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What is Luxury? Azamara Club Cruises boss Larry Pimentel explains how agents can deliver what their top-tier clients want from travel.

Not so long ago, luxury was easy to understand and sell: It was a first-class airline ticket, The Ritz Hotel, a Saville Row suit or H??rmes bag, dinner at Alain Ducasse, a Bentley and a driver. Luxury was defined by possessions and a handful of iconic brands out of reach of ordinary people.

Today luxury has been democratized by middle market wage improvements and the Internet, which gave everyone with a computer and credit card access to a global market of luxury goods and services. For those with means, personalized vacations, iPhones, rare vintage wines, and exotic cars are no longer out of reach. Additionally, people often reach up for a taste of the better life.

As a result, ideas of what luxury is (and isn’t) are evolving at head-spinning speed. Yes, it’s still about unique and expensive products. But for the luxury travel, it’s all about the experience. And no ordinary experience will do. High-end travelers want exclusive, authentic and local experiences. Most of all, they want to feel real connection with people in the places they visit.

Selling modern luxury

It’s experiential. There’s nothing more satisfying than experiences that connect your clients with local people and culture. Even better: match local experiences to your clients’ interests. It can be a meal prepared together in a private home, a hike led by a local botanist, or a concert with the opportunity to meet a famous violinist.

It’s exclusive. Give your clients something amazing to share with behind-the-scenes events that would be impossible to arrange on their own. Like a tour of Rembrandt’s home, a private dinner in Churchill’s War Rooms in London’s Imperial War Museum, or an after-hours tour of the Sistine Chapel. Travelers who value exclusivity will spend up to 20% more for the experience.

It’s local and authentic. Glamour has been replaced by charm; giant hotels are giving way to small boutique havens and AirBnb. Who doesn’t crave the opportunity to live like the locals? Authenticity means you’ll ensure your clients taste local foods (at the best hideaways), meet local people, and share local customs. No more pointing them to the best tourist attractions—just the opposite.

It’s real human connection. The people we meet when traveling are some of the most important people in our lives, even when it’s a brief encounter. That’s why human connection is at the core of every experiential, exclusive, local travel experience. Create rich opportunities to meet and connect with local people and your clients will be grateful.

Our evolving role

To deliver personalized experiences we have to know our clients better than ever before. We need to think less like managers and more like consultants. And we need to be creative.

The effort is likely to be worth it. Globally we can expect a 16% increase in core luxury travelers (top 1% to 3% of earners) and “aspirational” travelers (top 20% of earners) between 2013 and 2020. Plus, spending on luxury travel is growing 50% faster than on other luxury products. It all adds up to a phenomenal opportunity.

Where to start?

Drop your own assumptions and view luxury from your client’s perspective. Your highest net-worth travelers may be a man in jeans and a sweatshirt and a woman in yoga clothes. They may be 35, 55 or 65. They may prefer expensive bikes to fast cars, or remote vacations in an eco-resort to a five-star hotel on the Riviera. They don’t fit a mold.

Gather an arsenal of information. To get to the heart of what your clients love you’ll have to ask questions. Lots of them. While price and value are part of the discussion, the focus should be on discovering the kinds of experiences that will deliver the greatest happiness and satisfaction.

Offer lots of ideas to get it right. Good listening and back-and-forth interaction is how trust is built. If your client leaves you with a handful of amazing options to consider, you’re doing your job.

Don’t overlook long-term clients or take their preferences for granted. Life can change quickly and affect your clients in ways you’ll never know unless you ask. Even when things haven’t changed, don’t base suggestions solely on what your client has purchased in the past. Expand the experience to something new.

Always remember that your luxury clients want exclusive, authentic local experiences that connect them with others in meaningful ways. To deliver the best travel experience we need to connect in