Creating Cost-Effective Immersive Travel Experiences for Clients

March 31, 2019

As travel professionals, we all want to provide the most memorable and immersive experience for our clients, regardless of their budget. While there’s no denying that guided, personal luxury safaris, private backstage tours of Europe’s finest museums and reservations at the world’s most exclusive Michelin-starred restaurants are guaranteed winners, being able to create an equally memorable experience for cost-conscious travelers is worth its weight in gold.

“In some ways, working with a travel advisor is like having a little extra insurance on your trip,” says Connie Miller, vice president of business development at Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, a host agency that works with independent travel advisors throughout the United States. “Our connections and resources provide opportunities to our Independent Contractors and hosted agencies found nowhere else and our advisors are not only there to handle whatever comes up, but to make sure the traveler’s trip is an unforgettable experience that’s worth the time and money invested in the trip.”

This ability to protect your client’s investment may be especially important when every penny counts. Here, advisors share their secret sauce for elevating a four- (or even three-) star trip to a five-star experience:

But First, Budget

For travelers and advisors alike, the b-word is often the least fun thing about planning a trip, but it’s also one of the most important.

“Asking about budget is the first thing I do,” says Foy Renfro, CEO of Journey To & Fro Travel and an affiliate of Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel. “You have to understand what you can offer and set realistic expectations.”

Whitney Shindelar, owner of Undiscovered Sunsets and affiliate of Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, says she finds it helpful to break the total trip budget into per-day budgets for her clients. For example, a day riding Vespas with a guide around Tuscany, including private lunch at a vineyard is usually an over-the-top experience at a price point that travelers on a limited whole-trip budget might assume is out of their range. But, when considering an average daily budget as opposed to the price point of each individual experience, it can be included in an itinerary with lesser-priced things in order to average out the daily budget. 

“Maybe for the rest of the trip, they’ll do some small group tours -- which still feel intimate but cost considerably less than private tours,” Shindelar says, noting that keeping costs down also involves working with multiple partners and companies for one trip. “I like to think of the itinerary as a big puzzle and it’s up to me to put all of the pieces together to create the perfect experience,” she says.

It’s also important to take into account what’s included in the cost of a given item. Jane Perkins of Epicurean Journeys (an affiliate of Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel ) says that -- particularly when it comes to cruises -- clients may initially choose a lower priced package over a higher priced one until she breaks down the costs for them. “Many times, people can have a better experience for the same price because the overall cost is inclusive and they don’t have to pull out their card every five minutes while they’re on their trip,” she says. “I also like to give them a survey so that I can get an idea of their personality and match it to what’s available within their budget.”

Little Details, Big Impact

Whether it’s placing a cherished photograph by a client’s bedside, sending flowers or a bottle of wine to the room for check-in, or composing a handwritten note, we all have our tried-and-true special touches that help our clients feel well cared-for on their journey.

“Just last night, we had some clients in Seville, Spain send us a picture of themselves in a tapas bar that we knew they would love because we had recently been there,” says Jim Welch who co-owns Amaze Travel (an affiliate with Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel) with his wife Julie. Jim says he and Julie routinely recommend restaurants and wine bars, neighborhoods in which to shop and other free-time activities for their clients. “Because we like to travel in an immersive way, we know how to make the experience immersive for our clients in ways that don’t cost any extra.”

Having insider knowledge of the destination, its highlights and their details and quirks is key. “I’ve taught clients in Lucerne how to do the ferry on the lake, take the cogwheel train up Mount Pilatus and do the toboggan slide there -- all of which can be done without a guide and without committing ahead of time to a date that might be rained out,” says Vicki Scheck of ScheckTrek Travel (an affiliate of Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel.

While most travelers on a budget don’t have the resources to buy a full travel package, they do love knowing they’re getting amenities that other travelers are not. “If you can secure at least one really nice restaurant reservation, or get a hotel upgrade, or a walking tour of the neighborhood they’re staying in, it’s a personal touch that gives your client a taste of what luxury travel can be,” says Renfro.

Relationships in Every Port

No matter what the price point is, most advisors agree that nothing beats having boots on the ground whom you know will take care of your clients just as you would.

“Suppliers who offer great immersive experiences and understand your expectations are the true gem of the travel industry,” says Shindelar, who, like many independent travel consultants, works with a host agency that’s affiliated with a travel management network. “They’re not easy to find, but when you find one, you hold on tightly.”

Welch adds that working with a host agency not only introduces him and Julie to suppliers, it also allows them to focus on building these relationships, rather than spending all their time on administrative details such as settling commissions. “It really frees us up so that we can focus on adding value for our clients.”

Top Tips for Immersive Travel on a Budget

  1. Know the destination well
  2. Create a survey that will help you develop an itinerary to match the client’s interests and personality to their budget
  3. Manage your client’s expectations so that they fit within the budget
  4. Work with multiple different suppliers and partners who understand your expectations
  5. Look at the per-day budget versus the total-trip budget
  6. Opt for small group tours over private tours
  7. Maintain strong relationships with different partners in all the destinations you serve, either on your own, or through a travel management network
  8. Consider using a host agency to take care of the “back office” work, so that you can focus on creating the highest quality experience for your clients