MD of @luxurylondonguy also explains why agent should charge fees. He spoke to Samantha Mayling.
Q. How did you start your travel career?
A. I’m from South Africa and have lived in Dublin and London. Five years ago, I moved to Essex. For 20 years, I built my experience in luxury hotels and hospitality, working in London hotels such as The Trafalgar St James, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and Corinthia Hotel. I then set up a consultancy, initially in hospitality, helping with sales and marketing. Clients asked me to plan trips and I enjoyed the planning side of travel. In October 2019, I got the chance to affiliate to Protravel International, which is part of Global Travel Collection and has a network of agents in the UK and US. I’m also a member of Virtuoso, a network of luxury leisure agents. I had @luxurylondonguy as my social media handle and it became my business name when I launched.
“In October 2019, I got the chance to affiliate to Protravel International, which is part of Global Travel Collection and has a network of agents in the UK and US.”
Q. Why are you with Protravel and Virtuoso?
A. Protravel ticked boxes because of its partnerships in the industry; this allowed me to open up so many doors, which is critical in luxury. They also have offices in New York and other US based cities which appealed to me for building presence in the US. An added benefit was their affiliation with Virtuoso which is not as well known in the UK leisure market.
Q. What are you selling at the moment?
A. Leisure makes up most of my sales and 90%-95% is tailor‑made. Not many clients are doing staycations at the moment; they want to go abroad. With the staycations I am selling, there is some demand for the Cotswolds and Yorkshire, but not so much in Cornwall as people are put off by it being so busy and full. Quite a few clients want long-haul for 2022: Thailand, Antigua, Botswana and South Africa. At the moment, I’m dealing with a lot of enquiries but not so many are being converted. It feels more positive now than six months ago, as if it is starting to turn a corner. I would love the business to grow so I can take on staff.
“Quite a few clients want long-haul for 2022: Thailand, Antigua, Botswana and South Africa. At the moment, I’m dealing with a lot of enquiries but not so many are being converted.”
Q. What are your most memorable bookings?
A. My first big booking was a social event – a 60th wedding anniversary at Northall restaurant at Corinthia London in the summer of 2019. The most exciting was a road trip from Washington to New Orleans with Abercrombie & Kent in March 2020, but we had to bring them home early due to the pandemic. A week-long safari in Botswana in 2022 is my biggest booking.
Q. How do you market yourself?
A. On my website there are four streams: leisure, business, celebrations and LGBTQ. Most of my business comes from referrals, and I am doing lots on Clubhouse, the new social media chat app. It is more interesting than Instagram; you can have authentic conversations. I picked up a honeymoon booking on Clubhouse. I run three regular rooms a week, including one about LGBTQ+ luxury travel and destinations. Social media is very important; it is like a shop window. I get good imagery from hotel partners and plan a schedule of content. Through ProTravel and Virtuoso I have access to a phenomenal pool of expertise. The LGBTQ+ sector is important for me, as a member of that community. There is a lot of marketing to white gay men, but at an LGBTQ+ symposium in Bangkok I met lesbians and trans people, and our conversations sparked something. Travel companies in the sector tend to offer parties and Pride, but I was not interested in party destinations.
“I picked up a honeymoon booking on Clubhouse. I run three regular rooms a week, including one about LGBTQ+ luxury travel and destinations.”
Q. You charge booking fees – what’s the rationale?
A. I considered my model but taking commission and net rates was limited. I wanted to be servicing my clients with whatever they need, so I am fees-based. I’ve got a good repeat rate – clients do not question my fees as they see the value. With fees, you are agnostic and not reliant on commission. Every advisor should charge fees; your time is valuable. If the client asks, you can explain – an accountant will charge, and help and protect you. We are here to protect clients’ travel.
How have you coped during the pandemic?
I had a good year in 2019, so I had savings and worked out how long I could go without income. My plan was to focus on brand awareness and working on partnerships. I joined networking groups and picked up business there as some clients did travel during the pandemic. I also engaged with groups on Facebook. I employed a digital marketing agency and got a Bounce Back Loan for marketing. I submitted myself for awards, based on activities for clients such as a virtual live safari at the Shamwari game reserve in South Africa – I got a Corporate Livewire innovation award for that. I promoted and marketed it, and 50 people joined, and I’ve also sold real safaris for 2022. Safaris are a great opportunity for LGBTQ travellers but they may not think of them.