Have you seen them? The agent and operator who’ve been working together for years, the ones with the best rates, whose clients are treated like royalty?
I’ve seen variations of this relationship many times over at ILTM and often wondered what the secret is. Strong relationships are the happiest but they are also the most resilient when dealing with the inevitable difficult times. And like our own personal relationships, it can be really tough and stressful when you’re having problems understanding one another.
So, what are the essentials of a solid, happy, healthy buyer / supplier relationship? And how do successful ‘couples’ manage to maintain and strengthen their relationships over time? ILTM exhibitors and buyers reveal their top tips for long lasting luxury love and some common mistakes made by both sides…
Roger Kershaw, Custom Travel Inc
Start with a clear understanding of your partner’s parameters – that is, know in advance if there will be commission and what the process is, what the cancel policy is, so there are no misunderstandings early in the relationship. A common frustration is a hotel or operator’s failing to understand that while the individual traveller is the guest, the travel agent is the client. Cultivating a guest’s loyalty is important, but recognize that a travel agent’s loyalty is manifold. When an amenity is placed in the room, for example, a nice note or gift from the general manager is nice, but recognition at the same time of the travel agent goes a large step beyond that: it shows class on the part of the hotel and reinforces the importance of the travel agent to the overall experience.
Caroline Goux, Oetker Collection
Never assume anything, never take the relationship for granted once it has been established, be truthful, be trustful, and ensure a prompt follow up. Don’t overpromise, over deliver. The most common mistake agents make is sending a VIP request note or special room allocation request 48 hours prior to arrival. Best practice would be to send a VIP request note at the time the booking is made. Most booking being made more than 15 days to a month prior to arrival, we then would have a greater flexibility in room allocation enabling us to ensure they are allocated the right room, the right floor, the right view, etc. matching all their requirements and expectations.
Quentin Desurmont, Traveller Made
The most common mistake operators make when dealing with agents is giving us useless details about their property, I even heard from a member of staff in a luxury hotel: “we have a bathroom in all rooms, and we serve breakfast”. They should focus on five key differentiating points that agents can memorize as key selling points to their clients. As an agent, it is important to meet the supplier’s top manager in person and share great discussion.
Duncan Palmer, Marco Polo Hotels
My top tip for maintaining a good relationship with a luxury travel agent is give them the possibility that they can reach you when there’s last minute information, changes, or whenever they wish to check on the well-being of their clients. Adding a personalised touch by meeting guests or giving them a courtesy call when I’m off-property gives agents a higher degree of confidence that their clients are well taken care of and everything is in place.
Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Valerie Wilson Travel
My top tip for maintaining a relationship is do not take me for granted. Help us build a lasting, trusting, and evolving long-term relationship. Get to know me, my company, my clients. A common mistake would be assuming we know what you, your brand and what your top 3 initiatives are. The world is a dynamically changing environment. Always re-solidify our partnerships. You need to repeat, repeat and repeat your concise message in multiple ways and channels.
Christina Deeney, Aman
Our top tip is very simple: build a relationship with the agent and take the time to meet with them in person, learn about them, their clients and what they are looking for. The next step would then be to invite them to experience our properties – it is so much easier to talk about and sell a product when you have had the opportunity to experience it yourself. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal, which is to ensure we have happy and satisfied clients who want to return to us and to the agent so it’s about working together as a team to ensure this happens. The more we know the better and more personalised we can make their experience.
Erina Pindar, Smart Flyer
As travel agents, we need to be able to show our value to the consumer beyond just our knowledge and expertise, which is why price parity is important. A hotel’s biggest mistake is to offer the same product for a lower price should the consumer go direct, it’s the easiest way to make agents feel like the property or brand do not value the relationship. For operators, it’s important to disclose if they sell direct to consumer and they need to disclose what that means for the agent.
Chrissie Lincoln, House Collective
A lasting and mutually beneficial relationship between a luxury travel agent and a hotelier needs to be based on trust and respect. I have always lived in the destinations I have worked in and therefore travel agents often ask me for destination advice as well as just advice on the hotel group I work for. Travel agents that I have long standing relationships with know that they can trust me for an honest opinion and that I will always help them match their client to the right experience, not just hard sell my own property. When you have a transparent relationship with the agent, they feel comfortable asking your opinion, picking your brain for local knowledge and then working with you to not only plan the hotel stay, but to ensure their clients have access to insider local tips which will enhance their travel experience.
Matthew Upchurch, Virtuoso
The important qualities of a strong working relationship with a luxury operator are mutual respect and the acknowledgment of a common desire to fulfil the client’s needs. You aren’t doing a one-time transaction; you’re building a long-lasting relationship. Perhaps the operator can’t accommodate everything you want this time, or neither of you is going to make a large profit. What counts is that you are building a collaboration where you will both ultimately benefit by gaining a loyal client and by establishing a long-term partnership. I wouldn’t say it’s common, but the one mistake hotels and operators can make is to not be transparent with a travel advisor. If there’s a problem on your end, let the advisor know. When you act as a team, you can fix just about anything together. You look better, the advisor looks better and the client’s Return on Life experience may be even more spectacular than anticipated.
Kasra Esteghamat, Eden for Your World
The start should be easy, we start off on common ground. We’re all in this together, usually because we love to explore this world, and to be part of making people’s journeys memorable and the best they can be. To maintain a great relationship you need respect, which to me means responding to requests in a timely fashion and with correct information. Honesty, we all have expectations, and it’s vital that current conditions, issues, availability, and trends are understood by all parties. Passion, I think it’s vital that all our passion about the industry and about servicing our clients are evident. If we or the supplier is not feeling it, and excited about the product, it is difficult for us to feel the passion and to relay it to our clients. And finally, time. I do think it’s important that these relationships be nurtured. Spending time to send and email, a quick hello at at , grabbing a coffee or having dinner together really solidifies the relationship.
For specific advice on how to connect with ILTM’s buyers and exhibitors, pick up the phone and speak to one of us today, on +44 (0)20 8271 2172.