What is luxury travel? I thought I knew the answer to this until this lively interview with Becky Lukovic, Travel Advisor and Owner of Bella Travel Planning LLC.
With almost 20 years experience selling travel, Becky's insights into breaking into and selling luxury travel stems from deep roots in the industry. In one fell swoop, Becky breaks down assumptions on who the luxury traveler is, what constitutes luxury travel, and how to sell it with confidence. Not only does she offer great marketing advice, but Becky also participated in a service fee role play conversation and made reference to Star Trek. If you want to find out why I almost cried laughing in part, go give this newly-minted TAC episode a good long listen (or read)!
We ❤️ reviews!
- 5 Ways to Make Your Travel Conference Count: HAR's tips on how travel agents can optimize the time (and money) spent on travel industry events.
- Hosted Travel Agent Service Fee Report, 2018: Becky is among many agents who charge fees for their hard work! Check out our 2018 service fee survey results.
- Becky's Hermitage Bay Facebook Video: Sometimes a product can speak for itself: Becky's Facebook video shows a "sell without selling" travel agent marketing strategy.
- Spanx: What the heck is a Spanx link doing in the show notes?! you might ask. Well we took our metaphor for FAM trips reeeally seriously ;)
- Becky's Service Fee Structure: Check out how Becky structure's her service fees . . . then browse the rest of her beauteous website!
- Nolan Burris knows a thing or two about marketing that helped inspire Becky to charge a fee. Will his wisdom give you some marketing mojo? See for yourself!
- Travel Agent's Guide to Charging Service Fees: By now you're probably figuring out that HAR has a slight bias toward charging service fees. Well, we kinda do! We want you to value your time!
- Becky Lukovic's Social Media: You can find, follow, like and ❤️ Becky's agency on Facebook, LinkedIn, and (most importantly) Instagram!
Steph: You're listening to "Travel Agent Chatter, Volume 6." Today, we're talking with Becky Lukovic, the owner of Bella Travel Planning. And, as always, a warm, warm welcome to our new listeners and a big hug to those of you that are joining us again. Thank you. "Travel Agent Chatter" is an audio series produced by the team here at Host Agency Reviews. Quick housekeeping, the show notes can be found at hostagencyreviews.com/tac. And, of course, if you like what you're hearing, stop by and leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, which we don't have any on Stitcher right now, so if you wanna be the first, go for it. And a big thank you to Nightowl76 who is so kind and had this to say about TAC, "As a new agent, this podcast has been amazing. I'm always so excited at the end of each episode. I'm full of new ideas and I feel like I can go out and make improvements to my business. It's extremely informative and never boring. Thank you." My response to that, well, the first thing to note is the owl is totally my power animal, so Nightowl, you got that going for you. And the second thing to note is that we will not disappoint you this time around. I left the interview full of new ideas and had a grand old time. So, let's get on with the show.
So, howdy, all you lovely listeners. A beautiful morning, afternoon, evening to everyone. This is Steph Lee, the founder of Host Agency Reviews and as it would happen, I'm also the host for today's show. And here's the deal about luxury travel, it scares me. When I think about Ritz, I think of the mass-produced yet suspiciously delicious Nabisco cracker. And today's episode is a real treat because Becky is a great person to help me take a peak behind the luxury travel curtain. She's the owner of Bella Travel Planning, an affiliate of Travel Experts, who without complicating things too much, Travel Experts is a host agency that is a member of the luxury consortium, Virtuoso. So, hopefully, everyone got that.
And if you're an agent that's looking to up your luxury game or someone like me that's completely intimidated by luxury, have no fear. This podcast will give you a better understanding of what luxury is. And the first thing that you'll probably gonna learn from Becky is that luxury travel isn't defined by a dollar sign. So, relax and enjoy the show. We'll be listing the resource as we chat about as well as a link to a full transcript in our show notes. And you can find the show notes by visiting hostagencyreviews.com/tac and click on Episode 6.
And to give everybody an idea of our show today, the itinerary is gonna be broken into five segments. The first is gonna be the beginnings of Becky Lukovic's travel career. Then we'll move into, what is luxury? Then we'll talk about being on social and marketing. We'll then end it with fees. And then our last one, as usual, is going to be our warm, fuzzy segment. So, all right. It is time for us to dive into another exciting episode of TAC. I got my box of Ritz crackers and my bubbly already. And Becky, welcome to "Travel Agent Chatter."
Becky: Hey, Steph, thanks for the welcome and definitely need the bubbly.
Steph: I know, I know you. So, Becky really loves her bubbly and wine. It's kind of her. . . she's a little bit of a winey and a foodie, so I had to throw that in there.
Becky: For sure. Bubbles every day, baby.
Steph: Well, let me start out by sharing a little bit about Becky's background so that all of you know a little bit more about who we're chatting with. First thing to note is that she is an experienced professional. She has just under 20 years in the business. When did you start, 2001, Becky?
Becky: 2001, yeah.
Steph: Okay. Yeah. And I think an important thing to note about Becky is that, you know, she didn't grow up staying in five-star hotels and, you know, she wasn't a luxury traveler. After college, she backpacked around Europe and at night she was snuggling up in the hostels all across Europe. She was not in any five-star hotels. And so when she decided she wanted to be a travel agent. . . oh, okay. Hold on, let's back up. Because I said travel agent but ASTA just had their global convention last week and rebranded to the American Society of Travel Advisors. And I know that Virtuoso for a long time has been calling their agents advisors. So, in light of this, I'm going to try my darn best during this episode to use the word advisor instead of agent, so bear with me everybody. It's a habit that's going to be very hard to break for me.
All right. So, Becky decided she wanted to be a travel advisor and then things kind of began to change. So, Becky, let's just start out with a really big question: When you started out, you thought that all travel agents. . . well, ugh, okay. . . all travel advisors, that all they booked were cruises, escorted tours, all-inclusives, and all of those did not excite you to sell. And this is a conundrum that so many advisors have. They wanna focus on a particular area of travel, they find their niche, but when they start out they end up so hungry for business they book whatever comes their way. So, for you in particular, were you a hardliner that only sold luxury from the beginning, or did a cruise fall in once in a while?
Becky: Yeah. So, you know, in the beginning, luxury wasn't really part of, you know, what I thought I could even do actually. You know, well, luxury in the term of the dollar sign, luxury of the five-star hotels and that type of thing. For me, I was all about the experiential. And I think that was a direct result of, you know, my backpacker days, going through Europe and all that. You know, I have all these great experiences. And so when I first started I had envisioned, they're gonna have these amazing experiences, and that's what I'm gonna help them do, that's what I'm gonna facilitate. But as you mentioned, when you first start out it's just like, "Please use me for anything, anything," you know? The Hampton Inn, I'll do it.
Steph: That sounds amazing. Yes, do you need a car?
Becky: Yes. Oh, can I get your car too, please, you know? And it's like, it would just make my little tail wag. So, I was so hungry that in some ways I kinda . . . and you and I, we've spoken about this before about I kinda felt like I sold my soul to the devil when I went to the . . .
Steph: The dark side.
Becky: . . . I know . . . to Vegas and Cancun. I'm not knocking those destinations whatsoever. But, in my mind, it was so much more noble than that. And, you know, here I was selling the things that I was just like, "Oh, my gosh, I'm becoming that person that I never wanted to use." And I think that's normal. You know, I was learning things, I was learning how to sell, I was learning the destinations. I mean I knew Europe back and forth and all that but I was learning the industry. I was learning how to use a wholesaler. I never had even vacation with a wholesaler, much less used one, and so I was learning as I was going.
And honestly, one of the things that it really taught me though, and I'm so glad I had that experience, is it taught me, “it's not about you, Becky, their vacation is not about you. It's about them.” And I remember the first time I sold an escorted tour, I was like, "No, let me make it where you go on your own and it will be easy." And they're like, "No, we want an escorted tour." And I'm like, "I can't believe I'm selling an escorted tour." And nowadays, I have no such qualms because it's not about my taste. I'm not their mom trying to feed them vegetables. You know, I'm here to make it the best experience but if that's their comfort level, that's fine. But those days actually taught me that. It taught me to get out of the way of, you know, what they want to do. So, yeah.
Steph: That's a fantastic lesson. Yeah. That resonates completely with me and I'm not even a travel agent. So, hopefully with the agents that are listening, they'll be able to have that resonate with them. So, as you started out, because you had no background in the travel industry and you went to an online travel school, and then worked with a host agency. And as you were starting . . . because you had two young children, they were in, is it middle school and high school?
Becky: Middle school.
Steph: Okay. Yeah. So, you had younger children, youngish, was business busy in the beginning or, you know, did it meet your expectations? Tell me more about your first couple of years.
Becky: You know, my first couple of years started off slow. As I mentioned, it was just kind of like, "Pick me, pick me, let me do anything. I'll do the Hampton Inn. Let me do your air, let me do anything." And so, it was a little slower going. And the first year, I really had no expectations. You know, I thought I won the lottery every time someone had me do anything. And especially if I could use a wholesaler it was like a celebration that lasted for days. It truly was, you know? And so it did take awhile. And then even after the first couple of years it was like, "Oh, my gosh, am I ever gonna make money doing this?" And during that time, I was refining . . . I was like, "Who am I? Who do I wanna be as a travel advisor? What do I bring to the table?"
Because in the beginning it's kinda hard though because you're trying to promote yourself, but I had been to few places. I thought I was well-traveled until I met some other travel advisors at conferences. I'm like, "Oh, holy cow, I've not been anywhere." And they're like, "Oh, when I was in Malaysia. . . " I'm like, "Where is Malaysia?" And so, I was building my skills, I was learning how to network properly, and how to explain what I do and explain what I had to offer. Even though I didn't have a lot of experience, I did have some things to offer. And I started going to networking events and things like that, and business kept trickling in and then growing exponentially.
It took, I would say, before I was like, "Hey, this is like awesome," probably four, five years for me at least, you know, because I didn't have the connections. I certainly didn't have the connections, you know, that I have now but I didn't have some of those connections. And I do know that there are some luxury travel advisors who, out the gate, they're doing a million plus plus. I mean I have some dear friends who come in the industry and they've had the connections and they've had some other things. And some of it's serendipity but they're still working hard too, to get new clients. But I would say don't get discouraged when at the very beginning it's trickling in because you're having the opportunity to, you know, besides just selling, you're having the opportunity to learn, and to read, and to build your business and build your brand, and find those things that make you that unique person.
Steph: Mm-hmm. And I think this is interesting because the past two years we've been doing an income survey for agents, or advisors. And we just pushed ours out this summer and I'll put a link to it in the show notes. But it's exactly what you're saying for people that are starting out, it takes three to five years before the income starts really picking up, which makes sense to me because you're learning so much. And then it's not as if people are traveling four times a year so you're only. . . like the second year is when you're finally getting repeat clients and referrals. And so, that's really great to hear.
Becky: Yeah. And honestly, Steph, for any business, if you're starting a widget business, I would think that that's gonna be the same. Any business you start is gonna take a number of years to make that profit. So, yeah, just be encouraged.
Steph: Well, let's move into talking about luxury because when you mentioned earlier that you have friends in the travel industry, have connections within the luxury world, that's one thing, but a lot of us don't. And for me, the idea of booking luxury clients is incredibly intimidating since I'm not wealthy and I'd be thinking to myself like are there private jokes that everybody knows? Maybe there's like a secret handshake that I'm supposed to be doing. I have no idea. So, I guess let's start off with the basics and let's discuss the definition of luxury travel. What is luxury travel? Like how would you define it?
Becky: Yeah. And I've said many times, luxury is more than the dollar sign. Luxury isn't just staying at hotels that cost the same as some people's mortgage payments. I mean that is a very small segment. But luxury is about the experience, it's about authenticity, it's about the connection, and it's about feeling like you've done something like amazing, and that's luxury. It's culturally relevant, it's experiential, and it include things that you're passionate about and interested in. So, instead of looking at luxury as this unattainable, just think about in your everyday language when you say, "Oh, that was such a luxury to be able to stay the whole day at the pool and read a book without the kids, you know, hanging out with me and stuff."
And so, sometimes it's just about, say, you want to visit a really nice winery in Tuscany and have a private driver. Or it could be a really nice small group experience, like my husband and I went repelling down waterfalls in Costa Rica, and it was a splurge. We didn't splurge for every excursion we did but we splurged on that one, and that was luxury. It was something that when you were done it sticks with you, and it was unique and special. And the same thing with the hotel, luxury could mean you're just staying at something different or just up a level, or this really cute boutique that isn't in the price range you usually spend. But it's your anniversary so you're gonna go and you're gonna spend two nights and be able to do that. And so that's luxury and that, I mean there's a lot more people who fall under that umbrella than who are gonna spend someone's mortgage payment for every night at the hotel, if that make sense.
Steph: Mm-hmm, that totally make sense. And it makes luxury travel so much more approachable to me. You know, my dramatic vision of needing to wear diamond necklaces and tuxedos for luxury travel is, you know, not really what luxury travel is from someone on the front line and boots on the ground. You’re saying that a small percentage of clients are those high rollers that have, you know, more money than they can know what to do with. And then a lot of the people that are booking luxury are splurging and they are, you know, middle class or upper middle class clients that they're not probably booking luxury trips every year but they're maybe doing something special for an anniversary.
Becky: Correct. And Steph, luxury is not just the glitz and glamour either. You mentioned the diamond necklaces and tuxes. Luxury travel could be hiking boots and a safari hat, or if you go to Patagonia and go down to the south there and you're hiking every day, and you have someone who, they maybe one of the 1%. And you have someone there who's saved, who's a teacher or a doctor, or whomever, we talked about farmers, people that have saved for a number of years to do this bucket list trip and they may walk in your office and you may not even see them as a luxury traveler. And I think sometimes, when we kinda try to categorize people when we see them and even when we speak with them, we kind of assume that they're gonna want something and we're scared to even offer something different. So, luxury comes in all different size, shapes, form, and with all kinds of people.
Steph: Mm-hmm. And to give everyone that's listening a little background on our little farmer story. So, I was talking with Becky about how like I grew up with a travel agency in my family, and we lived a bit out in the country. And I was telling her about how, you know, as the outer ring suburbs have been expanding that all these farmers that I went to school with and people that, you know, were milking the cows before school and doing all these things, that they became millionaires when they sold their farmland to different developers. And, you know, but they'll come into the travel agency looking not like what you think. Someone that's, you know, how a multimillionaire looks like. And you wouldn't think like, oh, you know, they would wanna go on a safari, but they do. They wanna take their families so, you know, it can be very deceptive in who is wealthy and who is not, which is, you know, I think in my mind I have trouble getting over that sometimes.
Becky: For sure.
Steph: Let's see. So, one thing I talk with advisors about when they tell me that they would like to get into luxury or they're booking luxury, because I found that when I'm talking to people about it, there's very different levels of luxury. For one person it might be staying at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. And for another person, you know, it's a very, very different experience. It is like a mortgage payment every night at the hotel. So, when you're talking with clients, do you have that conversation on, you know, what is, if they say they want to do something luxurious, are you asking them, what is luxury to you?
Becky: Not quite. It usually doesn't quite go down like that. Usually, when I first start speaking to a client, I'll send them like. . . or on the phone even, I just kind of have a battery of questions and I just kinda make them up kind of on the fly. But usually they have the same undertone and theme. But I do ask them, like on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of luxury, where do you fall? And I would say almost everybody says a six or seven and their budgets could be diverse. But a lot of times though, when you speak to people about their expectations and what they're looking for, and you try to get their budget, you try to pull that out of them.
But gosh, sometimes it's so hard because people hold that close sometimes. "So, okay, so if I give her my budget, she's gonna like exceed it times four." So, you know, sometimes they'll either really lowball you or they'll just kinda go, "Oh, we don't know what it costs." And you're like, "Okay." But, they're definitely . . . when you speak about what kind of experience that they wanna have, when you speak about what kind of hotels they usually stay in, what's important to them, you kinda start to ascertain a little better about what they're looking for and they'll find ways for you to know, but I do have some sometimes who surprise me. So, it's like I'll give them some sort of . . . I had a honeymooner once where he want something nice and I gave him some high mid-range type hotels.
He wanted to go somewhere warm so I was giving him all this and he's like, "Oh, I was actually thinking of Amanpulo in the Philippines." And I'm like, "Okay, then." And it was just a reminder to me that I don't always know exactly . . . I was kinda grouping him and he sounded young, and I kinda put him in a category. So, after speaking with him, you give him some thoughts but I try not to give him like everything in the same price range. I found this actually works to even help . . . if you have some clients that are mid-range or even upper mid-range clients and you wanna move them up to the next level, whether it's a cruiseline or a hotel room, or whatever, sometimes I'm like, "Okay. . . " and I find it easiest, I think, with hotels because it might be one or two nights here and there, one or two, three or four nights here and there.
But it's like, "Okay, so I have this one and I have this one. But if you wanna splurge, I have this one." And then I just kinda put that out there, and for the longest time it was hard for me when I first became part of Virtuoso, it was like, "I will never be able to sell any of these hotels that are the preferred." It's like, "Oh, my goodness. There's no way." And then I just started offering them and I was shocked at how often people would choose the experience or the Virtuoso hotel, or whatever, and just by offering it. And I had colleagues start to do that as well, and had success. And now, oh, my goodness, I sell so many now that I mean it's just . . . but yeah. So, you have those conversations but it's not often that someone comes to me and says, "I wanna book a luxury trip." And usually it's more what they wanna experience.
Steph: Mm-hmm. When we were chatting earlier, you gave the great advice of, “don't sell your pocketbook and also to be respectful of clients' budgets, but don't be afraid to give more options.” And you talked about, a little bit how you just did, but that when you're working with people, you always give them some things that are within their budget. But then give them the splurging items and that that's really a way . . . it's, you know, not a hard upsell and it's nothing like that. I don't wanna say fall for that but, you know, I found myself doing that and I'm like, "Oh, I have this budget." And then I look and I'm like, "Oh, I need that like camera or computer." Suddenly, I'm like spending $1,000 more than I plan to, I don't even know because there's an extra bullet point or something. I'm not even sure why I'm buying stuff sometimes.
Becky: Yeah. And, you know, honestly, and it's not as much about, you know, like my bottom line, I'm trying to upsell them so I can . . . you know, really I want them to have this amazing experience. And so, I want them to experience some of these things but I think sometimes it's really easy and sometimes I still fall in this trap where we look at it, and again, as travel agents, we're a bossy lot. And we like to tell people what to do, I mean it's what makes us amazing. But I think sometimes we look at something and go, "Oh, that's not worth that. No, that's not worth that," before we even present it to our clients.
And so, you know, I have to remember to, you know what, just present it to them and let them make that decision. And maybe I wouldn't pay this for this experience, that maybe I wouldn't pay $250 for a private driver to take me from the hotel to the train station, but they might, and they might want it. And so, and you know what, I'm okay with that. I will support them in that and sometimes we kinda have to get over our notions of value and priority because it's about giving them the best experience for them. So, when I have a client come to me and say, "Oh, I wanna stay in this super inexpensive brand of all-inclusive resorts."
And then my first question is, "Well, okay. So, tell me what led you to this one." And usually they're like, "Oh, Mary Beth next door said it was great, da, da, da, da," you know? And so, we'll have a conversation and it's like, "Well," especially if it's one I don't normally book, "I don't really do that one a lot because of X, Y, and Z." Or if I do I'm like, "That one's good but there's also this one that's very similar in price and then there's this one that's a little bit more but you're gonna have a better experience." And give them those options. Instead of giving them three, okay, they know what you want, this is done and done. And then they come back and the vacation was okay.
I don't want their vacation to be just okay. I want them to go, "Wow, I had an amazing adventure, vacation, respite, whatever." And to me, that's what that's about is finding those elements they wouldn't have thought of. The properties that you know it's gonna be, especially once you start working with them a lot, that you know it's gonna be a perfect fit. And giving the option and letting them pick, and not selling your own pocketbook. Because sometimes I get cheap, man, I'm cheap sometimes.
Steph: Yeah, like we talked about, it's all these weird psychology that goes on.
Becky: It is, you know? And I tell you, even with my own travel, I am so guilty of going, "Oh, do I wanna pay that for the agency? No, I'm fine." And then I get there and I'm like, "I am freaking upgrading to that ocean view." And then they're like, "I'm sorry, it's sold out." And I'm like, I'm ready to like knock on doors and throw money at them to let me trade rooms with them because it's like, "Well, I want the view. I wanna wake up and see it. It's not just a place to sleep, it's my room." And I do that sometimes. So, I just wanna make sure I don't do that on behalf of my client and not give them the option.
Steph: Yeah. Well, before we jump into the next segment, you had mentioned, because one thing with luxuries, if you are going to be booking in, you know, luxury circles, that you had mentioned that there's a certain expectation on the way you present yourself when working with clients and things like that. Can you expand on that a little more?
Becky: Oh, absolutely. With any travel, but especially with luxury travel or experiential, or whatever you wanna call it, I'm not just selling a hotel room. I'm not selling a Silversea's cruise. I'm not selling, you know, X, Y, or Z. I'm selling me and I am my brand. And that's what . . . you know, people come back to me because of my advice. Because of my experience. Because of those things. And so you're selling yourself, you're not selling a product, and so your brand is more than just whatever your logo is. Your brand is everything about you, it's like how you present yourself. If you're going to a networking meeting and you wanna find clients who are a little more luxury-minded, take a peak at what you have on and what you are exuding. And you don't have to totally match them but you need to look like a trusted professional. It doesn't mean that you have to wear a suit or anything like that. You could be a trusted professional and when I sell the Caribbean. . .
Steph: No tuxedos.
Becky: Yeah, and I'm wearing the brightest Caribbean colors out there but I look, you know, put together and I speak in a way that's more put together. And everything I send out, you know, it looks nice, and the same thing with your travel. I had this aha moment once when I went to Europe and my very best client said, "I'm just, I'm dying to know, where did you stay." And I'm like, "Holy cow." I'm like, "Well, you know, I saw this hotel, this hotel, this hotel." "Yeah, but where did you stay?" I'm like, "I was at this little bitty small boutique, little place." And I'm just like, I didn't wanna go, you know, "It was the cheapest place I could find."
Steph: Yeah, it's hard, you know?
Becky: You know, it is, but then it's like, okay, suck it up, buttercup. Find rates and splurge a little on yourself when you travel too and all that. And it's definitely a balance that they are kinda paying attention to what you're doing. And it doesn't mean you have to stay in those mortgage payment type hotels but you definitely kinda wanna have your travel game—-whether it’s experiences or whatever—-match that. And that also helps, like my biggest competition is not other luxury travel agents, travel advisors, it's people who only trust themselves to do it. And I've got to convince them that, "You know what, you can trust me to hold your vacation in my hand,” and my brand lends itself to that trust because I'm exuding that I'm knowledgeable, that I'm passionate about travel and destinations, and about my clients. I tell my clients, "I specialize in you. I get to know you and you are unique, and I will get to know you." And those things, my brand needs to exude that and I need to be true to that brand.
Steph: Well, this is a perfect segue into the next one because in our next segment we're talking about being social because, well, I'll put a link to it in the show notes, but when you're talking about traveling the way that your clients travel and experiencing that. This is just a statement, not so much a question but the Hermitage Bay video that you posted up on your Facebook page was just fantastic. So, I'll put a link to it in there for the show notes. And everyone can watch but it's like you go in there and it's like, "Come on, take a tour, look at this plunge thing." And like, "Oh, look, here's my bubbly." And, "Oh, check out the bedroom, and look at this view, and it's not ocean view but it's so private, and then you get to see these vistas." And I was like, "Oh, I wanna go to the Hermitage Bay."
Becky: It's true.
Steph: You do a fantastic job of using social, you know, leveraging social to show your travel experiences to your clients. Do you. . .
Becky: Well, thank you. Go ahead.
Steph: Yeah. Okay. Was it the Hermitage Bay video that you said you had clients calling you right after or what was that?
Becky: Yeah. Yeah, you know, my very best client had gone there. And she probably was texting me when she was there, which I love when they text me when they're on vacation saying, "This is a little piece of paradise, we love it." And all of that, so yeah. That place is like super, super special. And that's something I kinda came into is that for the longest time, you go to cocktail parties or you're in a networking thing, or just meet people, new people, or even friends or whatever. And especially when I was first in the industry and even like kind of the midway through my career, you know, people would say, "Oh, I bet you get to go on some amazing trips and you get to travel all over the world."
And I was so cognizant of the desire to feel legitimate as an independent contractor. And I've rented office space before but I also work at home, and I work at home exclusively now. But I was so cognizant of meeting that validation that, "I'm a professional and I work hard," that I would almost downplay the experiences I had. And I would watch all of them and it was interesting, you're talking, you're looking at them. And I'm like, "Oh, yeah, I get to go a few places but it's like everybody else. I'm stuck at the office and I can't leave on vacation because I have a lot of clients," this, that and the other. And to see their face fall and I'm going. . .
Steph: Dreams shattered in front of you.
Becky: . . . that was not sexy. So, finally one day, I'm like, "You know what, Becky, let's just get over it. Let's get over this whole, you know, I want them to know that I'm a working travel advisor, that I am working my tail off." And just go, "Yeah, I have some amazing stories to tell, and yeah, I get to go to some really cool places." And I sex it up, man. I mean it's like, "Yeah, it was amazing, and da, da, da, da." And then suddenly, they're telling me their stories and their wish list and their bucket list. And when they introduced me to their friends they're like, "Oh, you're Becky, and she does all of these amazing trips," and this, that, and. . . And they're like, "Really? Where did you go last?" And they're talking about theirs and they're like, "I need to talk to you." That, "I need to talk to you" stems out of that passion for travel and you sharing. And for me, social media is an extension of that.
Steph: I also think, I found it's really abnormal in the travel industry because everyone travels so often, that we're like, "Oh, I only traveled like four times this quarter or twice this quarter. And I only travel internationally." It's not normal, like people don't do that for their jobs. And especially, like people will travel abroad for their jobs, but they're staying at a hotel and they're working at the factory or whatever, installing something in Southeast Asia but they're not . . . like when we travel in the travel industry, it's like we're going to these beautiful resorts and you work hard but you're also. . . I mean it's not a bad. . . we're all used to it but it's not normal.
Becky: Yeah. You know, it's definitely not a bad gig. But I think sometimes that because we work so hard, when we go on educationals, oh, my goodness, we work our tails off. And it's like we're getting up early and you're on, you're on all day, all night. You run in to shower and change, and whatever. And of course, me, with my social, I have to tell my husband . . . we have a joke. I'm like, "Anytime that you see me out on an educational and then you see my legs out and my shoes off and a book in my lap, I have literally run to the beach, sat down, put my book there, took the picture, gone to my meeting." But my clients don't wanna hear that, you know?
But I think sometimes because they don't feel like a vacation to us when we go on an educational because we're not getting that three, four-day pool time, and all that. Then sometimes I think we kinda downplay it too because we know the reality. But my clients, they don't wanna know the reality. They wanna know, "I went to this amazing restaurant. I saw the suite, it was beautiful. I went on a helicopter ride in Cape Town." I mean that was a bunch of awesome . . . and, you know stuff like that and they wanna hear those stories. And so the other stuff, it's kinda like wearing Spanx. You know you have them on, and people who know you know you have them on, but we don't have to tell everybody, "I'm wearing Spanx." You know, they don't need to know how hard we work on that educational.
Steph: Possibly, yeah, that was amazing. I never dreamed of Spanx being mentioned in the podcast ever and it just happened, so ah! I'm putting a link to that in the show notes to Spanx if anyone is like feeling the urge to buy them. Well, let's see. So, okay. I think now that we're feeling a little bit more comfortable with what luxury travel is, let's talk. . . we've been talking a little bit about the marketing. What kind of advice do you have for people that are looking to break into circles where people are buying luxury travel and luxury vacations.? Where have you found success, you know, if you're not naturally plugged into that community?
Becky: Sure. You know, I found success and I know others have found their success when they find their passion. I mean besides travel, let's put travel away for now, but find your passion. What are the things that really jazz you? And it could be gardening, it could be. . . you know, mine, of course, anybody who follows me socially. . . follow me on Instagram, little plug. . . knows that I'm into food and wine, and wine, and wine, and champagne, and more champagne. So, I go to events and groups, and both formal and informal opportunities with wine and food because people who like food and wine they like to travel. Now, if you don't like wine and you go to a wine thing, it's not gonna work for you. And so you have to find what works for you. If you like to work out, oh, my goodness, go to the Orange Theory, go to the ballet barre classes. Those take lots of money, I'm telling you.
Steph: I was going to say, I was like, "I don't think the bar is where people that are working out are. . . I think you got a mistake in your head there."
Becky: B-A-R-R-E. But, you know, find the things that are interesting to you or passionate to you and then just build authentic relationships.
Steph: That's great advice. Mm-hmm.
Becky: You know, my husband sometimes, he's like, "Becky, you're not handing out your cards." And, for me, I'm a more subtle marketer and so for me, I'm not saying this as a rule, but I wait until they ask me. And they're not always gonna ask me but most of the time I just wait. I don't even tell them what I do until they ask, you know, because it gets around. People are like, "Oh, what did you do? Oh, what did you do?" I'm just waiting, waiting, waiting. "What do you do?" "I am in the travel industry." "Well, what does that mean?" "Oh, you know,. . . " and I'm just kinda giving them tidbits. And then eventually they're like, "Hey, I'd love to have your card."
And so, I'm going to things where we have a mutual interest in something and I've gotten to know them before I ever even push a card on them. And sometimes that even takes me getting to know someone three and four times. And it might seem like a long, laborious process but people do business with people they know, like, and trust. So, they have to get to know you, they have like you. And then there's a building of trust, and trust comes from seeing you over and over at places. So, you know, if you just show up like at the chamber or you're neighborhood networking and you show up for six months and, "Oh, I never got any business out of it," it's because you haven't been there long enough.
It takes a year to 18 months for showing up a lot for like networking groups for those to really. . . but even like with my food and wine groups, it took me probably a couple of years of going to things with these same people over and over again before they called me and they're like, "Hey, can you . . . " And they'll give you like a one-off. "Hey, can you plan this whatever?" "Hey, absolutely." And then they start referring people to me and then that just snowballs. That onesie, twosie, times two. It's like the tribbles in "Star Trek" that just multiply, they just start multiplying. So, it's building those authentic relationships.
And then having a presence, and I know we're gonna talk about social here in just a little bit, but having a social presence is the same, I feel, now than that websites were back in the late '90s, early 2000s. Because as I go on. . . I even look on Facebook, Instagram probably before I even look for their website these days. It's like, how do you not have a presence? You know, or it's all private. It's like, really, you're in sales and all your stuff is private?
Steph: Yeah. Well, I mean you are. Everyone listening, I'll put in links to Becky's social but when I was doing social stalking prior to chatting, she's incredibly active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and, you know, has decent followings in all of those. And like Twitter, even as she says, she has the valuable K. So, she has 10,000 plus.
Becky: I love the K!
Steph: Yeah, 10,000 plus followers on Twitter. But when we're talking about these social platforms, which one is your favorite and why?
Becky: Right now, I love Instagram and I love. . . I'm a picture girl, I'm a visual. . . I like the pictures and I love to stories, and I forget to post the stories sometimes, but I like them because the stories are kind of cheeky and a little informative, and just off the cuff because they disappear. But you can even put your highlights in those little circles now, and you can keep them in perpetuity with your stories. But I like Instagram a lot. It is one of the harder ones to grow. It takes a lot of effort. I think I'm just like at 1,500 . . . I'm almost at 1,600 right now and I'm just like, "Grow, baby, grow, grow." And so, if you're listening, follow me on Instagram please, please. No, but I like Instagram for that, and actually I follow. I follow people who are in my same industry and who like the same things I like. You know, because I get ideas of what to do and how to post. And I don't wanna live my life just for the Insta, but hey, if I get a good picture out of it I'll do almost anything.
And then Facebook. . . all the socials have a different function. LinkedIn is kind of your business arena, Twitter is news. If I wanna have news for anything, it's for news and occasional smarta** remark. But that's where if you wanna find out Hurricane Lane, what's going on, #hurricanelane, and then you can see minute by minute what's going on in real time, or game score, or whatever. But Facebook, Facebook is the . . . you know, I grew up in a small town, at least when I went to high school it was like a crazy, crazy small town and they had this cute little newspaper that came out once a week. And, oh, "Joe Bob's aunt came for a visit. And Bobbi Sue fell down at the kitchen, broke her leg. The policeman had to come rescue her and take her to the hospital. And Suzy had a baby. And so-and-so got married. And so-and-so made the dean's list," and all this kind of stuff. And then it's like, that is Facebook.
Facebook, although it's not my zip code, it's my friend's zip code. It's people I follow that I care about and I hear all their little news, and that's what Facebook is. So, my personal Facebook, I'm pretty accurate. And my business Facebook is kinda like my ad in that small town newspaper. And that's not saying you have to run an ad but my page there is that spot and it's free. It doesn't cost me anything. And so, you know, when I invite my friends to like my page and I post things and they see it. . . and I do that Facebook Live, it's kind of my own, you know, "Live with Kelly," "Regis and Kelly" kind of thing. It's like my moment to have my own little small talk show.
So when I do those Facebook Lives, they reach people and “Lives” reach more people than just a post. And
so, you know, I use those and they're free. They don't cost me a dime, they cost me some time but they don't cost me anything. I just had to be brave, Becky, be brave, and just do it. I'm uncomfortable doing it sometimes, especially videos, like, "Oh, I'm uncomfortable." I'm like, "Oh, just do it," and yeah. So, you know. So, I like them all but Insta is my favorite right now.
Steph: Well, let's move into the last segment, you know, talking about being uncomfortable in video brings us perfectly into fees, which has long been a topic in the industry. And for those of you that are listening, if you haven't. . . Every year we release our income survey but we also have a service fee survey, which covers both consultation fees and service fees. And I'll put a link to it in the show notes. So, as we've collected this data for the past few years, the amount of agents that are charging consultation fees is on the rise but it's still only something like one-third of agents charge any type of fee. So, whether that be a fee for an airline ticket or a $200 consultation fee to get started.
So, even before people started talking about fees and before they were a hit, you decided that you would wanted to charge a fee for your service right from the get-go. And right now, they're transparently displayed on your website, which I'll link to in the show notes so people can show them. But just really quickly, would you be able to walk us through your fee structure?
Becky: Sure, sure. For me, it made more sense for me to just charge flat fees for things. And then since I'm charging a flat fee, I can use that beautiful word "unlimited." I love that word unlimited. I think people love the word unlimited, and so, you know, I use the word unlimited in consultations a lot. And I may need to increase my fees at some point and I have that same fear a lot of people have to even start fees with increasing, But what I do is my base fee for anything is $50 a person, or if it's a family I'll do $50 an adult. And so that's like a base. So that's any cruise, air tickets, it's totally $50 a person . . . well, ish. I have some clients with blended families and I'm not gonna charge them $1,000 just for the air piece or whatever.
So, I have some latitude but then I can also go to them and say, "You know what, Suzy, you're my great client. And you know what, instead of charging you X amount, I'm gonna reduce it to this." But I always charge it and I found it makes my clients more comfortable working with me because they know. They're like, "Okay. Well, it's just an air ticket. I don't wanna waste your time." And I'm happy to do it because I want them to think of me. But anyway, so I do $50 an adult for anything. And then if we look at something that's more customized, if they're going . . . you know, I'm doing a custom trip to Europe for them with all these different components or other destinations, then I'll do $25 a travel day so a 10-day trip will be $250, and that's probably something I need to increase at some point for sure.
And then setting up a destination wedding, for the bride and groom, I just charge them an initial . . . it's $200 and then I do charge their guests $50 a person, or per adult, or whatever. I don't do a lot of destination weddings but I do some. But just because it has just a little more to it, it's kind of hybrided between your basic package and cruise and something a little more custom because you have all those negotiations and the contracts, and stuff, so it's a little bit of a different animal. But yeah, so I display them. I'm proud that I charge a fee. When people ask me, "Well, do you charge a fee?" And I just say, "Of course, I do."
Steph: No, let's have a fake conversation about . . . because I think you handle the topic of fees really beautifully and very confidently. So, yeah, let's have a conversation. I'll be the client that's. . .
Becky: Okay. Let's do it.
Steph: Okay. All right. So, I'm interested in your services. Does it cost anything to use you or. . . ?
Becky: Yes. Steph, I actually do charge a planning fee. My planning fee for your cruise is $50 a person. And with that, you will get unlimited consultations. I will help you with everything you need start to finish, air, pre and post hotel. You'll get unlimited consultations. And then I'm your girl, you have my personal cell phone number. If you need anything while you're traveling, I'm just a phone call, text, or Whatsapp away.
Steph: Yeah, that's affordable. But I guess I'm a little confused but don't you already earn commissions on your bookings?
Becky: Well, you know, sometimes with some suppliers I do get some sort of compensation or incentives for booking their products. But, Steph, I work for you. So, the difference is I'm here for you, I'm not representing the cruise line, I'm representing you. And I'm here before, during, and after your trip. I'm your girl, so no. I may get some sort of incentives from them but by giving me the fee, I'm you're person for your travels.
Steph: Perfect. Yeah, I love the way you answer that. And you had mentioned to that, you know what, when you first started you wanted to charge a fee you had decided but you still had some reservations about it. And then it was like a switch had flipped when you went to a workshop with Nolan Burris. And for those of you that are listening that don't know, Nolan is like a mentor or a speaker within the travel industry, and I'll link to his page as well. But, Becky, do you remember what he said to you that made like fees click for you?
Becky: Oh, absolutely. And when I listened, when I took that workshop with him, I was still relatively new in the industry. And so, even though I was charging them, I'd kinda cringe every time I'd ask just because I felt like my experience didn't match that $35 that I was charging. And so, this was in the early 2000s and this is back when people thought that travel agents were gonna cost a lot more. Like you could find a better deal online than you can with a travel agent. And I know that kinda shifted a little bit in the media a little bit, but back then that was the common knowledge. And so, he said something that stuck with me forever and he was like, "You know," he said. . .
Someone said, "Well, you know, they already think I'm more expensive when they call me. And then here I am trying to charge my fee." And he's like, "I just want you to think about that for a minute. They already think you're more expensive." Everybody's like, "Yeah. "Yes. They already think that you're more expensive." We're like, "Yeah, I know, it's terrible." And he's like, "And they still called you. They think you know something that they don't so they think this and yet they're still calling you." And so that has stuck with me forever. And so, it really shaped me. It's like I tell them, "Yes, I charge a fee." And I may lose . . . it's rare I lose somebody, but I may. I may lose one or two people here and there. It's not many, I promise.
Even with honeymooners on a strict budget, they will pay my fee gladly. And what I had found is that people who are treating me as a commodity, they're not loyal. They may book with me but if they don't wanna pay $100 for 2 people, they quite . . . and I tell them this kinda almost at the outset, and probably better than what I did with our little fake conversations, it's so hard with the fake conversations. But if they're gonna balk at that, they're gonna take what I gave them and they're gonna turn around and book if for $20 less. It's like, "I found it for $20 less, I didn't wanna bug you." Or the next time, their next trip, they're not even call you because they're just using you as a verbal Expedia. And so, for me, I want clients who are going to refer me. I want clients who are gonna love me. I wanted them to think I'm a rock star. I only want clients . . . it's like, "Are you gonna think I'm a rock star? If not, go away."
Steph: Please, feed my ego, that's what I need you for. [crosstalk 00:59:10]
Becky: But yeah, right. But no, but seriously though, but really in reality it's like, are you gonna see the value and the services that I give you and all that? And so, the majority of people, I mean they're gonna pay it. And I think one of my eye openers, and I shared this with you, and this happens with my custom travel fees is I'll give them the number, and I swear, one out of six will go. . . I'll say, "Okay. So, that will be $300." And they'll go, "Okay, so that's like per person, right?" And it's like crickets in the background. I'm just staring blankly in the air going, "I so have to raise my fees."
Steph: Well, you are definitely not alone in your, you know, hesitation whether it be charging fees or to raise your fees. We did an article on, I think it's called like "The Travel Agent's Guide to Charging Consultation Fees," or something. I'm not exactly sure but I'll link to it in the show notes. And it's got tips and different things that can help encourage people that are hesitant about the fee structure.
Becky: And I would just say just start it. Just institute it, and just do it. And I've had this conversation so many times with my colleagues, and the ones who started doing it, it's amazing. Sometimes I feel like I've created a monster because they're like, "Oh, yeah. I charge them fees I never even thought about," you know, and stuff. It's like once you kind get over the hump and you've had that conversation a few times, and then you realize that; A. yes, they will pay you a fee because you work for them. And then B. just think about every booking you do, it's another $100 in your pocket if you charge 50 bucks a person. It's another $100 times . . . if you book 10 people in a month let's just say, just so Becky doesn't have to do crazy math, it's another $1,000 a month that you're gonna get, that's $12,000 a year.
I mean that can up your travel budget right there so you can have more experience with more of the upscale products or spend it on champagne, or whatever. But yes, so once you start doing it it helps with so many things and you see so many positive results. And then your clients, honestly, they feel like if you're charging them that fee then they're not bugging you if they wanna go to the Ritz-Carlton Oconee outside of Atlanta because I'm gonna charge them up a $50 hotel fee. So they're calling.
Steph: And it also go both ways, too. Yeah, like you also don't feel like they're bugging you because they pay for your time. And like you said, they pay for your service, you're their girl.
Becky: I'm their girl and if something happens and I've kind of messed up or I've done something or just whatever, also that gives me a little wiggle room where I can either give them a great client gift or say, "You know what, I'm just gonna waive my fee because that error increased . . . I should have ticketed it last night and it went up today. And you know what, I'm just gonna waive my fee." So, it gives me a little latitude where I can give something back to them in some form or fashion as well.
Steph: That's a great point. Well, we're gonna make a leap now. We're going from fees, we're talking about fees and the stresses of charging fees, to my favorite segment, which is the warm fuzzies. And let's see, for those of you that haven't met me in person, I'm a little bit perky but like in a teddy bear sort of a way. So, I'm one of those people that smiles at randoms I pass in the street and I wave at the bunnies I see out on my walk and I talk to them, and I'm like, "Hi!"
So, I love things that make me smile and that make the world a better place. And the hope with the warm fuzzy segment is that it can help brighten our listeners' day. And as we close out, it can inspire some listeners to not only help them with their businesses but also to pass along the kindness today, and hopefully everyday. So, Becky, it doesn't need it to be anything long or deep but let's have you warm our little hearts. What do you got for us?
Becky: Okay. And mine is actually gonna be about a client and about a special occasion because it's really . . . I was thinking about the warm and fuzzies, I was thinking about why do I love my job? I love my job. And I recently had a client, they were over in Sweden and it was his 84th birthday, with his wife, and they were going out and it's like, I wanna make this day special for him. And so, I spoke with my contact there that was their driver and so they contacted the restaurant and so we arranged for them to have a bottle of champagne and a personalized note that was like, "I hope your birthday is as fabulous as you are." and all this.
So, I wasn't sure how it was gonna happen, but apparently when they sat down their waiter rushed over to them and handed the note, and they come out with the champagne on the tray, and his eyes are like glistening. And they're toasting and they’re sending me texts, they're texting their family saying, "What a wonderful birthday surprise." And I'm just like, "This is why I do what I do. I love to make people feel special," and they did. And it warms my heart that I have people who are willing to help me make them feel good, I mean it was just really happy.
Steph: That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
Becky: You're welcome.
Steph: Well, that's about it. We've wrapped up another episode of "TAC." And if you liked the show, please take a moment to write a review on iTunes. So, Becky, thanks so much on coming on the show. And until next time, everyone, you can subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for "Travel Agent Chatter" and make sure if you're more of a video person you can read the transcript or . . . fabulous vacations at hostagencyreviews.com/TAC. Or you can also find us online Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram under my handle which is @iamstephly. If you've got 60 seconds, go ahead and leave us a rating and review on either Stitcher or iTunes. And if you're like me and you can't find your way around the darn review sections of those places, you can find the links to write reviews at the top of hostagencyreviews.com/TAC. We'll be sending out our backpack and coffee mugs to two lucky reviewers. Until next time.