The resounding message at the recent American Marketing Group’s TRAVELMARKET 2014, was that travel agents should find a specialty, whether it be luxury, romance, LGBT or wellness travel. It’s no longer about selling travel, it’s about selling an experience, a particular experience to a particular type of traveler.
Speaking to that is American Marketing Group’s Distinctive Destination Weddings Specialist Program, which is set to launch later this year. As Nicole Mazza, CMO of American Marketing Group, said during the press conference at the recent TRAVELMARKET 2014, “Many of our agencies today are quite focused on that market and we know through research that the trend is growing and we know how lucrative it can be for those agencies.” The consortium, as Mazza explained, has been focusing on lifestyles in the last few years, rolling out programs such as The Affluent Traveler Collection and Well-Being Travel, and now this destination wedding- and honeymoon-focused program. Participants will complete a specialist certification course from The Travel Institute, and designated specialists will have access to exclusive training webinars, FAMs and a dedicated conference. The marketing program components, meanwhile, include a specialist certification course graduate designation logo and business cards, customizable brochure templates, customizable newsletter template, exclusive specials from preferred suppliers and hoteliers, social media support and more. The program will also feature two separate agent- and consumer-facing websites, with the agent site serving as a resource for destinations, trends, traditions, weddings, honeymoons, blogs and articles as a well as a specialist toolkit. The consumer website will be a lead-generator for agencies, points out Mazza, with couples having access to finding their wedding and honeymoon specialist through search function capabilities.
Speaking to the specialization theme were the varied breakout sessions held during the conference, including Increasing Sales with Specialization, with panelists who covered the LGBT market, the affluent market, the wellness market and the romance market, as well as the Increasing Luxury Sales with Destinations and Specialization, with MLT Vacations representatives. In both sessions, the resounding message was that travel agents need to get to know their customers very well. The panelists advised agents to sit down with their clients, ask them about their hobbies, personal interests (also, Facebook is a great source for information on a client) and create vacations that speak to that. As Marg Mulholland, the former president of GOGO Vacations, said in a general session during TRAVELMARKET 2014, “People want to travel with a purpose. There needs to be something that’s driving them there.” During the Increasing Luxury Sales with Destinations and Specialization session, the MLT Vacations reps mentioned that you should ask your “customer questions as if you were on that first date. There are different profiles for different luxury clientele: maybe it’s the grandparents who have had this vision their entire life of taking their kids and grandkids and offering them this WOW vacation; maybe it’s the 50 birthday girlfriend getaway; or maybe it’s the young clientele who wants to do all those experiences rather than buying material stuff, wants all those bragging rights. Don’t overlook the young clientele.”
During the Increasing Sales with Specialization panel discussion, Thomas Roth of Community Marketing, offering LGBT insight, said that it’s no longer about putting an ad in a local gay newspaper. It’s about creating a website that has a gay couple in a photograph in addition to heterosexual couples. As Roth says, that means to travelers that “you get it.” Panelists pointed out that no matter which niche you focus on, nowadays it’s very important to engage with your clients via social media (and no, not just through promotions, but actually having a conversation).
In terms of luxury travelers specifically, the Increasing Luxury Sales with Destinations and Specialization discussion touched on the top international luxury destinations, which included Mexico, Costa Rica and Italy. It also touched upon the many reasons you should be recommending a luxury vacation to clients. The MLT Vacations representatives mentioned that it “provides a WOW factor for your clients; it is not a cookie-cutter experience. Some luxury clients want to stay in remote places; some want that all inclusive resort with all the hustle and bustle; and some clients want to experience the destination.” In fact, it’s the unique experience that you need to keep in mind when selling to the luxury client: “They want experiences, cooking lessons, a countryside bike ride, private tours, surprises (a private tea at a palace), cabanas, concierge-level service, a pillow menu, special touches,” said the MLT Vacations reps.
Overall, rather than being all things for all people, panelists agreed that travel agents need to carve out a niche, focus on that, get specialized in that, and then sell to that market, because, as was stated during TRAVELMARKET 2014, consumers are very smart in the 21st century and they’ll come to you armed with a mountain of information and they expect you to provide even more expertise.
Affluent Travelers + Wellness Trends
Another niche that is gaining in popularity is wellness vacations, and luxury travelers specifically are yearning for this type of getaway. The Affluent Traveler Collection recently surveyed its membership of luxury travel specialists for answers on the latest spa and wellness travel trends. The following trends were reported:
• The majority of members have seen a rise in the demand for spa and wellness vacations over the last 12 months
• Top priorities include healthy meal choices, in-depth spa treatment menus, onsite yoga and/or Pilates class
• The United States and the Caribbean are the most popular destinations for spa and wellness getaways
• The average spa and wellness vacation lasts four to seven nights, with clients opting to experience spa vacations most often with their significant other versus friends.
In other news…
In a separate story, we’ll focus on other news that came out of TRAVELMARKET 2014, including American Marketing Group’s partnership with ASTA and ACTA, as well as the enhanced cruiseexpress website and TRAVELSAVERS’ expanded offerings to French Canadian members. Additionally, we are going to give you the takeaways we gathered up during the conference.
For more information on American Marketing Group and its array of travel brands, visit travelmarket2014.americanmarketinggroup.com.