Interview: James Weaver, boss of new trade-only luxury operator Lusso Travel

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Lusso directors: Linda Bellis, James Weaver (MD), Mark Hibbert and Gareth Hulmston

Lusso is the latest addition to the luxury operator world and is already being spoken about in the same breath as the likes of Carrier, Seasons and Elegant Resorts.

If you haven’t already heard the name, you will soon as word of mouth among agents who are aware of them is gathering momentum.

The reason is simple, or at least the fundamental reason is: no direct bookings. Ever.

Its managing director James Weaver, a relative travel industry newcomer with 5 years under his belt, describes himself as a man with principles.

His principles, you may be pleased to hear, derive from his first four years in travel – as an agent.

He explained: “I came into travel almost by accident but fell in love with it very quickly as so many do.

“It was totally new to me and that was great because my take was completely fresh and I could see the changes and challenges that faced retail agents.

“When I started the distribution model was changing, the net was on the ascendancy and pressures, particularly for retail agents, were growing.”

These pressures come from something Weaver believes is not common in other markets: “There aren’t many industries where your main suppliers are also your main competitors.

“You can have a good shop, do well building that brand but at every moment you are ramming the brands of your competitors down your clients throats – and those clients can contact your competitors direct.

“If you keep sending people on particular holidays they may well eventually call direct and often get crazy prices.

“I couldn’t help but feel that operators should support the traditional retail channel.”

And so Lusso was born.

Weaver is extremely guarded about his family wealth but it is clear that Lusso, as a business owned by his family, is well funded.

There is no debt in the business, the infrastructure in place is that of a far more mature business and it has every protection available.

Out of the ashes of disappointment about how the agency he was running was being treated by some operators he built what he thinks will prove to be the blueprint for what agencies up and down the country would like operators to be.

Only time will tell but his promises are likely to sound appealing to agents: “We are extremely agent friendly and focused entirely on the agent distribution model.

“We will not get into direct bookings and if someone tries to book direct we tell them it is no cheaper and pass it back to the agent.

“Even if a customer is insistent on booking direct we will find out where they got the brochure from, take the booking, and give the commission to that agency.”

Weaver’s belief is that without the agency the client would never have heard of Lusso.

He added: “A retail outlet is not cheap to run and it is a marketing source and distribution.

“Any other form of marketing you have to pay for so why shouldn’t you pay them for the distribution point?”

Weaver is genuinely surprised that there was a gap in the market for a trade only luxury operator.

He explained: “When I was running the agency almost all the operators would say that most of their business came through the trade but you got relatively little back from them in support terms.

“They didn’t try to help your business and fed profits into their direct channels to try to build that segment.

“It used to rankle with me and the acorn of Lusso came from there: I wanted to build a luxury operator that stood firmly behind this distribution chain.”

Lusso also offers to reduce gross price on the booking if agents are discounting with their commission so that the agent doesn’t pay VAT on the discounted bit and then offers to demonstrate that discount on the clients booking form in whatever way best suits the agent.