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In their continuing efforts to drive business from luxury agents, increasing numbers of high-end travel companies are creating exclusive clubs for top producers.
By-invitation-only groups offer advisors access, education and financial benefits, including increased commissions and free marketing dollars.
“These clubs are about relationships and also serve as an elite tool kit,” said Victoria R. Boomgarden, president of Direct Travel Luxe.
“They offer extra training, access to a dedicated concierge, special upgrades, and some offer incentive prizes to top sellers or marketing dollars. We just can’t live without some of the benefits provided, including the ability to get to general managers directly via exclusive 24/7 preferred provider email channels.”
The concept is particularly common in the world of five-star hotels. Belmond serves up the Bellini Club, while Rosewood has its Elite program. Hyatt Privé, inaugurated in February, is the latest member to wrangle up an exclusivity elite.
Participating brands include Park Hyatt, Andaz and the Unbound Collection, along with select Hyatt Regency and Grand Hyatt hotels. Before Hyatt extends invitations to individuals or agencies, it looks at booking data, including the number of suites reserved and average daily room rate.
“The luxury travel advisor community supports our direct strategy and are very valuable to our business,” said Tristan Dowell, Hyatt’s vice president of global luxury, lifestyle and leisure.
“We decided not to build this from the corporate office, but spent two years speaking with groups of luxury advisors all around the world to get a global viewpoint. What would they like to see? We built from the lens of their eyes. We have taken the stance that we value the agency community by building something they think is useful to them.”
Privé benefits, which are similar to those offered in the Belmond Bellini and Rosewood Elite programs, include: direct contact information for general managers and key staff; a special online platform for exclusive information and direct messaging; fast-track client upgrades; and early check-in and late checkout benefits for customers.
In some cases, the companies also host educational confabs, flying in staff from the world to meet with top-producing agents.
“Without a doubt, these companies are bringing in [the] very top and most engaged advisors. It’s the 80/20 rule. They key in on who’s producing the bulk of the business,” Boomgarden said.
For tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, that means a focus on agencies achieving more than $225,000 in annual sales. Its 100 Club member agencies receive commission overrides, specialized training, support for cooperative marketing efforts, customized promotional materials, client referrals, priority waitlist clearance for clients and special travel offers. There’s also a biennial 100 Club meeting.
This year, the get-together, held at the Four Seasons Chicago, included 160-plus agents, scores of A&K staffers from around the world, and two dozen or so representatives from supplier companies. Unlike meetings hosted by its hotel counterparts, A&K welcomes these suppliers in… for a price, otherwise known as a sponsorship fee.
Among the sponsors at the 2018 event were airlines including British Airways and LATAM; hotel companies like Peninsula, Explora and One & Only; and specialized cruise companies like Ponant and Aqua Expeditions.
Francesco Galli Zugaro, CEO of Aqua Expeditions, thinks the investment is totally worth it. “100 Club is about building relationships with the A & K regional general managers who handle our products, along with letting us strengthen our relationships with the country’s top-producing agents.”
According to Marett Taylor, A&K vice president of sales, “This briefing is an unparalleled opportunity for luxury travel advisors to get the latest intel on trends – and what’s on the horizon for the coming year.”
Taylor believes the well-informed agent is then able to “inspire their clients to get out and explore the world, which ultimately increases their business with A&K.”
And ultimately, increased business is what these clubs are all about. McDowell adds continuous engagement is another benefit. For the agents, according to Boomgarden, it’s also about the ability “to do the impossible because of the relationships we can develop and the special access that we receive.”