On the back of Australia’s “extraordinary rebound in travel” as consumer confidence spikes to venture abroad again, Virtuoso is seizing the opportunity to reiterate and further emphasis the importance of the trusted travel advisor.
Michael Londregan, Senior Vice President of Global Operations at Virtuoso describes the situation currently facing advisors following two years of home-country isolation as “trying to handle a firehose of business”.
“[Advisors] have gone from having no clients and demand, to not enough resources to handle the opportunity in front of them,” Londregan told media in Sydney this month, highlighting research that indicated more than 70% of Virtuoso’s ANZ clients have already booked and that 86% are planning to travel internationally this year.
Londergan said the influx in business provided an opportunity for Virtuoso’s travel agents to rethink how they position themselves in market and how they position their value proposition to their customers.
He said this period of “unrivaled growth” – the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the local industry for some 30 years – enables travel advisors to rationalise their customer base [or as Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch said in his weekly update: “actively look to get rid of the clients that suck the life out of you.”], and to be transparent and honest in regards to service expertise charges.
“We’re not losing the opportunity to reinvent our business,” Londregan said.
For many years Upchurch has driven the message to stop calling travel agents “bookers of travel” but refer to them as ‘trusted travel advisors’. In fact, also in last week’s video, the Virtuoso boss said the luxury network’s members and advisors, “have elevated the profile of the profession of travel advisor with luxury and experiential travellers around the globe.”
“The pandemic has accelerated that trend and I believe we are seeing the start of the Golden Era of the travel advisor,” Upchurch remarked.
Travel strategist versus travel advisor
“The reality is right now if you’re sitting in a retail environment, you’re being asked to do more than just be a travel advisor. You’re being a travel strategist,” Londregan said.
But he told LATTE the Australian trade is “still trying to get people to agree that they are not an agent”.
“I’m jumping shark,” he said. “If you don’t believe they should be called advisors now, the best of them, I can’t help you, but I’m going to the next level.”
“Customers are coming in and saying ‘I’m cranky, you took travel away from me for two years and now I not only want to get it back and book my next trip. I want to figure out how in the next two years I’m going to have a strategy to get my romance back in my life, to reconnect with my kids’, so there’s a big burden on [advisors] to actually get people back to living their best travel lives,” he said.
Service fees explained
Londregan said just as ultra-high-net-worth individuals place their trust in financial wealth advisors, it’s crucial to have a trusted travel advisor develop a client’s travel strategy.
“I’ve got to tell you, as somebody who’s traveled to eight countries in the last eight weeks, I need to have a travel advisor looking at the rules and the regulations so I can actually do my job and sleep at night and wake up in the morning knowing that someone is actually on top of this. So if the rules change to get into Columbia, I don’t find out at the airport and find out I’m not going – so this peace of mind thing is huge,” he said.
On the subject of service fees, Londregan said transparency with clients to explain what value they are getting was paramount in maintaining trust. He used the analogy of a mechanic fixing brakes on a car, with the parts being $300 and the labour $400.
“I understand that he’s going to be under my car, he’s going to be dirty putting the new brakes on. I trust him and I get it.” It’s that black and white.
Londregan told LATTE the way a travel advisor/strategist could approach the topic of service fees with their client might be explained as follows: “I’ve been traveling for 30 years. I’ve developed a relationship with general managers, with DMCs, with cruise companies where I can actually get your personal preferences hardwired into an experience, which means that the product, plus the overlay with services, is going to create better value for you, and this is how I get remunerated.”
He continued, “I charge you a bit of a fee for service. Some of these suppliers have a wonderful relationship with me and they remunerate me, and that’s how I make money.
“The truth is if you’re in the trust business every advisor better be able to be transparent about everything.”
And as Upchurch says, “the great thing about being an advisor is you can choose who to do business with. So focus on optimising your book of business and not just handling the business that comes in”.