unnecessary, now you can put it in the context of being responsible and safe.”
With an abundance of information from resorts to newly introduced destination protocols and ever-changing regulations, Valo says people will seek out travel advisors even more than before since it’s their job to sift through the data and curate that for travellers.
“What we ultimately do is save our clients time, and help them spend their time as wisely as possible. Just like you pay a financial advisor to manage your money and you pay a trainer to show you how to work out at the gym, people are paying us to help them plan their time when they travel, and make sure they’re doing it in the most efficient, safest and personalized way possible.”
Looking to the future, although she sees it being a very slow build, she predicts multi-generational travel and family gatherings will be key, as well as slower travel.
“This whole experience has shown people that seeing family is so important,” she said. “I also think that you are going to see more people looking at longer trips. Instead of taking four-five smaller trips throughout the year, they’ll take one or two longer trips.”
In addition, she predicts more people will be looking for direct flights without connections.
“I’ve heard clients say in the past I may not have gone for that larger room or that nicer hotel, but this experience has taught me don’t wait until next time because you never know when travel might be taken away from you again,” she said. “I think there will be a greater appreciation for travel after this.”