What the travel industry can teach marketers about customisation

Customers are demanding that their individuality be serviced without additional cost, so what can marketers do to give them what they want and deliver ROI? Take notes from the travel industry says Michael Londregan of Virtuoso Luxury Travel in this guest post.

There is a revolt of the masses and it is all about the individual.


Today’s consumer is powered by their preferences; they want to choreograph their own style and it is driven by the inspirational freedom of mass customisation – I want it my way, made to measure, in line with the brief, and don’t bother telling me to compromise.

Once customers were enchanted by stepping foot into the sanctity of a refined department store with its chandelier ceilings, glinting mirrors and perfumed sales staff.

The famous notions of ‘You can have any colour you want as long as it’s black’ and ‘If we asked the customer what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse’ both established the idea that the consumers were passive, at best, and the strategy should be to simply tell them what to buy.

But consumers have stopped accepting what they get and have started expecting what they want. They now demand the perfect not practical and articulate their preferences loudly.

Recognising the individual is vital to the success of so many in the service industries and this has become a highly relevant debate in the tourism industry.Online customer service satisfaction survey

In the face of a growing Online Travel Agency (OTA) marketplace, the true differential for travel advisors has become their ability to simply take the brief and draw on their knowledge and networks.

The online booking premise is that everyone wants to bag a bargain and paying full price is for the naive or uninitiated, but increasingly we are seeing this really only suits one section of the market. The piece of the market that will fit their size 7 foot into a 61/2 if the price is right, the piece that will compromise their brief for a price.

The other segment of the market that wants a better fit are going back to travel agency advisors – the hottest new thing that never went away.

There is a reason why you might choose a travel advisor, along the same lines as you might choose a financial advisor – because they spend their day immersed in their business and have their finger on the pulse.

Not many travellers have the time to complete the research required, nor do they have a network of travel providers to draw upon. Today’s consumers are looking at their travel investments as significant priorities in their lives, an investment of money and possibly more importantly their time.

As specialist in their client’s individuality, travel advisors not only listen to the brief for each individual trip but they also have the cumulative knowledge of their clients past experiences and personal preferences. This service dynamic as opposed to the product dynamic is thriving and becoming the category killer of the generalist.

This was the motivation behind the creation of Virtuoso when, 30 years ago, its founder and chair, Matthew Upchurch set about creating a vibrant and resilient global travel network of the world’s best advisors.

The focus was and is not solely on transactions, but on catalysing rich human experiences; it is about fostering human connections. How have these travel businesses moved to create a USP?


The Departure Lounge: an upscale “interactive travel discovery zone” that also happens to be one of the best coffee shops and wine bars in Austin

Businesses like Departure Lounge in Texas, where a cafe/wine bar provides the perfect backdrop for people to talk to their travel advisor and plan not only their next trip, but map out a whole lifetime of bucket list travel experiences, are revolutionising the way people purchase travel.

Pairing food, wine and coffee with travel inspiration through touch screens that showcase destinations, and following this up with a personalised advisor experience who ‘designs’ your holiday and gets you upgrades, special amenities and VIP treatment is a retailing masterstroke.

UK based Black Tomato uses a 20 question conversation starter to hone in on the customer’s DNA and not only have a shopping list of unique adventure, beach and safari ideas to offer, their exclusive ‘Drone the World’ service – where you can hire a high-end drone photographer to join your trip and provide you with the ultimate souvenir of your adventure – is meeting a demand to make the travel experience even more individualised.

Far from handing customers a brochure and directing them to the holiday package that helps meet a sales target, these advisors are highly attuned to their clients needs and making sure they deliver a value proposition.

Today’s truly successful travel advisors are doing three things – they are professional listeners delivering against their client’s brief; they are directly connected to products like hotels and tour operators, and use their connections to personalise the experience for the clients; and they specialise in bespoke, making them experts in what they do.

Vive la Revolution!

Michael Londregan is Asia Pacific managing director of Virtuoso Luxury Travel 

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