Pandemic ‘an opportunity to boost customer loyalty’

Luxury travel sellers who have taken the time to build trust and loyalty through the pandemic will be among the first to be rewarded when life returns to normal, according to Walpole’s chief executive.

Speaking at Aspire’s Leaders of Luxury conference, Helen Brocklebank said Covid-19 had presented the industry with an opportunity to build on long-lasting relationships with clients who want to spend. 

“Right from the beginning, our members in the travel sector saw an opportunity to grow customer loyalty in the long term by making sure they behaved in the right way,” she said.

“So you’ve made yourself available to clients, and you’ve set aside conversations with your customers just to check and see how they were. 

“And consequently, what you’ve seen is that the opportunity to tell stories, to whet appetites and to really build that relationship over time has now, as things have opened up, resulted in a really rapid bounce-back.”

Alex Cheatle, founder of concierge agency Ten Lifestyle Group, agreed, saying prioritising trust and loyalty had contributed to a 50%-60% increase in business compared with 2019.

“Answering the phones in 10 seconds, helping people out and putting things right really helped keep the trust,” he said, adding that the concierge agency had also been in the “fortunate position” of being able to refund clients in cash regardless of whether the company had received it from the supplier yet or not.

“That then got repaid,” he said. “We've got so much loyalty and support from our member base and from our corporate clients because it makes them look great. So that was really helpful.”

Ten Lifestyle Group also saw clients using their travel services for the first time having had a positive experience using its other concierge services.

“And because we've done a great job there, then somebody trusts us with a weekend break and then we're doing big family holidays as well,” Cheatle said.

“So sometimes trust is built through frequency with people trying to you once, being happy with that, and trying again.”

He added: “We’re not taking business from the consistent, luxury, well-behaved travel businesses that are hanging on to their clients.

“But some of the people who let their client base down quite badly, [those customers] are coming to us to give [our] travel services a try. Then it’s up to us to reward them with great service and then win them as a long-term client.”

Ultima Collection’s managing partner Michala Chatel reinforced the importance of trust between consumers and travel agents, adding that 90% of the company’s business comes through agents.

“Nine out of 10 times if the client had a great stay, one, I get a repeat guest and two, the agent gets a repeat client, so it's always about working together," she said.

“For me, the strongest and most important relationship in theory is with the trade because if we create great business together, it comes back to both of us.”

Chatel said Ultima Collection had seen enquiries return not only from “loyal” agents but also from previous clients “who didn’t dare to travel and are now re-emerging saying, ‘I feel comfortable about this’”.

She said: “To see that return of those clients shows that we have that level of loyalty.”

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