This week LATTE chats one-on-one with the Global CEO of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, Ulla Hefel Böhler, who was in Australia recently for the launch of the 2019 European program.
You’ve been with Insight Vacations now for 16 months. How are you finding the role and responsibility of being the CEO? And what are some of your proudest achievements to date?
I am absolutely loving it and feel very privileged to run two brands I’ve always been very fond of throughout my TTC career. I love the variety (no two days are the same – ever!), the fast pace and most of all I love the fact that with our exceptional and passionate team we create, sell and deliver magical travel experiences for amazing people. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing directly from our guests how they’ve had the most incredible, life-changing holiday with Insight Vacations or Luxury Gold.
I am certainly very proud of the brand refresh we underwent last year and how well the new look and feel of our brochures resonated. Additionally, being awarded the Gold Trusted Service Award by independent review platform Feefo for our consistently excellent guest reviews (which flow directly onto our websites) and of course becoming part of the prestigious Virtuoso network.
Before taking the CEO role at Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, you had held a number of titles within The Travel Corporation – including extended stints with Trafalgar, CostSaver, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold and Uniworld, before being tasked as VP Operations & Special Projects for the TTC. From those early days, did you always see yourself stepping up the ranks to this role? And what is it that has kept you tied to the TTC?
I’d be lying if I said this was the plan all the way along. But after being promoted to a more senior role after my initial time with Uniworld, I quickly realised there are fantastic opportunities within TTC for career progression for those who have the right attitude and deliver results. What I love about TTC is the fact that it is fourth-generation family owned business and everyone is so passionate about delivering exceptional quality, value and service to our guests.
Why was becoming part of the Virtuoso network such a big deal for Luxury Gold?
Virtuoso’s acceptance process is incredibly discerning, so becoming a preferred partner is a true honour. The reputation Virtuoso member advisors have for outstanding dedication to their clients is a perfect fit with our own bespoke approach to service. We pride ourselves on offering perfectly planned, tailored and truly exceptional worldwide journeys and we are excited to showcase our journeys to the Virtuoso travellers.
Why do you believe there is a negative connotation for “coach touring”?
There has been a changing perception of late and more and more people realise that the guided holiday of today is vastly different from a 1980s coach tour. Our incredible immersive experiences take guests below the surface of a destination, from getting a taste of Bosnian home cooking with the local hospitality of the Lemes family and hearing their stories of what life was like living through the civil war, to an Italian cooking demonstration with Chef Lorenzo in a 14th century building – we like to get up close and personal with the locals, and make it seamless for our travellers to do so as they just can’t get the same experiences when travelling independently. And of course we stay in style in handpicked hotels in the right location and travel in style on our luxurious customised motorcoaches with twice the legroom and twice the view!
What are the key points of difference between an Insight Vacations’ experience and a Luxury Gold? And how should an agent approach upselling a client?
Personally curated by The Travel Corporation (TTC) Chairman, Mr. Stanley Tollman, Luxury Gold is the essence of luxury experiential travel, a journey beyond the ordinary offering the perfect blend of guided vacations and independent exploration. It combines impeccably planned journeys, exceptional dining, smaller group sizes, exclusive VIP experiences, and the services of personal Travelling Concierge with the freedom and support to tailor each journey to suit your clients’ personal interests.
Insight Vacations has been crafting premium journeys that embody the “Art of Travelling in Style” for 40 years, showcasing the most outstanding destinations and curated experiences in Europe and North America. Guided by a highly-skilled Travel Director, guests can look forward to travelling in smaller groups, savouring authentic dining and enjoying a range of immersive Insight Experiences.
With Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold there is always an opportunity to upsell, offering a longer itinerary or the suggestion of two trips with the choice of multiple trip styles such as Country Roads or Discovery trips. We find travel agents are excellent at identifying their clients holiday requirements and our sales team is happy to work with them to ensure that they have the Insight and Luxury Gold knowledge to upsell where appropriate.
What excites you most about the 2019 programs?
For Insight Vacations we have three new trips for 2019 in Scandinavia, Malta and Greece but I must say, I definitely have a soft spot for our new Northern Lights of Scandinavia trip. To be able to say you’ve witnessed the spellbinding aurora borealis from your hotel room looking up through your glass ceiling is incredible to say the least. Our guests also have the chance to meet Trine Lyrek at her working husky farm to gain an insight to the challenges her Alaskan Huskies face when competing in marathon Arctic dog sled races – it’s these incredible, immersive experiences that sets Insight Vacations apart. For Luxury Gold we have added a total of 5 new journeys and my absolute favourite is our Ultimate Ireland, complete with a two-night stay at Ashford Castle, an after-hours tour of the Little Museum in Dublin with its founder and a Michelin-starred dinner at famous restaurant l’Ecrivain. It really is the Ultimate!
What trends in guided holidays have you noticed at Insight and Luxury Gold emerge in the past 12 months?
We have seen a continued increase in guests interested in real experiences with locals that allow them to connect with the culture and people of the destination they’re visiting. Another popular way to connect with a destination, is through culinary experiences, of course. Tasting the local delicacies is one of the top reasons people travel, so it’s important for us to ensure that travellers are getting a real flavour of the region. We’ve always been innovators on the dining front with our Dine Around experiences where guests can choose from a selection of restaurants or our Dine-at-Home experiences where guests dine with a local family or our Farm-to-Table dinners, with food grown and sourced locally.
Sustainability is becoming increasingly more important, too, as travellers want to explore the world with a purpose and with a company that cares. Insight Vacations are proud founding members of The Travel Corporation’s TreadRight and have supported over 50 sustainability projects in the last 10 years. From a hill-top town in Italy to a desert village in Jordan, Insight partners with local artisans to preserve their livelihoods and empower their communities.
Is the booking window increasing for Australian travellers or is there a growing trend in bookings coming closer to departure?
We do see consumers wanting to go on last-minute holidays, and we can definitely cater to these guests. However, we do find that majority of our Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold guests like to book early as this gives them the luxury of choice, of both their itinerary and preferred departure date. It’s no surprise the popular trips and destinations sell out first! Space on our smaller group journeys sells fast too, having less spots available. With great earlybird offers in the market for escorted journeys and great airfares it is an extra incentive for travel agents to book their clients in early and ensure they don’t miss out.
What or who inspires you, and why?
Our guests are at the heart of everything we do. Each piece of positive (and negative) feedback we receive allows us to improve, as there is no greater feeling than hearing from our satisfied travellers at the end of their trip. One of our clients has travelled with us over 44 times, so to be able to hear that they enjoy each trip like it’s their first and continue to be impressed, is something we’re so proud of and strive towards for every one of our guests!
If a worldly-travelled friend asked you to suggest a hot holiday destination, and finances were not a concern, what/where would you recommend? And it’s okay to not be an Insight Vacations or Luxury Gold holiday!
Without a doubt, our Remarkable Russia with the added Trans-Siberian Express option from Luxury Gold, would be the absolute holiday of a lifetime. To have the Palace of the Tsars open exclusively for myself and fellow guests for a private after-hours viewing would be incredible, not to mention checking into the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express before a luxurious journey through the captivating Russian countryside. Definitely a bucket list trip to tick off!
LATTE signature question – Where is your favourite coffee shop, why, and what do you order?
When visiting the Insight team in Australia, they introduced me to a great local café in Woollahra called The Vernon. It resides in a cute white building on a corner street and both their coffees and pastries are delicious. Back home in Zurich I love to visit Café Schober Péclard – arguably one of the prettiest cafés in Zurich and famous for its extravagant décor, cosy red velvet and gilt interior of the Salon Rouge and its tempting patisseries and cakes, it also serves up a great coffee and an indulgent hot chocolate too. In Summer (or in Winter if you’re brave) you can sit out at the terrace in front or in the little garden area to the side.