Travel Agents

The rise of the ‘Travel Designer’ & how they’re replacing agents

Tara Harrison

Travel Weekly has spent quite a bit of time this year understanding the rise of the Travel Designer and how the face of agencies is changing.

In July, Vogue declared travel agents are the new black.

The article made major waves around the industry and claimed there’s a “fresh new crop of travel experts—more aptly described as travel designers—who offer resources far beyond the basics of organising flights, lodging, and tours”.

“These designers create trips that you can’t just book online, trips for travellers, not tourists. And discerning travellers, at that,” Vogue author, Jenn Rice, wrote.

Following on from that, Seabourn’s Senior Vice President of Global Marketing, Chris Austin, said agents should be called something else again.

Agents should be called ‘lifestyle planner’ instead of agent,” he told the crowd at the Cruise360 conference.

Austin explained that with agents forging better client relationships and getting to know their lifestyle choices and history, it’s less about selling travel and more about creating amazing life experiences.

So, with Vogue and The New York Times both heralding the incarnation of the Travel Designer, we sit down with luxury industry pundits to find out the day-to-day life of these new travel connoisseurs.

Who is the Travel Designer?

First of all, why a travel designer, and not a travel agent?

Our experts believe, particularly in the luxury space, that designers are future-proofed, heavy on service rather than logistics.

“The best analogy is the stock broker and the financial advisor,” Virtuoso Managing Director Michael Londregran said.

“The travel designer takes each trip or client enquiry with two hands, picks it up and apart, and looks at it for every angle while grilling their traveller with hundreds of question.”

“Every detail is thought through: travel times, aircraft, where to sit. They have insider info, contacts, they’re only a phone call away, 24/7, they swing upgrades, arrange surprises, are present during each step of that trip,” Smartflyer managing director Eliza Woodward said.

It roundly is the difference between booking logistics and holistically working out what the client needs and desires and making the logistics fit that outcome.

“A travel designer offers a more personalised service and is an expert in designing the best tailor-made itineraries,” Ensemble Travel Senior Vice President Trish Sheppard said.

“Agents should be called lifestyle planner instead of agent,” Seabourn senior vice president of global marketing Chris Austin said.

What do Designers do?

Generally there is going to be an existing client relationship. For those without, however, designers need glean as much information from the client before they begin designing an itinerary.

Bespoke luxury travel agency, The Tailor, has this down to a fine art.

“Nothing is left to chance,” Managing Director, Drew Kluska, said.

“The key and skill of our travel designers is to quickly be able to interpret what they are being told and translate that into a journey. We have a very clear set of questions that we have developed over 20 years to extract this information.”

“The luxury space is about personalisation more than anything else – clients are looking for tailored solutions to their individual needs,” Londregran said.

“Having existing knowledge of clients and their preferences is earned over time and this knowledge allows advisors to deliver different experiences for clients.”

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