With high-end travellers, it's quite easy. They have someone they trust to look after their global travel needs. This person could be based in the same country as the traveller but increasingly location is becoming immaterial. Then when these travellers want to go somewhere they brief someone they already know, and this person has all their details, preferences, likes to hand. This means the first briefing can take as little as five minutes. These are outbound agents or private travel designers, or travel clubs, concierge services etc. The most exclusive of course are not the big names.
These agents then get in touch with people like us all around the world to handle their clients. The agents bring detailed knowledge of the client. We bring detailed knowledge of the destination. At this level, it is understood that people who do not specialise in a destination have no hope of matching the service quality of people who do.
Then the clients come to our lovely country which is presented to them in exactly the way they like to travel. Intimate knowledge of the client by the outbound agent means we can also include little surprises and special touches. This system, as you can imagine, works really well. And everyone understands what skills, knowledge, relationships, intellectual property, systems etc. each person brings to the table.
That's where top-end luxury travel sits with the enlightened. There are of course still the benighted who buy from a brochure or a high street store or a "big name". They will usually get something reasonable. but certainly not special, tailored, informed, exclusive. Over time we see these people drifting into relationships with sophisticated, ethical outbound agents.
In the middle market (3-star travel and below will never be able to hold margins which make personal service profitable/affordable), which we define as 4-star and entry-level 5-star, the story is a little different. There, traditional distribution methods are still very much in evidence. That is, a long chain from a supplier to someone who packages a tour to a country to a wholesaler to a high street travel agent. Travel is treated as a commodity - "they can have whatever colour they like so long as it's black" - individuality is banished and tailoring something to be scoffed at. I was told by a "marketing guru" launching a well-known hotel brand that what I describe at the start above was "pure fantasy" and "impossible". We had been providing such a service for 3-4 years already at the time. I'm not sure what he's doing now. Meanwhile we have been happily providing our service to a growing number of 6, 5 and 4 star clients.
The future of anyone who is not providing something useful in the long supply chain above is uncertain. Actually, it's pretty black. That's why big name travel companies are falling over left, right and centre. And why companies like ours keep growing through a recession. Canny travellers are coming direct to people like us (thanks to the internet a very high percentage of our clients are direct, do not come through established channels - it's all word of mouth, internet searching) where they can see and understand the value we are providing.
It's not just about what traditional companies do (provide driving instructions, ensure breakfast is included etc....yawn), but about our expertise in truly understanding the accommodation, truly understanding activities, creating activities, persuading interesting people to spend time with our tourists, and taking the time to truly understand our client and put together something which truly reflects their needs. And not being scared to call a spade a spade, a bad idea a bad idea, an illogical route an illogical route, and poor value for money poor value for money. I emphasize the word "truly" as so many people out there talk the talk but never come anywhere near walking it.
So, where does this all go? With physical location becoming less and less important, it becomes more about value and less about distribution. The big name companies will keep falling over as travel becomes more and more highly individualised. The links in the chain between a traveller and a company like ours will become fewer and fewer. Quality will prosper. Shonky promises will be found out.