What Travel Agents Need to Know About Milestone Travel

What Travel Agents Need to Know About Milestone Travel

Travel agents can help clients celebrate major life milestones By: Samantha Davis-Friedman
<p>Milestone travel often involves multigenerational groups. // © 2016 Adventures by Disney</p><p>Feature image (above): Learning about milestone...

Milestone travel often involves multigenerational groups. // © 2016 Adventures by Disney

Feature image (above): Learning about milestone travel gives agents a way to form lasting relationships with clients. // © 2016 iStock

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Building long-term relationships with clients is the goal of any service-related industry. Not only does it create loyalty, but it can also lead to additional referrals. It’s not uncommon for clients to approach agents for help in planning trips they already have in mind, but becoming aware of milestone events and using them as a motivation to reach out to clients seems to be an underutilized approach.

Get to Know Your Clients
Tracking a client’s milestones can provide perfect opportunities to recommend travel when special occasions are coming up. Most agents keep contact information for clients and might reach out if a particular trip or new product fits well with their travel preferences. Tracking birthdates and anniversaries, however, is not something that many agents do — despite possibly having that information on file.

“We do not usually track anniversaries and birthdays to contact guests about booking a vacation in celebration of a milestone,” said Sue Pisaturo of Small World Vacations in Washington Township, N.J. “But, if a guest is a frequent repeat client, agents know them really well and will keep track of special events.”

According to Heather Killingbeck, director of program development and operations for Adventures by Disney, many of its guests celebrate milestones with travel, especially multigenerational family trips. In addition, Killingbeck notes that the number of people celebrating their honeymoons with Adventures by Disney trips has also increased.

“Because the types of milestones vary, we’ve dedicated ourselves to creating vacation options that appeal to all ages — from the young to the young at heart,” Killingbeck said.One particular milestone that is often celebrated with travel is a college graduation.

For many students, this is a perfect time to travel before starting grad school or beginning a career.

AESU Alumni World Travel specializes in these types of trips. According to executive director Vera Ingram, the company’s grad trips are usually coordinated through university alumni associations so schools can ensure that graduates will be able to travel and celebrate together.

“Our graduation trips are designed to provide an overview of history, culture, art and architecture,” Ingram said. “We hope to increase global understanding by building and strengthening relationships between travelers and our constantly changing world — bridging the gap between college and a commitment to lifelong education.”

With that in mind, AESU Alumni World Travel itineraries include many educational features, such as guided tours, museum passes and admission to historical sites. Grads can choose from a 12-day itinerary to London, Paris, the French Riviera and Rome (with an optional five-day extension to the Isle of Poros and Athens) or a 19-day trip to England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Italy (with the same optional five-day extension). Agents who book graduation trips with AESU Alumni World Travel receive a 10 percent commission on the land packages.

Then there are weddings — perhaps one of the biggest celebrations in any family. As more couples plan destination weddings in exotic locales or choose wedding sites that are particularly meaningful to them, opportunities to sell wedding travel increases — sometimes even beginning with the engagement.

“We continue to see couples seeking immersive experiences to celebrate milestone moments,” said Korri McFann, manager of marketing and sales strategy for Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings and Honeymoons.

Since Walt Disney World is the No. 1 domestic honeymoon destination, it’s no surprise that many couples enlist the expert wedding planners at Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons to ensure that their wedding day will be extra magical. But many people don’t know that Disneyland and Walt Disney World are also among the top spots for marriage proposals. McFann says the company has noticed a growing trend to make this particular milestone moment an immersive travel experience — sometimes including the entire family. In fact, she notes, the industry even has a name to describe this new trend: “engagemacations.”

McFann says Disney Fairy Tale Weddings is also seeing couples celebrate their anniversary with vow renewals.

“But couples are not waiting 20 or 50 years,” she said. “It’s becoming common to celebrate in style at five or 10 years.”

What Are Your Clients’ Interests and Dreams?
Taking a more active and interested role in the client and the client’s family could open the door to many new selling possibilities for agents. For example, keeping track of the ages — and possibly even the interests — of clients’ children and/or grandchildren is a great way to sell milestone travel.

Certain educational-based travel opportunities might be perfect for clients with kids graduating from high school or college. Or, taking it one step further, knowing that a client has a child who is going to be studying French, for example, could provide an opportunity to sell a trip to France for Bastille Day. If an agent knows that a client’s child is interested in history, he or she might recommend a historical destination or tour.

A significant birthday or accomplishment can also be a reason to take a family vacation, and agents can capitalize on these opportunities by crafting a trip that appeals to a particular interest. Even a weekend trip for spring training in Arizona or Florida is perfect for families with baseball players or fans. Families with theater buffs may love the annual Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore. Got foodies? There’s the International Food and Wine Festival at Disney World’s Epcot, among other events.

Anne Esborn of Cruise Planners and Moonbeam Cruises in Tucson, Ariz., says that the Cruise Planners’ proprietary CRM system allows her to enter client information into an automatic system so that she can send e-cards for birthdays and anniversaries.

Esborn adds that she can also set up notices to remind herself of upcoming events for clients and make notes about certain places her clients mention they want to see. That way, if something special is happening there, she can let the client know.

Bucket-list travel can also directly tie into milestone travel. Working with a client to put together his or her list of must-see destinations can provide opportunities to combine the client’s milestone event with a bucket-list travel experience. It’s not uncommon for people to celebrate a milestone birthday by taking a dream trip.

“I always ask clients about their bucket lists,” Esborn said. “I think it’s a wonderful way to get to know your clients, and also to get them planning early enough to make their dreams happen.”

Make Yourself Valuable to Clients
When agents put a personal touch into the travel-planning process, it makes the relationship infinitely more valuable to clients. Small World Vacations’ Pisaturo has definitely noticed that a personal touch makes a difference with her clients.

“We have a field on our quote forms for people to mention special celebrations,” she said. “When we acknowledge the celebration in our welcome and price quote, they really seem to respond to that.”

Lynda Turley at Alpine Travel in Saratoga, Calif., keeps detailed information on her top clients — including anniversary dates, birthdates and children’s and grandchildren’s birthdates — and she frequently books celebration travel.

“I’ve known many of my clients for years and years,” Turley said. “I’m very honored that they allow me to help them plan very important times in their lives.”

Marla Sandow of Protravel in Encino, Calif., says that clients often reach out to her to ask where they can take their family — or extended family — to celebrate a special occasion or important event. However, it’s not only client celebrations that can serve as the motivation to reach out to clients with milestone travel suggestions. Destinations commemorating milestones with travel deals and specials can provide great selling opportunities, as well. One example is Four Seasons Resort Nevis, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, the Caribbean resort is offering a complimentary room upgrade to married couples who are celebrating a wedding anniversary during the resort’s silver anniversary. In addition, couples who are celebrating a round anniversary — such as the 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th and so on — will also receive up to $250 in spa credit to make their milestone anniversary vacation even more special. If agents track client anniversaries, this promotion could be the perfect way to suggest an anniversary trip to Nevis. This can also be a great way to initiate a discussion about planning an anniversary trip — even if this particular package is not a good fit.

But just because clients have returned from their vacation doesn’t necessarily mean an agent’s work is done. It’s always a good idea to follow up with clients after a trip, especially if it was to celebrate a particular milestone. Clients may be more open to suggestions on how to commemorate that same event the following year — perhaps even creating an annual family tradition.

Turley believes that agents should be proactive in reaching out to clients. She not only emails, but also sends cards — real cards, in the mail — and finds that clients appreciate the effort.

Helping clients create a lifetime of memories is something that Turley loves about her job.

“The travel memories we help create for families are really part of a legacy,” she said.