For luxury travel advisors, making emotions the centerpiece of the client qualifying process and itinerary planning could be the new secret sauce, according to a panel of travel advisors at Virtuoso Travel Week last month.
“People are making travel decisions based on how they want to feel at the outcome – whether it’s relaxed, connected to their loved ones, excited to discover new cultures and destinations, or just feeling fulfilled by helping others,” said Misty Belles, managing director of global public relations, for Virtuoso.
Belles was speaking during a media briefing on “Travel & the EQ Economy” that preceded the panel. (EQ stands for emotional quotient, which can be loosely defined as emotional intelligence.) Travel actually increases our emotional quotient, Belles said.
For travel advisors, talking with clients about the emotional impact of their travels might prove to be the essential differentiator going forward, suggested panelist Phillipe Brown, founder of Brown & Hudson, a bespoke luxury travel agency in London. Especially as overused words like “authentic” and “experiential” are stripped of meaning, “emotion is something we can focus on that is different and meaningful,” he said.
“Our future is very much in educating people to understand that it’s not a simple act of going somewhere and seeing some stuff. It’s having a conversation, understanding how travel affects you.”
Solving problems through travel
Brown & Hudson has made this notion a linchpin of its client consultations, which have shifted away from talking about destinations to a focus on using travel to solve specific problems.
“Some people travel not to see a place, but to solve something about themselves, whether it’s anxiety or lack of confidence, or whatever. So, the premise is that where they’re traveling doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do before they travel, who they might meet when they’re in-country, why they’re meeting them, and what comes afterwards,” Brown explained.
The approach has gained traction. “People increasingly come to us and say, ‘This is the issue – where should I go?’” he said.
A page on Brown & Hudson’s website titled “Big Thinking” features a dozen different travel concepts, including Luxpedition, “for people who are looking for a challenge but without some of the hardships”; and A Journey Around My Room, “for people who struggle to achieve a work-life balance”; along with other more conventional-sounding travel themes.
Listening to everyone in the family
One area where the emotional impact of travel is particularly relevant is family and multigenerational travel.
“You’ve got grandparents wanting to lock in the memories of grandchildren so they will be remembered forever. That memory-locking mechanism happens so well when you’re traveling,” said panelist Cate Caruso, of True Places Travel, in Vancouver, Washington.
“That component of being a little bit out of your comfort zone, pushing yourself a little bit more, getting out of that routine, coupled with having the people you love around you and the time and space to be with them, is what really locks in memories and ups emotional intelligence,” she said.
To plan a successful family trip, travel advisors need to get to know and listen to the feelings of everyone traveling in a group, advised panelist Anne Scully, CTC, president of McCabe World Travel, in McLean, Virginia. “It’s very important when you’re working with a client to do that deep dive into the emotional side.”
Scully recalled meeting with a couple and their 21-year-old daughter to plan a family trip to Italy. The parents were excited about seeing churches and museums, about the food and culture, but the daughter seemed disinterested. “I turned to her and said, ‘I want to know what’s going to make this trip important and memorable to you.’”
The young woman didn’t know enough about Italy to offer any ideas, so Sully suggested that she and her brother might enjoy biking into the vineyards of Chianti. That did the trick. “I saw the first smile of the day on the young woman,” she said.
Making a game of travel
At Brown & Hudson, when a client couple sought Brown’s advice on where to take children who had grown resistant to family vacations, Brown asked to meet with the kids to find out what mattered to them. When he learned that their passion was computer games, Brown told the parents that the destination didn’t matter. “It’s not about where you go, it’s how you go,” he told them.
That’s when the agency created a travel concept called The Great Game, Brown said. “It takes all the attributes of a virtual or computer game and brings them into travel, so there’s suspense, there’s education. You’re discovering a place peripherally, because it’s all about the games.”
According to Brown & Hudson’s website, travelers on a customized The Great Game trip become the central characters in an immersive game that starts before they leave home and includes “challenges, chance encounters, geo-cache clues, puzzles, and augmented reality scenarios.”
Planning ahead for 16 memories
Someone once told Brown that individuals retain an average of 16 memories from their childhood family vacations, so his agency has begun asking clients to list the 16 travel memories they want to create for their families.
“We say, ‘Think about how you want each travel to affect you, [including] the change you’ll get out of it. Take that strategic view and you’ll get a much better result, rather than fumbling around six months ahead.’”