CANCUN — What can travel advisors learn from luxury brands like Hermes, Sotheby’s and Sandro?
Apparently, a lot.
Nearly 400 travel advisors, hoteliers and destination representatives affiliated with Embark Beyond joined luxury retailers at Nizuc Resort & Spa to discuss the latest trends for the ultra-wealthy and share best practices for building long-term relationships and impactful.
“Luxury is how you make someone feel,” said Jack Ezon, one of the founders of Embark beyond, the host of the event. “These brands speak to customers in an authentic way.”
And in the age of AI, advisors who speak the language of luxury will get ahead.
One way to speak authentically, for example, is to know the customers. Robert Chavez, Hermes CEO of the Americas, talked about giving each store the power to make decisions for its unique set of customers: The customer in Beverly Hills wants something different than the customer in New York. Shoppers from stores come to Paris to browse the line and purchase items with a specific customer in mind.
A panel on brand marketing at the Embark Beyond event in Cancun. Photo credit: Nashan Photographers
Chávez also deepened the relationship between sales staff and key customers. He advises salespeople to get as much information as possible about customers’ birthdays and anniversaries, what they like and what they don’t like.
“Be curious about your customers, but also be attentive to how much personal information they are willing to share with you,” Chavez said.
He then told the story of a couple who came to one of the Hermès stores to look at products. They were escorted to a private room, hoping to see the latest collection. Instead, they were greeted with cake to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.
Carolyn Travis, director of strategic marketing at Bal Harbor Shops, a chic Florida establishment, said the “hunger” for luxury is real and growing. Truly unique, high-end luxury is driven by rarity. However, many companies are creating entry-level versions to attract a new, younger audience.
But there’s a fine line between staying on top of the latest trends and turning away from one’s identity and past successes, she warned.
At Rimowa, a 125-year-old brand known for durable and stylish luggage, we’ve given a lot of thought to balancing the company’s traditional image while reaching new customers.
Part of that message may be about elevating the ordinary to the extraordinary, said Dezaray Romanelli, the company’s general manager for the Americas.
One of Rimowa’s most successful campaigns improved the boring, routine experience of getting a passport photo (often in a drugstore with dim lighting) by creating a studio in one of its New York stores .
Guests sat comfortably during the experience and left with a photo taken in flattering lighting. It was luxurious, with a beautiful story behind it.
And that was the central message addressed to the advisors gathered under the Mexican sun: our brands don’t just sell products, they tell a good story. And this can also apply to holiday selling.
The entire week could be considered a storybook painted by the Embark team.
Guests were emailed a “mood board” weeks in advance, suggesting appropriate attire for each day and night. There was a Halloween masquerade party with tarot card readings.
A sleepover at the Embark Beyond 2023 event. Photo credit: Nashan Photographers
The following night, a white party on the beach was followed by a pajama after-party, with pajamas courtesy of luxury retailer Frette.
Hermès, Bulgari and Ginori 1735 offered welcome gifts and Vilebrequin organized a pool party.
(Friends and spouses who follow us on social media must have wondered how much of a “business” trip this was.)
At the center of the story was Embark Beyond, as the best-connected and coolest group of advisors in the industry. The company’s theme song was sung – the words were printed on the back of participants’ notebooks – a signal to begin fireworks over the water.
Travel advisors, of course, don’t need to go to extreme lengths to sell a trip. But panelist after panelist emphasized two points: Really get to know your customers and build a storyline about what a specific trip can offer.
“It may be about reconnecting with family. Guests may be exhausted from work or want to explore a place differently,” said Anna Nash, commercial director of Aman Resorts. “They arrive somewhere with a feeling that something needs to be accomplished.”
This suggests that advisors need to understand who clients are and demonstrate that they are not just another number that contributes to the bottom line. An often simple way to do this is to show a little surprise and delight. Not the same bottle of wine or chocolates that everyone sends, but a personalized gift that reflects the fact that you really know your customer.
There’s a term in the retail industry for all of this: Clienteling. It’s about making ultra-wealthy customers feel special in order to encourage customer loyalty. But this doesn’t have to be limited to high-profile clients. Advisors who get to know their best travelers are able to tailor trips and products to their style. And it helps the advisor build a story around this vacation.
“There are trips I create for clients that cost $300,000. They live in a level of luxury that very few people can afford,” said Joao Donadel, one of Embark’s advisors. “If you don’t have that in your daily life, it can be difficult to understand what they’re feeling, what details are important to them.”
Donadel specializes in travel for members of the LGBTQ+ community and said luxury retailers can teach advisors how to be relevant and stay relevant.
“When you see Rimowa or Hermès, they know what they are doing. It’s quality,” he said. “People admire what they create.”
And ultimately, this customer admiration is the goal of retailers and advisors.