“I struggle with the term ‘travel agent’, because that suggests something transactional. I believe the true value of our travel advisors comes down to their expertise, not just a sale, which is why I call them that — advisors.”
It’s only been three weeks since he joined Travel Edge as the company’s new executive vice president, but Michael Johnson is already working hard to help travel advisors unlock their true potential.
In an exclusive interview with PAX—actually, his first interview with any Canadian trade media, to be exact—Johnson discussed his past experiences working in the luxury sphere in order to help agents (ahem, advisors) dive deeper into the Canadian luxury travel market.
People are power
Last-minute vacations are a hot-selling commodity, and arguably an easy sale. Hotel? Check. Round-trip flights? Check. Meals? Check. And all of those included excursions, airport transfers, and checked baggage? Check, check, check!
But what about a luxury vacation? And what does that even look like? Is it coming back to a five-star hotel and reclining into a bubble bath filled with rose petals, after an exhilarating, private safari through the Maasai Mara? Or is it having a simple, farm-to-table lunch in a French vineyard, then tucking into a yurt for the night?
If you chose the first option, you’re right. But, if you went with the second option, you’re not wrong, either, Johnson says.
“Luxury is very much an emotion; it’s about feeling special, and doing something sophisticated and unique for your clients,” Johnson explained. “I think we need to decouple the world luxury with expensive. There’s a way of driving a luxury experience without driving an unattainable or unreasonable expense and that comes down to our advisors listening to their clients and delivering bespoke, customized solutions for their needs. Ultimately, we shouldn’t be deciding for the luxury client, we should be editing and curating those experiences.”
Luxury: closer than you think
One of the biggest misconceptions about selling luxury travel is that it’s "too expensive." Travel agents might feel as though their client network doesn’t have "the right people," or they might choose to focus on the easier sells, for fear of missing out — a little commission is better than no commission at all, right?
But that approach is wrong. As Johnson points out, every travel advisor can sell luxury, because the major selling point lies within themselves. In a competitive market, where every client wants the bragging rights to something that their friends and family will likely never experience, the advantage comes down to just that — crafting niche itineraries that are guaranteed to create lasting memories.
“Every client we engage with, regardless of their economic status, is looking to maximize their vacation time,” Johnson said. “Our advisors should feel confident in their expertise and feel confident to offer unique solutions. We’ve all seen packages where some elements resonate with us and others do not. The client pays for it all regardless, so what we can do as advisors is eliminate some of that noise and really put attention on the amenities that are most relevant for our customers.”
And as for online booking engines? Johnson says travel agents don’t have to worry about that anytime soon, especially where luxury travel is concerned.
“I see digital as a supplement to the advisor, not as a replacement,” Johnson said. “Our clients are obviously going to do their own research around various locations; that’s unavoidable. But when it comes down to the final product, the input and expertise our advisors can offer is unmatched.”
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