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Beyond first class: Travel agents’ role in the era of luxury travel

In the years following the pandemic, people were simply grateful to travel again - now, travellers are raising the bar, writes Robin Lawther, VP of Expedia TAAP.

NOT only is the demand for travel higher than ever before, but so are the budgets. Travel agents are seeing a higher demand for luxury travel experiences, and research shows that it’s only expected to increase with time.

Luxury travel takes many forms

What does luxury travel involve? It depends on who you ask. When people think of luxury travel, most think of extravagance, pampering and indulgence.

And while that may be true, luxury travel is far more complex than five-star hotels and white-glove service. Nowadays, luxury travel embodies a unique, holistic experience tailored to the passions and interests of the traveller. This isn’t just hearsay; it’s a core principle echoed by our network of expert luxury travel agents.

“Clients are looking for unique and personalized experiences,” said Tara, owner of Resfeber Travel, Inc., in a recent Expedia survey. “When they travel, they just don’t want a hotel. They want something unique and different, and they will pay for these experiences.”

For the travellers that want to lounge and relax, a luxury experience is something like a private bungalow perched in the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean. Every aspect revolves around comfort, ease, and having everything in one place.

For the more adventurous traveller, however, a luxury experience might look like an African safari. In that case, it’s all about being immersed in nature and exploring the terrain.

The devil is in the details

Regardless of individual preferences, there are two key aspects that make a travel experience truly luxurious. The first is acute attention to detail. Travellers want to feel known, and they want their preferences to be understood and reflected in the service they receive. To provide a true five-star experience, every detail, down to the mints placed on the pillow and the fold of the towels, must be considered thoughtfully and carefully.

The second aspect of any luxury travel experience is unparalleled service. The trip could be in the centre of a massive city or a remote mountaintop. Regardless, luxury travellers expect to have their every whim catered to.

Whether it’s arranging last-minute reservations at the most in-demand restaurant or organising a helicopter tour of some remote landscape, the hallmark of any luxury experience is the seamless execution of every request.

Anna-Lisa, owner of the travel agency Just Pack, told Expedia TAAP her luxury clients expect “head to toe service, itinerary customisation, and planning all logistics: accommodations, transfers, flights, activities (unique ones like Balian healers or Samurai lessons in Japan)…even down to restaurant booking.”

Planning is everything

Above all else, planning is the most important (and often least talked about) aspect of a luxury travel experience. Meticulous planning is the driving force behind any travel experience. The kind of planning that goes into creating a luxury travel experience takes a lot of time and energy dedicated to meticulous research, not to mention a wide network of trusted resources and service providers, curated for these luxury travellers.

That’s where travel agents come in. Without the assistance and expertise of travel agents, luxury vacations would be almost impossible to plan. And the more exotic or obscure the destination is, the harder it is to plan.

In fact, a Phocuswright survey of travel agents revealed that a majority (55%) of their clients are affluent travellers seeking personalised service and expertise, typically those with a six-figure income.

The survey also found that travel agents seem to have the most success when they have a particular niche or area of focus, making luxury travel an emerging specialization.

The role of travel agents

Travel agents not only have time to plan these vacations, as it’s their full-time job, they also have the expertise and connections to ensure premium quality throughout the vacation. Most clients seem to agree, as 85% of luxury travellers view travel agents as the best way to book personalised, luxury travel experiences.

Luxury travel often goes beyond what a quick Google search can uncover. Exclusive tours, private dining experiences or hidden gem accommodations might not have a flashy online presence, but a seasoned travel agent will know how to find them. Their connections with these high-end destinations grant travellers personalised entry to experiences beyond the reach of a typical traveller.

Potentially one of the most important aspects of a travel agent’s role is their unmatched level of support throughout the entire traveller’s journey. Their ability to nimbly navigate schedule changes and last-minute adjustments to plans are what most travellers value, considering this can be extremely difficult to do for a traveller operating alone.

The relationships that travel agents build with their networks are a huge contributor to the seamless travel experience and support their customers can benefit from.

These trusted networks are the cornerstone of a travel agent’s value proposition. Expedia TAAP’s program provides luxury travel agents with a wide selection of 4- and 5-star properties to choose from and over 600,000 luxury room types, including suites and villas, in addition to exclusive rates for travel agents.

Expedia TAAP covers all major luxury providers, making it a one-stop shop for travel agents to make all their bookings within one platform. Expedia TAAP’s expansive network and range of luxury partners have made it the platform of choice for many luxury travel agents.

Looking ahead

Luxury travel has exploded with possibilities, which gives us hope that the demand will continue to rise. There are endless options now when it comes to creating a custom travel experience. As options continue to increase, travel agents will become even more crucial in the process of making that trip a reality.

Their resources and knowledge base are truly the magic behind the curtain of these luxury experiences. As demand grows, it’s essential to support travel agents with access to premiere networks and advanced tools to make their job as seamless as their customers’ vacation experiences.

Robin Lawther (pictured) is the Vice President of Expedia TAAP (Travel Agent Affiliate Program). Based in Amsterdam, he has led the web-based booking platform – which supports over 35,000 agencies across the world – since 2020. 

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