I was out with a girlfriend for drinks the other night. She also works in the travel industry. We often go out and shoot the shit about our family lives, our hopes, our dreams, lament the fact we can’t shed the last 10 pounds, even though neither of us has had a slice of bread since circa 2010, and oh yeah, we share loads of stories from the battlefields we call our jobs. All this over a glass or two of Malbec.
Anyhoo…she was telling me this story about a particular problem file she had been dealing with in the past week. And because she holds an executive role in her company, if a file crosses her desk, it’s a major mess up, and this one was a doozy. Oh, how I love a good story.
I’ve changed the names and any other defining features of this tale to protect the innocent, but some golden nuggets of wisdom emerged that I felt had to be shared.
The story goes like this. It all began one bright, sunny day when this travel agent rang to book a jaw-dropping 7-star holiday to Thailand for her repeat clients. Let’s call her Barbara. Now Barbara is no slouch. Her reputation precedes her. She’s well known in the industry. It’s not at all surprising that she would have 7-star clients in the first place. I’d book with her.
Barbara began the initial conversation with….”I don’t want to discuss the budget. These clients are affluent, and they want the very best money can buy. And — it’s their honeymoon. What can you put together for them?”
The agent taking the call, we’ll refer to her as Mandy, was a senior agent herself. She diligently took down all the details. The clients wanted a stunning resort on a private island in the southern part of Thailand. They wanted an elephant experience. They wanted to enjoy a sunset dinner that was unparalleled, somewhere near a temple, perhaps. Everything had to be top-notch and pure luxury. “Spare no expense,” said Barbara.
So Mandy got to work. She knew Thailand well. She spent a fair amount of time backpacking through SouthEast Asia as a young adult, enjoying a few full-moon parties along the way. She was stoked to get the lead. Dollar signs appeared in her pupils. Mandy put together a trip that she thought was spectacular. And I guess the clients did too because they ended up booking it. Everyone was happy.
The clients arrived in destination, after travelling for twenty-plus hours. (New York to Hong Kong – Hong Kong to Bangkok – Bangkok to the island) only to find that their hotel had no record of their booking, and it was 11 PM on a Sunday. ?
Which means it was 11 AM on a Sunday when Barbara’s cell phone rang just as her pastor was delivering the final punch at the tail of his weekly sermon.
“WTF, Barbara!” is somewhat how I imagine that phone call went. The clients were exhausted, their marriage already hanging by a thread, the romantic chime of wedding bells long since lost their chimerical charm fading into a distant memory.
If you work in this industry, you know that despite all your best efforts, sometimes shit happens.
It turns out, Mandy had a lot going on the day she made the booking, and instead of booking a date in March like she was supposed to, she booked May. MAY vs MAR. One letter off. A slip of a finger, really. It could happen to anyone. The problem was, it was March break, and this super boutique, ultra-elite hotel was at full capacity. It had been sold out for months. And there was no suitable alternative in the same location. After all, it was a secluded island.
The details of what transpired thereafter are less important to this story than the valuable lesson that came out of it. Because my good friend is a true professional and is powerfully connected with hoteliers and travel providers throughout Asia, she was able to make a few phone calls
– and call in some favours. She rectified the situation immediately by securing these clients a better and more exclusive property than they originally had and in an upgraded suite. She booked them a sunset dinner on the beach with a private Apsara dance performance by candlelight, a catamaran sunset cruise through the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay, and an exclusive couples massage delivered in the mouth of a grotto overlooking the Andaman Sea.
The clients were over the moon. In essence, they received almost double what they initially paid in upgrades. You’d think that Barbara would have been happy too…but she wasn’t.
And herein lies the lesson.
Barbara wanted to know why, when she’d made it clear that budget was not a question, were all of these upgrades not offered at the onset? The clients would have happily paid. And Barbara would have earned far more commission. Why were they not booked at the much swankier hotel from the beginning, and why did it take an error to uncover that they could have frolicked in the president’s suite. And what about the private dinner on the beach and the massages and the catamaran sunset cruise? Why were these not included in the initial quote?
My friend and I agreed that Barbara had made some excellent points.
I see this happen all the time, especially with new agents in the industry who may have a very different idea of “luxury.” To Mandy, the holiday she booked was perfect. It was her dream vacation. It never occurred to her to organize a private Apsara dance performance or a romantic sunset catamaran sail for two. That felt exorbitant. These things simply never even made it on Mandy’s radar because she, herself, could not imagine anyone having that kind of money.
But some people do.
When it comes to travel, the word “luxury” tends to get batted around rather flippantly. Everybody talks about selling luxury and how to attract a luxury client.
How exactly do we define luxury?
The problem is that there is no clear distinction of where the boundaries form around the word. Is a 4-star client a luxury client, or do they have to be 5-star? And then are we talking 5-star in Asia or 5-star in North America? Or is “luxury” reserved for high-end ballers who only fly via private jet? To me, luxury is highly personalised to the individual, and it’s our duty as experienced travel consultants to determine what luxury means to our clients.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve come across in coaching travel consultants over the years is that many of them have limiting beliefs regarding selling luxury. They sell what they can afford without considering what their clients desire, and can afford.
As an industry coach, I’ve often heard agents consult with their own pocketbooks in mind. They think they are giving their clients the best service by offering tips on ways to save money. And there are certainly many clients who appreciate this. But do you really think Bill Gates is worried about shaving a couple of hundred bucks off his family vacation?
And the reason I recognize this shortcoming is because that used to be me early on in my career. As someone who spent three years travelling the world with a backpack and a $10 a day budget in my early twenties, it took me a while to see that I, too, was selling with limiting beliefs. Even today, I can stretch a dollar like nobody’s business, but that doesn’t mean that clients care to learn that skill. They come to book travel, not for financial advice.
It’s time to flip the Golden Rule of life on its head.
Because the golden rule in sales goes like this:
The best way to ensure that you serve your client effectively is to ask the right questions.
- Tell me about your last holiday, where did you stay?
- What did you like best about that stay and what didn’t you like?
- Describe your idea of a perfect vacation.
- How would you describe the type of traveller you are?
- How would your wife/husband describe your travel style?
Of course, there are many other qualifying questions that I recommend asking, but this will at least get you started. I prefer never to ask someone to put a dollar amount on what they hope to pay. Most people have no idea how much things cost in different destinations anyway. That’s why they are using a travel advisor. And even if they did put a value on what they were comfortable spending…most travellers are willing to stretch their budgets for the right recommendations. Remember the quality of the experience will be remembered long after the price is forgotten.
Don’t allow your limiting beliefs to get in the way of your earning potential because friend, you are meant for a life of abundance, and so are your clients.
Speaking of which, have you taken the quiz yet that decodes what your travel style is and what it says about you? Give it a shot below. I’d love to hear what kind of traveller you are.