Successfully selling luxury product is as much about experience as it is about the product itself, a fact that luxury tour operator Cox & Kings has used to its advantage over the past 250 years, evolving into a mega-travel supplier with expertise in destination management, excursions and leisure travel, MICE, NRI Holidays, trade fairs, car/coach/railway bookings, foreign exchange, business travel, private air charter, hotel bookings, visas/passports and medical insurance assistance.
Not surprisingly, that extensive experience in luxury travel product is also mirrored in the recently named, new COO of Cox & Kings USA, Thomas Stanley, a travel industry executive with more than 25 years of experience with companies such as Lindblad Expeditions, Private Jet Services, TCF Expeditions and as the former president of Travcoa. During that time, Stanley has seen the evolution of luxury travel product from the 1980s through today. “Luxury travel in the ‘80s was mostly escorted groups and it was also a generation where the world still held a lot of mystery, and traveling to exotic destinations—Cambodia, Zimbabwe, even Turkey—had a sense of wonder,” Stanley says. The next decade saw still another change, he points out. “In the ‘90s, we started seeing a trend toward more personalized travel—you know, ‘We just want to travel with our family or us as a couple or a group of friends.’” In 2000, the new century made still another sea change, he says. “We saw that personalization of travel reach its highest heights. It was all about what I want and what my aspirations are, on my time line, at the hotels I want. I want exotic, I want spa and I want…..”
As we go into 2010, however, thanks to the recession, Stanley explains, “…there’s a new frugality in the luxury market. In the last decade, a lot of people were trading up. Now what we’re seeing is more economic common sense—people will spend money on luxury, but they want to know they’re getting value. For example, our group tourism is growing. Whereas in the past, people would have a tour that was designed specifically for them, they’re now open to traveling in more of a group situation in order to keep the price down.” As a result, he adds, “That’s put pressure on us as a luxury brand tour operator to make sure that we still have all those magical elements of what a private journey or an FIT would be. So they can have that experience, have that amenity and have that flexibility, but in a group situation.”
Stanley is quick to add that the company’s FIT business is still strong, and growing this year, but they’ve also seen massive growth in group tourism. “People have a better understanding of their personal finances. They say, ‘We have x number of dollars to travel. What is the best possible program we can get within that price range?’ And they’ll move up or move down based on budgeting requirements.”
To meet that demand, the company recently launched Discovery Journeys, a “value-driven” group travel program that’s offering its initial programs to India, with accommodations at four-star and best hotels. “We have operated five-star groups all along but we’ve been getting more and more requests for better price points, so we’ve launched Discovery Journeys, which again has wonderful travel content at more value-driven price points in terms of accommodations,” Stanley explains. The two tours—Grand Tour of North India and Forts and Palaces of Rajastan—include visits to India’s historic palaces, temples and forts, as well as adventures such as desert camping and tiger safaris with groups running from 12-18 with rates from just $3,395 pp dbl.
Interestingly, the value-driven program came about as a result of requests from travel agents and their customers who were saying, Stanley points out, “‘We really like this itinerary, but we want to do it for this number of dollars.’” Competition for five-star pricing from the nouveau riche travelers from China and India, as well as from countries that were not as deeply effected by the recession such as Brazil and Mexico, also contributed to Cox & Kings’ decision to develop these programs.
“Travel agents are our clients,” says Stanley. “That’s where our sales come from so we need to make sure that we have product for them to sell—it’s as simple as that. We always get feedback from them, we’re always talking to them, all of our sales product people develop a strong relationship with them so we can go and ask, ‘What are you missing? Why wouldn’t you sell this? Or, is this the kind of product that’s meeting your needs?’”