VANCOUVER — Luxury sales are emotional sales, Virtuoso CEO Matthew D. Upchurch told a packed ballroom of travel agents attending the company’s Vancouver general session May 4 where he talked about how clients decide what vacation experience they want.
“They make decisions based emotion,” he said, adding that facts are pushed to the background when those with disposable income are deciding who to deal with and where to go.
Upchurch said the digital age has driven the “craze” for emotional experiences, not only on product choice but also in dealing with individuals.
“Human connections matter,” said Upchurch, who has been instrumental in the growth of Virtuoso. “Just look at our growth.” Virtuoso has seen its network sales grow to over $200 billion and promotes the use of its network of advisors to gain unique travel experiences that pertain to the wants of individual clients.
Upchurch said agencies today are in a similar position to what happened during the early era of air travel. Individuals booked air travel direct from airlines and relied on the travel agent for market expertise.
When the airlines stopped paying commission “it was one of the best things that happened to the travel industry,” he said, as it forced agencies again to rely upon their expertise to sell that experience for the client rather than an airline ticket or something a consumer could simply book online.
Upchurch said the consumer still wants “structure” in the form of knowing there is an agency or recognized body or brand. The client wants also still wants fast, efficient, and product-choice service. But they also want an experience that caters to their own vision of a unique luxury holiday, which is more of an attraction than any loyalty program in place.
He said that in the absence of human connections, companies are offering loyalty plans. Those points cards may be important to some consumers, but the luxury shopper isn’t going to be swayed into decision-making on that unique holiday based on points. The Virtuoso certified travel advisor program is a greater plus in connecting a client’s vision to reality. That ability “builds a (emotional) connection that is deeper than a loyalty program,” he said.
“Loyalty is aligned to the human connection,” he said, adding that it becomes important for the travel agent to keep connected to the client before, during, and, especially after the trip. Travel agents can get reviews on experiences they can use for advising their next clients as well as gain insight into what the client wants in their next unique holiday.
Upchurch said the organization is looking at developing a tool that would help provide such future product. He urged travel agents to keep tuned into the client’s future aspirations, and note them.
Virtuoso’s 2017 Luxe Report on travel trends found that travellers are looking for vacations that explore new destinations with a length of two weeks or longer. Also topping the list was intergenerational travel as people are living longer and seniors are more active. The report noted that Japan had made it onto the list as one of the most popular intergenerational destinations for the first time.
The Luxe Report also found that clients wanted to go to destinations that would be ‘subject to change’. Cuba topped the list as it was felt that increased tourism would impact the unique culture there. Antarctica, the Arctic, Australia’s barrier reef, and Venice were all destinations that travellers looked to see before they were impacted by change of some kind.
Customized travel also rated high as individuals wanted the programs to meet their unique interests and abilities.
The report indicated that those who are able to find these unique vacations were booking them earlier than usual, up to two years before departing.