Lauren Liebert is a Honeymoon and Vacation Specialist at Ticket to Travel, a San Jose-based travel company that specializes in customized itineraries. Lauren has been with Ticket to Travel for over a decade and makes it her goal to provide her clients with the best service available. Today, Lauren specializes in booking trips for high-end clientele. We spoke to Lauren about luxury booking and how to excel at making upscale reservations.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What first brought you to the travel industry, and how did you end up getting involved in luxury travel?
Lauren Liebert (LL): I know it sounds cliché, but like so many other travel specialists, it begins with my love of travel. This was coupled with the fact that I was bored working as a Legal Administrator. I was fortunate to have had previous insight into the travel industry, thanks to my mother-in-law, who was a travel agent for over 25 years. Given that I was much younger, I saw many of my peers booking their own travel online and it occurred to me that this route was void of the personalized service they needed and desired.
I created my luxury travel business by networking, networking, and more networking! I make it very clear that I am here to be your travel concierge and not your discount deal provider. My clients understand that I work hard to provide them with the best service and value for their vacations. Further, I have been able to convince many top executives here in Silicon Valley, who depend exclusively on their Executive Assistants for their personal travel needs, to view me as their exclusive Travel Executive Assistant. When asked what the difference is? I show them that I have relationships and connections in the travel industry that their assistants do not.
TRO: What’s the most important distinction between first-rate and regular travel? What kinds of practices do you need to be more aware of when working with top-tier clients?
LL: Rarely do I discuss pricing with luxury clients during our initial consultations. For them, it is about receiving top notch accommodations, transportation and service. I make it a priority to establish a trusting relationship with these luxury clients. Just because my clients want the absolute most expensive room or cabin at a certain property doesn’t always mean it is the best. As an example, I had clients last year for whom I put together a 10-Day FIT to China, which included a 3-day cruise on the Yangzi River. They initially insisted on the largest Stateroom Suite and I told them… no!
“The Imperial Suite is located directly under the Bridge – there will be excessive noise and you will hear footsteps 24 hours a day. Not to mention your private large verandah is no longer private, as the Captain and his entire crew will be watching over you. Instead, I will reserve for you the next lower category suite, the Mandarin Suite, which is only slightly smaller but in a better location”, I said.
Luxury clients want to feel as if I am are taking care of them each step of the way. They want to be pampered from the first phone call or email to the moment they return home. Now this does mean that, as their travel consultant, I need to be available for them 24 hours a day at times. I recently arranged a destination wedding in Venice where, at the same hotel only a few days earlier, George Clooney was married. I received a frantic telephone call from the bride at 2:30 a.m. Friday morning PST, letting me know the transport company forgot to pick up her parents and grandmother. YIKES! This is not something that can wait for the morning. So I proceeded to wake up a few more folks to make sure the family was picked up pronto! Oftentimes when my clients are traveling around the world, I keep their time. I sleep when they sleep and I am awake when they are, just in case they need me. Yes, I do experience “Jet Lag” and I never even leave my house!
TRO: What is the most rewarding part about working with upper-end clients? What’s the most challenging?
LL: What I love about working with these clients is that they feel comfortable to take me along their journeys via selfie texted pictures and social media programs of their choice. There is no easier way to put a smile on my face than when I receive a selfie picture from clients on top of Machu Picchu. It is at that exact moment that I know this is why I chose this profession.
A challenge for me is receiving a text message on a Sunday night around 11 pm from clients in Samoa telling me that there is no room service, the hotel phone doesn’t work, and there are no robes in the room. Being a luxury agent, you don’t get the pleasure of a 9-5 job. You have to be able to make your clients happy, no matter what time of day or night, because they expect it.
TRO: When you’re approached by a consumer that wants to travel, what’s your process? What’s your mindset when you’re attempting to tailor a client’s preferences to a memorable, interesting location?
LL: I prefer to start the communication by getting to know the clients. I don’t like to begin with travel plans. I want to build a relationship with my clients, so it is always best to learn a little bit about them outside of their travel needs. Once we get past the introductions, I listen to what they are interested in doing and seeing, which is when my consulting services begin. Sometimes, as the travel agent, I need to be the voice of reason. An example is if my client would say to me, “Well since we are already down in South America, we might as well hop over to Easter Island for the day.” This is the opportunity for me to make their wishes of experiencing the large Moai statues happen! I would educate them that Easter Island does not have anything like Los Angeles International Airport with 1500 flights a day, and they would be remiss to not spend a couple of days on the island.
At the end of the day, it is my job to provide a trip of a lifetime that is well paced, so they become or remain clients for life.
TRO: Customer service is an important part of the travel agent experience. What sort of things have you done for your clients in the past to make booking with you a priority?
LL: I have created a reputation for providing travel baskets for my clients. In fact, I have been labeled the “Basket Lady” by many. Once again, I fall back on what drove me into this business: the lack of personalized service. Yes, I will provide my clients their itineraries electronically, so they can pull them up on their smartphones and tablets. But I still remind my clients that there are areas in this world that Wi-Fi does not exist, or is spotty at best. Therefore, I take the opportunity to provide the hard copies of their travel plans and build a customized travel basket to fit their personality and destination.
A couple of my favorite baskets I have done over years are as follows:
- Honeymoon for an Around the World Trip on a Private Jet with Geoffrey Kent.
- FIT to Morocco, which included a 2 night luxury camping in the Sahara Desert and staying in the best Riad in all of Marrakech.
Now, what has started to occur is that my clients who come back to me time and time again get almost as excited about their travel basket as they are about their vacation. In fact, I have one client that gives me suggestions of what she wants. Who am I not to give her what she has requested?
TRO: What’s one thing you always keep in mind when you’re working with a client?
LL: This is their trip, not mine. My likes and dislikes should never be conveyed to a client. For me, I am not fond of horses. However, when I get a call from a client that wants to rent out a Dude Ranch for their extended family and a few friends for a week, I set aside my fears of this animal, put on my cowboy boots (yes, they are pink) and plan it out for them. Yee Haw!
TRO: How has moving into the luxury travel business made you grow as an individual and as a professional?
LL: It has allowed me, or more importantly empowered me, to say the word “no”. It is okay not to accept every client with travel needs because many don’t fit my business model.
I recently was contacted by a person who found me on the internet, looking for an airline ticket from San Francisco to Dallas for Thanksgiving and wanted to make payments. I graciously explained to her that I am a luxury and vacation specialist and do not handle domestic airline tickets on payment plans. I encouraged her to contact me in the future when she wishes to plan a vacation getaway. She was actually thrilled that I was very open with her and looked forward to working with me when she is ready to plan her next vacation.
Another client inquiry that may shock everyone on how I handled it occurred last month. I was contacted by a lady who wanted to plan her 25th wedding anniversary to Bora Bora. As we went through the process of learning what she was looking for in a vacation and getting to know her, it became very clear that all she was solely focused on was a “deal.” Now, I will tell you that when I hear a client say this word, “deal”, I start to twitch. She proceeded to spend the next half hour rattling off all of the 5-star resorts she was interested in, including the exclusive Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa. During that time, every other word she mentioned was the word “deal.” I finally asked her if she was more interested in experiencing a luxurious vacation of a lifetime, with her husband, for this milestone event, or take the risk of getting the deal of the century? I am sure you can guess what she said… I told her to call Groupon and wished her luck.
It is okay to say no!
TRO: What was the most interesting booking you’ve ever made? Any interesting stories you’d like to share?
LL: I have quite a few!
The most interesting, memorable, and rewarding booking (all at the same time!) is a recent Destination Wedding in Venice for 25 guests. The Bride and Groom have been longtime clients and I was thrilled to hear they wanted to plan a Destination Wedding and treat select friends and family to a 4-day weekend extravaganza. They wanted to make sure it was over -the-top. Working with this couple, the suppliers and all of the guests was a yearlong process. The first step was picking the hotel. From the very beginning it just felt right to go with the Hotel Cipriani. A local wedding planner was picked, so I did not have to get involved with the wedding details and could focus on the travel, the tour components, and the guests. There were a lot of lunch meetings with the bride, but one in particular really stands out! One day she asked me to secure a pirate ship in Venice for a cocktail party the night before the wedding. Yes, it is true! There is a pirate ship that sails the Grand Canal in Venice. To make sure this pirate ship was up to their standards, my supplier flew a member of their team to vet the ship. I am happy to say it passed with flying colors. Now, many times in the planning stage I was told that I could not divulge certain plans to the guests and the pirate ship was clearly a “Top Secret” item! It was arranged so that the pirate ship was hidden behind the Hotel Cipriani and had the guests escorted personally to the ship, smoking cannons and all. Once they boarded the smoking pirate ship, complete with a Johnny Depp/Captain Sparrow lookalike, the guests were each handed personalized “Booty Bags.” These bags had their names on them, along with a pirate themed joke. The contents inside ranged from pirate hats, pirate hooks, pirate eye patches, to a stuffed parrot that sat on the bride’s father’s shoulder. After spending 3 hours sailing the Grand Canal, the group was dropped off on Venice Island, where they were attending the Opera for the evening.
TRO: What recent bookings or projects have you been working on?
LL: Currently, I have a honeymoon couple traveling on a 26 Day Around the World Trip on a Private Jet with Geoffrey Kent. They text me daily and I follow them on Instagram, so I can see all of their adventures. Additionally, I also had the pleasure of planning their Destination Wedding in Venice.
Luxury trips that I am currently working on at this time, range from an Antarctica Cruise, Greek Island Hop and a 50th Birthday Celebration for a lady and several of her friends that want to have their “Under the Tuscan Sun” experience, while staying in a fabulous countryside villa, including private tours.
TRO: What’s the best advice you would give to any agent looking to transition into high-end travel?
LL: Confidence! Do not be afraid to ask for the business. My mother had a lot of sayings while I was growing up and I never put a lot of merit behind them as a child. However, now as an adult I have learned she wasn’t so off base. Trust me, it doesn’t hurt to ask for the business. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no? But what if they say yes?
Lauren Liebert began her career specializing in honeymoons, destination weddings, group, and multi-generational travel. Word spread quickly in Silicon Valley about her extraordinary customer service, and her creative client gift baskets. Her clients keep coming back year after year, as a result of her great service but also to find out what will be included in their next travel gift basket! As a result, she has become a premiere Silicon Valley travel agent and now has broadened her expertise to include luxury travel, including around-the-world private jet vacations. Lauren holds the position of Director of Education for Ticket To Travel, educating other travel agents on product, preferred suppliers and destinations. You can contact her at:
Twitter – @laurenliebert
Blog – www.travel-rrific.com