#TravelTuesday: The Rise of the Luxury Travel Advisor

by Sharda Prashad & Margaret Richards on May 28, 2019 in Travels,
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One of her advisors needed to close both a half million dollar world cruise deal and a half million dollar land tour deal before the weekend.  

It was Friday afternoon and Michelle Leal was in Toronto, Canada, far from her home in Orange County, California but recognized what was at stake. In the potentially lucrative world of luxury travel, a sizeable commission could be won or lost. Leal relied on her network to try and sweeten the deal.  

With new travel incentives secured for the client, including a chauffeur, a private tour at a port and a sizeable on-board credit, her advisor presented a new offer and closed the deal. For Leal, a vice-president at Travel Edge, it was simply another day in the life of luxury travel.

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In an era of online travel deals and the plethora of reviews on the best and worst of everything related to travel, luxury travel advisors are not just holding their ground, but are proving their worth. The good ones are in short supply for the high net worth celebrities, executives, entrepreneurs and others who routinely leave travel details to others.

“On the luxury side, time is a precious commodity for our clients,” says Mary Kleen, Travel Edge Regional Director. “They are looking for expertise and want access to our knowledge and our ability to offer VIP service. Service is back in style.”

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Austin, Texas-based Alicia Saba, who founded The Splendid Traveler in 2015, concurs. “A good advisor will create personalized travel itineraries for each client and will make sure that each client gets their individual needs met based on their interests, comfort level, travel style and budget,” says Saba, who specializes in the South Pacific region (Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti) but who also books a lot of Japan, Caribbean, Mexico, domestic travels and cruises.

“Luxury clients want unique, local experiences that can’t easily be found online.”
~ Alicia Saba, The Splendid Traveler

Service, however, isn’t necessarily booking a suite in the most expensive hotel in a city.  One of the top requests made by Kleen’s advisors is for after-hours access to museums. Her clients also value by-passing lines, having a car and driver waiting after a cruise and “in a frenetic world, anything to take away the stress.”

With the luxury travel market growing an estimated 18% annually between 2014 and 2017, double the growth rate of international travel, researchers have attempted to understand what luxury travel consumers want. And it’s not straight-forward.

The luxury travel consumer is looking for fulfillment, unprecedented access, an immersive experience, a personal journey, and yes, white glove treatment.  Luxury travel advisors need to determine what their clients want and how to deliver it.

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“Luxury travel is creating that perfectly tailored experience,” says Kleen. “It’s that seamless experience from before you depart to after you arrive back home. The luxury travel advisor is focused on fulfilling travel aspirations.”

Similar to real estate advisors, travel advisors are often connected to an agency. Among the highest profile in the industry are Protravel International, Travel Edge, SmartFlyer and Valerie Wilson Travel. “I am fortunate to have a world of resources at my fingertips,” says Austin’s Alicia Saba. “Through Virtuoso, I am able to offer our clients exclusive amenities, upgrades, access and experiences. At most luxury hotels in the world my clients receive complimentary upgrades, a value-added amenity, which is usually a $100 resort credit per room and possible upgrades.”

Each agency has its own commission structure, moreover, each travel “product” such as a hotel, cruise, tour, has its own commission. As for payment of commissions, that’s dependent on the agency. An advisor may be paid upon a trip being booked, it being paid or even after the client has returned. For the client, the commission is built into the total travel price in their itinerary.

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“An itinerary can take a month or even up to a year to plan,” says Robin Fox, a luxury travel specialist with Travel Edge, who is based out of New York. She frequently revisits draft itineraries with clients to ensure their travel plans are perfectly reflective of what they want.

“My clients know I travel often and when they spend a lot of money on their travel, they want someone who understands the logistics,” she says.  “I am respectful of their money as if it were my own.”

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“Over time, clients learn who they can trust,” she says. Fox recalls planning a South American itinerary for a high-profile New York real estate family where multiple suites were reserved and confirmed at various five-star hotels.  At 10pm on New Year’s Eve, Fox received a call from the client that the hotel claimed to not have their reservation. And given the holidays, the hotel was completely booked. The family was going to dinner, and when they returned the client expected the arrangements to be sorted out. Fox called in many favours that New Year’s Eve night, including reaching out to the town’s mayor.  The family got their hotel stay and Fox’s value was established.

Whether you’re a luxury traveler, or just looking for the guarantee of the best travel experience your hard-earned money can buy, travel advisors can make a trip into a vacation of the lifetime.

“It’s truly my passion to create dream trips for my clients, and I love creating personalized itineraries that my clients would not have known were possible if they didn’t use a travel advisor,” concludes Alicia Saba.

Cover photo Nad Hemnani on Unsplash