10 questions with… David Brandon, Savenio

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LATTE speaks to David Brandon, managing director of Savenio, about the changing role of the travel agent in the world of online DIY, the cruise boom in Australia and drinking champagne in the cellars of France.

Tell us about the Savenio business model. What makes it unique?

Savenio is unique because we give our advisors complete independence. I know that is a term that is used all the time in our industry, but in truth, there are very few really independent agents. Savenio is not alone in the affiliations it offers, but we are unique in offering advisors the freedom to make the choices that are right for their clients.

To be truly independent, you need to be part of a truly independent network and Savenio advisors are not micromanaged or directed. At the same time, they benefit from access to Savenio’s executive team who supports them to run their own game. That’s the concept Savenio was built on.

We also pride ourselves on offering clear and honest contracts. We respect our affiliates, their individual businesses and clients and we pay a true 100% commission model where advisors keep all their commission and simply pay a fixed monthly fee. It’s a model that greatly boosts an advisor’s earning potential.

What will your new ‘travel hub’ offer for independent travel advisors? Why did you feel a need to create this concept?

We have operated largely as a home-based agency for many years and we have had quite a few great advisors who were interested in joining Savenio but wanted the contact of an office. The Travel Hub gives people the option to work in a friendly office space where they can be surrounded by like- minded individuals all running their own travel business.

The Travel Hubs are a place for independent travel advisors to do business, network, meet with their clients and share skills, experiences and advice. Advisors come and go as it suits them.

It’s about community, flexibility and fun… and our new Brisbane office is pretty spectacular, too.

How is the role of the travel agent, particularly the cruise specialist, changing? In a world of online DIY, why are people turning to travel designers?

There is a huge amount of travel information on the internet and it can be really overwhelming for an individual, particularly when you have the added pressure of making sure your holiday is successful. No one wants to waste their precious holiday time.

This principle applies to cruise, too, and as an advisor, specialising in particular areas of the cruise market – like expedition or luxury – helps clients to make good, informed choices and that is where a specialist advisor makes all the difference. Who else is able to tell you about the intricacies of different check-in processes?

Around 50% of my clients are ready to book when they come to me, but they’re looking for something extra. Luxury clients don’t want to hand over their credit card to an online website, especially when the cruise costs upwards of $30,000. They want the security and service that a travel designer can give them along with the information and guidance they are looking for; they need to be able to recommend the right cruise line for the individual, organise the pre- and post-cruise accommodation, touring and flights. It’s about placing the client on the right ship for them.

You’ve spoken previously how packages can damage a brand in a luxury environment. What do you offer or suggest as an alternative?

Packages are really a marketing tool to get people in the door. Sure, there are some people who book those packages, but I fail to see how or why travel experiences can’t be done better. Does anyone really want an off-the-shelf holiday?

There is a perception that bespoke travel equals expensive travel, but if you take a look at how some of the most budget-conscious travellers book today, they are using a multitude of sources to build their trip – like TripAdvisor and Booking.com – and creating their own bespoke experiences to suit their preferences. For those who don’t have the time or confidence to do that, an advisor is a really affordable option. Not only can they offer you a huge choice that suits you but good advisors can also get you great extras that you just don’t get from an OTA, as well as saving you the cost of bad or uninformed choices. Let’s face it: no one has time for a bad holiday.

How does being a member of Virtuoso affect your business?

I became a Virtuoso member in 2009. I knew it would make the difference to my business and I’ve never been disappointed. When you have clients that are looking for excellence, and who want a true luxury experience, then there is really no other way to get them the optimum outcome. It’s not just the Virtuoso amenity; it’s the connections that I have built by being part of the network. If you are a real luxury travel advisor, it’s a tool you can’t live without. I find clients also stick with Virtuoso properties for the pre- and post-cruise stays. They’ll flip through the Best of the Best book and come to me with a list of where they would like to stay.

Why is cruise booming in Australia in particular?

Well, as you know, it’s not just Australia, but we are one of the most travelled people on the planet so it’s no surprise Australians are champing at the bit for a cruise experience.

I think the cruise lines have recognised this and have done a great job of taking advantage of our Southern Hemisphere seasonality to bring their ships down here and offer ‘taster’-style experiences.

These are definitely the gateway to cruising and it’s helping thousands of Australians to connect with the cruising holiday experience. The other reason is, I would think, that we have to travel such a long way to get to some of the most desirable destinations and there is nothing better than only having to unpack once, settle in and
enjoy the ride.

Where are your clients travelling in 2018? Which cruise lines are they choosing? 

There are still so many people looking to do a trip through the Mediterranean. It is still by far the biggest hit for cruising. My clients in particular love all the best luxury cruise lines; Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal and Silversea are probably my client’s most popular products. Clients seem to find brands they love and stick with them, although they’ll move if the cruise line doesn’t continue to evolve.

What trends do you predict will define 2018-2019?

On the hot list at the moment is Iceland and this really connects well to the other big trend which is expedition cruising. All the cruise lines are moving into expeditions, recognising this is where the demand is growing fastest. This includes South America, Antarctica and the Arctic.

What are the greatest lengths you have gone to for a client?

Well, to be honest, that is something I do every day. That’s what being a luxury travel advisor is all about. We know our clients and point them towards the right experience. Building trust is vital for a lifelong relationship with a client.

What’s the best coffee experience you’ve ever had?

This is a tough question because I don’t drink coffee! But I do drink champagne and one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences I have ever had would be a few years ago when I toured the Champagne region of France and got to see inside the Dom Pérignon cellars. It was a truly exceptional experience and not a bad place to sip champagne either!

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