Luxury side lock up Apr 2024
Luxury side lock up Apr 2024

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Leading luxury advisor insights: Yvonne Verstandig, Y Travel

After 20 years as Co-Founder & Head of the Leisure Department at Executive Edge Travel, Yvonne Verstandig established her eponymous agency, Y Travel, in 2020. Karryon Luxury discusses travel legacies and creating her own agency in more ways than one.

After 20 years as Co-Founder & Head of the Leisure Department at Executive Edge Travel, Yvonne Verstandig established her eponymous agency, Y Travel, in 2020. Karryon Luxury discusses travel legacies and creating her own agency in more ways than one.

How did you get into travel?

I was fortunate to travel the world with my parents from the age of six, which sparked a lifelong curiosity about our planet. I would love to say that I listened to my heart and went straight into travel as a career upon leaving school, but like many people, I listened to my head instead, playing it ‘safe’ and pursuing a nice stable career, achieving a Pharmaceutical Science degree and heading down that professional path.

Ten years later, I found myself in a career that no longer challenged me, and I knew I needed more. I craved creativity, a new challenge, and the pursuit of a professional path I was passionate about. Despite having a young family at the time, I knew that the travel industry was where I needed to be, creating ‘alchemy’ of a different kind by planning and curating incredible experiences for my clients. I took that leap and have never looked back!

What inspired you to start your own company?

Y Travel Yvonne Verstandig kayak

After many years at the forefront of the industry, I felt there was a missing piece of the travel puzzle: luxury travel with a deeper purpose—not just in terms of philanthropy but also personal purpose—travel that truly embodies each traveller’s uniqueness. My motto is to live each day to the fullest, a principle I apply in all aspects of life, be it at home with family, at work, or while travelling. To live curiously and passionately.

With this in mind, Y Travel was born, built on the premise that the best travel experiences are designed with each person’s unique ‘travel DNA’ in mind. This philosophy is the very core of Y Travel, and together as a team, we hope to encourage our clients to travel with a sense of passion and purpose, to explore the
world in a more considered approach.

What do travellers expect now from ‘luxury’ travel?

Y Travel Yvonne Verstandig Greece

Luxury travellers still expect personalised attention. They demand high-quality service – from their travel advisor before the trip, during their stay at hotels and throughout their transfers, guided experiences and activities. They want everything to run smoothly, and when unexpected changes occur, they rely on their
travel advisor for support.

Today’s luxury travellers seek experiences with a delicate blend of authenticity, exclusivity and opulence. They crave immersive cultural experiences that offer a deep connection to the destination and its people. While a level of comfort that has always defined ‘luxury’ is still important, they want to experience the world in a way that is not found in a brochure or crammed on a bus with 50 other tourists.

Whether it’s indulging in gourmet cuisine, enjoying a private island wellness retreat or exploring rugged landscapes with expert guides and luxurious accommodations, modern luxury travellers seek experiences that cater to their unique preferences with a seamless fusion of cultural immersion and personalised luxury tailored specifically to their unique discerning tastes.

What are the biggest changes in luxury travel?

Y Travel Yvonne Verstandig Thailand

The luxury travel industry finds itself navigating a complex landscape shaped by various factors. Global economic fluctuations, compounded by regional and global tensions, have created a climate of uncertainty, prompting discerning travellers to reassess their spending priorities, destinations and accommodation choices.

While the luxury demographic is not as impacted by these economic factors, our clients do certainly notice the significant increase and, at times, will choose an alternative room type or even a different hotel as they just cannot justify the additional expense.

Another change we noticed is during the pandemic, many experienced and talented staff members were forced to leave the industry, and unfortunately, many have not returned. Hotels and airlines faced a rush to fill these vacancies, often without the opportunity to provide comprehensive training to new staff. This gap in knowledge and experience has become increasingly evident in some of our dealings with suppliers, resulting in slow responses, errors and frequent miscommunications.

Consequently, this has increased our workload as we constantly need to follow up and triple-check information to ensure accuracy and reliability, highlighting the ongoing challenges the industry faces in rebuilding its expertise and efficiency.

Against this backdrop, the market has also become saturated with brands vying for the coveted ‘luxury’ label, diluting the authenticity of what it truly means to provide stand-out service and experiences. The result is a heightened challenge for genuine luxury travel providers to stand out amidst the noise while simultaneously delivering unparalleled service that justifies the premium price tag.

What are the biggest challenges facing luxury travel advisors?

Y Travel Yvonne Verstandig ski

Luxury travel advisors face myriad challenges in an ever-evolving industry. One significant hurdle is navigating information overload, as abundant online resources can overwhelm both clients and advisors. The illusion persists that travellers can effortlessly plan luxurious holidays and experiences independently, undermining the expertise and personalised insights, as well as the more tangible benefits of booking through preferred partners, that an agency can provide.

Industry players must adapt by showcasing genuine value, cultivating trust through transparent offerings of unparalleled expertise and demonstrating an unwavering commitment to delivering truly
exceptional experiences that transcend fleeting trends and economic fluctuations.

Advisors must also contend with the prevalence of ‘luxury-washing,’ where brands tout lavish experiences that often fall short of expectations. Distinguishing genuine luxury from marketing hype requires keen insight and a deep understanding of our clients’ discerning tastes.

I think it’s also important not to underestimate the role that AI will play in the future of our roles as travel advisors, and it is evident many travellers are already turning to AI to plan their itineraries and experiences.

I’m confident that as we experienced with online travel two decades ago (which was widely predicted as the death knell for traditional travel agencies), there will always be the need for human interaction, particularly with the level of personalisation our high-end clients expect.

An AI algorithm cannot offer passion, emotion, first-hand knowledge, personal experience, or an understanding of a client’s individual needs and preferences. It cannot replicate the relationships we have with our ground suppliers or compete with the connections we have with our preferred partners, who go out of their way to secure an amazing upgrade for our clients. These are all key ingredients that are essential at the luxury end of the travel industry, and I am confident that they will never be replaced.

How would you like to see the luxury travel industry evolve?

Y Travel Yvonne Verstandig rock

The evolution necessitates a shift in perception, emphasising that luxury isn’t solely defined by price tags but rather by the exceptional nature of the experiences. It’s about transcending material extravagance to embrace moments of genuine delight and wonder, which in itself is priceless.

By prioritising unique and unforgettable experiences over mere opulence, the industry can redefine luxury as something accessible to all who seek moments of unparalleled joy, connection and adventure during their travels. This is the evolution of the industry that we envisioned with the creation of our eight Y Factors: Adventure, Artistry, Culture & Community, Generosity, Nature & Sustainability, Taste, The Unexpected and Well-Being.

What do you think is the future of luxury travel?

Y Travel Yvonne Verstandig travel

In a bid to cater to travellers seeking luxury in the form of extraordinary experiences and a respite from the ordinary, operators in the luxury travel space are recognising the shifting preferences of discerning guests, focusing on experiential offerings. Resorts and hotels are also redefining their experiential offerings, from stargazing sessions under the vast desert sky to immersive cultural excursions like exploring ancient ruins with expert guides.

Our clients are also realising that time is a luxury, taking longer to experience a destination and really wanting to immerse themselves in the pleasures of being more than just a tourist. One silver lining of the pandemic is that travel is no longer taken for granted or rushed, but rather to be really savoured
and appreciated as a privileged experience. We have noticed that multi-generational and celebratory trips are also becoming more popular as travellers wish to share these unforgettable moments with loved ones.

I am also so happy to see some of our hotel partners who are going that extra mile by incorporating our ‘Generosity Y Factor’ not only in the experiences they offer their guests but also in the way they give back to their local communities. These are not just token gestures but actually provide education, employment, sustainability and business partnerships that make a genuine difference in people’s lives and provide hope and purpose for future generations.

How can luxury travel advisors evolve for this future?

Y Travel Yvonne Verstandig in Antarctica

There will always be a need for the luxury travel advisor with their depth of knowledge, personal
experience, extensive contacts and the value-added benefits received from booking with a travel agency’s preferred partners. As it is harder to earn commissions, especially from airlines, we need to accentuate the value we provide in relation to the service fees we charge.

Our clients are often time-poor and need our help and guidance in planning, executing and ongoing support throughout their trip. The luxury travel advisor needs to be detailed, dedicated, patient, persistent, and inquisitive, have a passion for travel, and be well-travelled. There is no 9-5 in the luxury travel space, as our affluent clients expect immediate responses and assistance.

The synergy between the seasoned experts and the fresh faces in the luxury travel industry holds immense potential for the continued evolution of our business. Veteran travel advisors with decades of invaluable personal and professional travel experience, extensive contacts and a loyal client base bring a wealth of knowledge that is essential to our operations. However, their reluctance to adopt new technologies, communication styles and emerging travel trends can pose challenges. As these advisors (and their clients) gradually age out of the industry, I feel it is crucial to integrate a new generation of luxury advisors who are adept at engaging with younger, affluent clientele who often seek more dynamic and contemporary travel planning methods.

Y Travel's Yvonne Verstandig.
Y Travel’s Yvonne Verstandig.

Therefore, it is essential to employ younger travel advisors who grasp the modern definition of ‘luxury’ for their peers and know how to connect with them through current trends and preferred communication platforms. New travel advisors can benefit greatly from the mentorship of the industry’s ‘Old Guard’, learning from their extensive experience, practical knowledge and nuanced understanding of client relations. In turn, seasoned advisors can gain insights into the latest digital trends and fresh strategies.

Together, they can bridge the gap between self-planned travel inspired by social media and the advantages of booking through a reputable, experienced agency. By blending their unique viewpoints and communication styles, they can create a robust, innovative approach that attracts and retains a diverse clientele, ensuring a thriving future for our business and our industry.

For more information, visit ytravel.world