If you are going to be successful selling luxury travel to high-end clients, you need to know firsthand what you are selling. This has been a cornerstone of my philosophy since launching my business 10 years ago, and came as a natural extension of years spent traversing the world as a travel journalist. I realized early on that I needed to see the places I was writing about in order to do them justice, and the same holds true now when I am editing choices and curating vacation plans for my sophisticated clients.
There is just nothing that can replace firsthand knowledge, especially when you are dealing with so many requests for places and properties around the world. And, while it’s impossible to get everywhere and know everything, it’s never too late to get started on getting out there and visiting as many as you can!
My clients often comment on the fact that they trust my recommendations, because they know that I truly know what I am talking about. If I haven’t personally been to a property, I make sure to find someone who has and get their personal insights to share. The last thing I ever want to do is make a blind recommendation or send a client to a hotel that is completely wrong for their style and taste.
What I have learned from all of my years of travel and visits, to possibly thousands of hotels at this point, is that what matters goes far beyond the room categories and style of the property. Each place I visit has its own unique vibe and essence that I pick up on as soon as I step foot on a property. It’s often challenging to express this to my clients, but it makes it much easier for me to know which place to recommend to who based on my initial and overall impressions that you can only get when you actually stay at a hotel as a guest.
With so many high-end clients traveling with kids (and often pets!) it’s essential to gauge which places will truly welcome them and which may just tolerate them. No one wants to show up at what they thought was their dream hotel with kids, only to find out that there is no “family-friendly” pool or conversely, plan for a romantic getaway and end up surrounded by screaming kids. These things don’t always show up on hotel web sites, but they are incredibly clear when you visit the hotel yourself.
This past week, I decided to take a road trip with two colleagues up the California coast. None of us had ever done a proper Napa Valley research trip and we get tons of requests from clients so it was time! We are staying in six hotels over the course of seven nights (wow!) and while it can be a bit grueling to pack/unpack and move so frequently, it’s also been the most incredible educational experience for all of us (not to mention my pup who joined us and can now attest to who gives the best treats and has the most comfortable beds!).
In addition to touring each of the properties we recommend for our clients, we built in a bit of time to explore the neighboring towns, a few wineries, local restaurants, and to spend time with the people at each hotel who we do business with. This type of relationship-building is priceless and allows us to excel at our “job” of matching clients to the absolute best hotel for their style of trip.
These “on the road” trips are my idea of the best kind of business trip. Ideally, I want to come back to my new favorite Napa hotels with a romantic partner and enjoy a true vacation in the same style as my clients do—and I will—but for now, I’m heading home after a week with colleagues armed with tons of insights about how to better sell California wine country to any client who asks!
Stacy Small is the president/founder of Elite Travel International, an LA-based Virtuoso travel firm. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @elitetravelgal.