“Do you want fries with that?” The upsell is as common as ordering a fast food burger, and has been around as long as buyers and sellers have been exchanging shekels for seashells by the seashore. But that doesn’t mean the process should be taken for granted, or forgotten, when it comes to travel.
In a world of online travel agencies, direct bookings and Airbnb leaching travellers from the retail trade, every dollar counts and maximizing the spend of clients is simply sound selling strategy. Indeed, some experts estimate that travel sellers leave as much as 30 per cent on the table by not offering clients a higher seat, cabin or package category, or any number of add-ons, from travel insurance to a session at the spa. And that doesn’t even take into account core values like selling a higher-priced destination or supplier.
“I think upselling is taught at every travel school and by every supplier, and expected by every manager,” says Mark Crone, president of Uniglobe Plus Travel Group, Mississauga, ON., who considers offering “the next trip up, the next-most expensive trip” and/or a preferred supplier as best practice.
Finnair’s Tommi Korhonen points out the obvious: “The higher you sell, the higher the commission; the higher class [you book], the more money you can make.” And, he adds, “The client is going to have a more comfortable experience, which allows agents to build a relationship with them.”
That’s to say, a higher class fare could limit or eliminate change fees, save money on baggage, give more loyalty points, a free meal, lounge access and more, creating significant value for a client.
“There’s all kinds of things when you start thinking about it,” Korhonen says. “You’re helping the client and getting a higher commission!”
Brent Carnegie of Ontario-based Canlink Travel, which represents a number of high-end resorts in the Caribbean, says, “As an agent, there are huge benefits to upselling. You’ll have a client who feels special and enjoys their holiday even more because of the little extras they’re experiencing…and you’ll make more money! Chances are they’ll come home raving about their experience and the suggestions you’ve made. After all, they don’t go on vacation everyday; why not make the most of it?”
Indeed, by upselling the client, “They get more value for their money,” points out Rick McCauley, senior director of sales & marketing and M.I.C.E – Canada for the Barcelo Hotel Group. For example, Royal Level guests at Barcelo, Occidental and allegro brands have access to a private pool and special à la carte restaurant during their stay, while Premium Level clients have access to a dedicated lounge with breakfast, premium brand drinks, afternoon canapes, Internet access and a concierge service.
Both Premium and Royal Level guests also get the best located rooms, extra amenities in the room, free WiFi, and more. “This is just not an upgrade but an experience for the consumer,” McCauley says.
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” Uniglobe’s Crone reminds agents, while Korhonen adds, “Be helpful. It’s more than just selling a ticket.”
But travel execs also suggest setting the bar higher at the start; sell high and backtrack if necessary rather than the other way around.
“My line of thinking is, the front line should always be upselling and not go from mass to premium. Open the sale from the higher price point,” says Collette Canada president Doug Patterson. “Don’t assume clients want cheap; it’s a compliment and qualifying the client.”
Carnegie agrees: “Never assume a client is looking for the least expensive product out there. When selling, start with the upgrade: ‘Shall I book you in Business Class?’ or, ‘The oceanfront rooms are fabulous, let’s take a look!’ You can always move down in price if the client feels that the product you’re offering is too expensive. Explain the benefits of paying a few dollars more for an ocean view room or a Business Class seat.”
“While most consumers start out talking about price, it’s really about getting the best holiday and they will spend a bit more to get it,” Crone adds.
Here are just a few basic opportunities to consider:
- Class of airline (sked vs. charter), tour operator/tour class; hotel; cruise line
- Length of stay/extra night
- Fare/seat upgrade
- Room/cabin/car upgrade
- All-inclusive vs. standard hotel
“Upsell is about ‘framing,’ creating a view in the mind of the consumer that they’d be better off with the better (more expensive) product,” Crone says. “On the package tour side, ‘For $100 more per person (or the price of a really good dinner out), you get the better beach and twice as many restaurant choices. You’ll have a better holiday.’”
Goway business development manager Aubrey Schmidt says it’s simply a matter of “doing the math,” noting that comparing tours is not always comparing “apples to apples.” In fact, overselling a tour (for example, a value product) runs the risk of it not living-up to a client’s expectations, whether it’s hotel category, locale, meal quality or the number of included excursions offered. Instead, sell the value of the premium tour. “I ask flat out, ’Do you want to stay at the Taj?’” he says.
Sometimes the value may not be immediately apparent – such as if a tour company offers city centre hotels versus ones on the outskirts, which can save clients both time and money getting to must-see sights during free time; similarly, they may include more meals and entrance fees, such as the cost of ascending the Eiffel Tower or visiting the Vatican Museum in Rome. Though the upfront cost may be more, the overall cost may be the same, or less.
All of which is to say…
KNOW THE PRODUCT
Schmidt says agents must be prepared to pick apart the product they are selling and know where their clients will gain value, save money, or where they themselves can find opportunities to upsell the experience, such as suggesting a core add-on to an Australia/ New Zealand trip, like a stopover in the Cook Islands, Tahiti or Fiji.
Agents should also know what’s pre-bookable and what their clients are likely to encounter on tour, such as invariably being approached to take a helicopter ride at the Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand, which is “not cheap,” but eminently worth it in comparison to what already may be a $30,000 tour price package.
Or consider that tour leaders of some companies may be in line for their own commissions for steering group members to local excursion operators, to which Schmidt says, “The hell with that! They’re your clients, you should get the cash! The solution? “Know the product,” Schmidt says. “Absolutely!”
LOCK IN COMMISSIONS
Clients are going to do and buy stuff. Whether it’s eating, drinking, going to shows or buying theme park tickets, booking a session at the spa or going on a local tour or excursion, in most cases agents can pre-book the experience for clients and earn commission on them. Whether it’s effectively earning commission on the food and drink portion of an all-inclusive booking (versus clients paying out of pocket at a hotel) or simply adding on a trip component or in-destination experience, agents can lock-in commission they would otherwise miss, and at the same time, provide a certain level of cost certainty ahead of time for their client.
From trip cancellation to medical, one of travel’s most lucrative (yet neglected) add-ons is insurance. Debbie Robinson, senior manager of marketing and sales support for Allianz Global Assistance, offers some tips:
- Don’t be afraid to recommend travel insurance: i.e. “I strongly recommend travel insurance to protect your investment and wellbeing.”
- Get to know your travel insurance products as well as you know your clients so you can match product features and benefits.
- Be prepared to handle objections.
- Offering travel insurance shows you have the best interests of your client in mind, helps build relationships and is a good way to generate some additional revenue.
Weddings, honeymoons, milestone anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, and other special occasions all create opportunities to increase group sizes and add-on amenities to any tour. Multigeneration tours are a staple, not a trend, and have been known to ring up six-figure price tags.
As Goway’s Schmidt says, he practically insists that his honeymoon couples do a (pre-booked, commissionable) paddleup breakfast excursion in Tahiti, through a lagoon in front of lush, green volcanic peaks. “It’s a total Kodak moment that they’ll never get at home.”
As much as you may want to upsell, Schmidt warns that with some clients, it just won’t happen. “There are a lot of times you just won’t break them. There are a lot of people who are not prepared to spend the money, they just have a magic number in their head.”
Nevertheless, just remember that “the key is value,” advises Canlink’s Carnegie. “No matter what the price, the client just needs to be assured that he/she is getting great value regardless of the price tag. This is no different whether they’re buying a $699 all-inclusive or a $20,000 luxury getaway.”
“We regularly offer enhanced service to our clients, which, in many cases, turns out to be the most treasured memories of their vacation,” the former Conquest and ALBATours exec explains. “Maybe it’s a private helicopter transfer from the airport to St. Lucia’s Jade Mountain (resort) that offers spectacular views and cuts the transfer time from an hour to eight minutes, or the upgraded suite high on the hill at Hermitage Bay in Antigua that gives guests an unparalleled view of the one of the Caribbean’s most spectacular sunsets. These are the thing your clients will never forget. It’s money worth spending and they’ll be back.”
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
More commission, sure. But as Maureen Barnes-Smith, director of sales and marketing for Unique Vacations (Canada), which represents Sandals and Beaches Resorts, points out, there’s so much more: “Agents who upsell get more rewards from suppliers and are more known and recognized. That builds their own personal brand with suppliers and this normally transfers over to the clients they book.”
In summary, she says, “Upselling equals more satisfied guests, equals repeat guests, equals increased business.”
And there’s no better upsell than that.
There’s virtually no limit to the kind of things that can enhance a client’s trip package, from airport transfers to a pre- or post-cruise tour, all of which can significantly boost an agent’s overall compensation when added on or prebooked. Here are a few not to forget:
- Cruise line shore excursions
- Rental car (with toll packages where applicable)
- Rail tickets/passes
- Local tour packages; private tours
- City stopovers (airlines)
- Spa treatments
- Tickets: theme parks (including character breakfasts, front-of-the-line VIP passes, behind-the-scenes tour, onsite hotels that offer early park entry), theatre, concert, sports events/stadium tours, golf green fees and tee times, cultural passes (such as Royal Historic Palaces in the UK)
- Shopping mall excursions (yes, they exist in some places)
- Airport lounge passes
- Premium restaurants at all-inclusives
- Wine, Internet, spa packages on cruise ships
Q & A: HOW TO UPSELL WITH ADVENTURE CANADA
Matthew James Bradley-Swan, director of business development, weighs-in with upselling tips specific to Adventure Canada expeditions.
WHAT ARE THE UPSELL OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADVENTURE CANADA PRODUCT?
Cabin upgrades are the best opportunity to upsell Adventure Canada expeditions. Commission on upgrades start at $100 USD per person and go up from there based on the cabin category and expedition. With 10 different cabin categories, the Ocean Endeavour offers a wide range of options for your clients that include: family cabins, solo cabins (no single supplement), two-room cabins, cabins with two bathrooms, and interior/exterior cabins.
GIVE EXAMPLES OF POPULAR UPSELLS.
We find the upgrade from a category three (INTERIORTWIN, deck five) to category four (EXTERIORTWIN, deck four) an easy upsell. The primary reason for this is because guests can be upgraded from an interior to an exterior porthole window cabin. The other upgrade option that generates plenty of interest is the upgrade from a cabin category six (COMFORTTWIN, deck four) to a cabin category seven (SELECT TWIN, deck five), mainly because guests can enjoy a picture window with unobstructed view and a larger room. Another opportunity is with single travellers; we have a limited quantity of single cabins in various categories (3 to 7). This is an excellent way to upsell from the lead-in options. What’s more is that there are no single supplement fees for these cabins.