PHOTO: Hard Rock Punta Cana property at dawn.
The good news: the popularity of all-inclusives is skyrocketing. The bad, or rather, challenging news: travel agents need to keep current on a staggering number of new and existing all-inclusive brands.
“I am still learning about all of the all-inclusive options – there are thousands,” says Trish DeDamos of Just 4 U Travel in Wichita, Ks. “I don’t know how any one agent could know all about every one.”
DeDamos notes that fam trips are one of her preferred ways of learning about all-inclusive properties. She also uses her personal vacations to check them out. “When we go on vacation I always spend a few days checking out other properties I have not been to before, and usually pick a few five-, four- and three-star properties,” she says. “Before I go I will price them as I would for clients, so I have an idea of what I can get for a set dollar amount.”
And there are now as many new brands as there are expanding brands, she adds. “You have to be willing to learn the difference between brands, just like you would any hotel chain.”
“It is definitely a challenge,” agrees Rhonda Day of Vacation Days Travel, a Dream Vacations franchisee based in Louisville, Ky. “Read as many of the trade publications as you can because they are the most up-to-date source for what’s hot,” she suggests.
Day also considers attending fam trips a must for agents who want to stay current on all-inclusive properties. “Do two to three fams a year to the most popular destinations,” she says. “The first fam visit to a particular destination allows you to see properties and get a lay of the land. It will be necessary to go back regularly to keep up.”
Amy Seng of Destinations by Amy in Arlington Heights, Ill., finds webinars a great educational resource. “Webinars are amazing and we are so lucky that our industry advances with new technologies to train agents,” says Seng. “There are so many opportunities to sit in on resort brand webinars. Make it your job to come out of the webinar with at least three new selling points.”
Agency owners and managers should also arrange training with BDMs and marketing executives for private webinars between the agency and the brand or travel supplier. “This is a great way to grow relationships and get your questions answered,” says Seng.
Given all there is to know, should agents specialize in one or two brands or attempt to know – and sell – them all?
Seng prefers to focus on a couple of brands. “Once you learn so much about one brand, it’s easier to compare apples to apples on other brands,” she says. “It’s also important to know your favorite brands’ competition. Find your favorites and sell them.”
Whether or not to specialize on any given all-inclusive brand has its plusses and minuses, according to Day. “Specializing is a great way to become the go-to expert on one or two brands and will help you stand out, but you are also risking being pigeon-holed. In addition, if you are client-focused, you need to match them with what’s best for them and not just what you sell,” she says. “Having said that, I can see a point coming where there are going to be so many choices in the market that agents may have no choice but to specialize.”
When it comes to qualifying clients, agents stress the need to ask detailed questions. “Are you a foodie or is a buffet and a few specialty restaurants sufficient? Is nightlife important to you or will you be turning in early most nights after a glorious day at the beach? Do you prefer a room that has a swim-out pool or a balcony or [would you consider] a bungalow?” says Day.
Asking about a client’s budget can be tricky. “The best way to work is to find out their needs and wants and give them exactly what they’re asking for and say, ‘Based on your wants and needs, here’s what I would recommend,’” she says. “But if I know I am dealing with a tight budget, I may ask directly, ‘What is your max budget?’ I also use the question, ‘What is your budget range?’”
DeDamos has another suggestion: “I Google search their addresses,” she says. “If you know the customer lives in a very upscale neighborhood or pulls up to your office in a brand-new BMW, you can be pretty sure this customer is not going to like a three-star all-inclusive.”
Seng treats her clients as she would new friends. “I want to learn as much about their vacation style and personality as possible. Having clients tell me what is most important to them helps me place them in the perfect resort,” she says. “There is truly a resort for every client and every trip they take. It’s our job to find out exactly what that is.”
GETTING MORE FOR YOUR CLIENTS
These days, agents will find more to offer their clients when it comes to all-inclusive resort vacations.
“Unique rooms and room sizes – junior suites and confirmed connecting suites – and even additional items not usually included, like golf, scuba and spa, are now being included,” says Jennifer Doncsecz of Bethlehem, Pa.-based VIP Vacations.
Often, golf, scuba and spa amenities are featured in promotions offered by top all-inclusive brands, she adds.
“The big buzz” for all-inclusives, however, is over-the-water bungalows, says Doncsecz. “Sandals and El Dorado resorts have truly blown away the competition with their own over-the-water bungalows. No longer do people have to fly 11-plus hours to the South Pacific to stay in a one-of-a-kind over-the-water villa.”
More by Robin Amster