Challenge Your Assumptions

In this issue’s cover story, “Art de Vivre,” readers will find that the Sofitel Hotels brand had some interesting challenges in its early days By: Kenneth Shapiro
Kenneth Shapiro
Kenneth Shapiro

In this issue’s cover story, “Art de Vivre,” readers will find that the Sofitel Hotels brand had some interesting challenges in its early days. For instance, one problem the company faced was an identity crisis — with consumers and even within its own organization. As you can read in the story, Robert Gaymer-Jones, the company’s chief operating officer, asked himself a lot of tough questions to get at the heart of this problem. What does the brand stand for? What do our customers expect from our hotels and our service? What about our history do we want to carry forward that will help secure the future success of the brand?

The process that Gaymer-Jones went through with Sofitel is something that all luxury brands must do from time to time — and that includes luxury travel consultants. Because the luxury traveler is demanding, constantly evolving and greatly in demand, working with this demographic, while rewarding, can also be fraught with challenges.

Arnie Weissmann recently wrote about the changing nature of the luxury traveler in Travel Weekly (“As Economies Shift, a New Luxury Traveler Emerges”). In the piece, he wrote that, at the recent American Express Publishing Luxury Summit, held at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, Calif., speakers reminded the audience to be on the lookout for two seemingly opposite types of upscale traveler. There is the relatively youthful, casual, internationally minded traveler (think tech company) and the more conservative, traditional, often-rural traveler (think mining and fracking).

While both may be willing to spend on travel, these customers often have very different values and tastes, and the trick for winning them over is matching their preferences with the right brand and experience. A successful vacation is going to be different for each client, and the key for the travel agent is educating themselves on the wide range of options in order to match the trip to the traveler.

This process begins by getting to know your customer and keeping up with the ways their attitudes might be changing. Just as Sofitel went through a sometimes painful process to rid itself of pre-conceived ideas and clearly define its identity for the future, so too must travel agents take an honest look at what they know — and what they think they know — about their luxury clientele.

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