It’s all about the VIP—both the client that Mark International (MI) seeks to please as well as its “Very Impressive Product.” That’s the sense one gets in talking with Sean Bayless, MI’s vice president and general manager, and a veteran in the U.S. receptive tour operator industry who talked with the Inbound Report recently about his company’s expanded presence—through its VIP Concierge Service—into a lucrative market segment that hinges on its ability to appeal to, and serve, upscale international travelers to the USA.
MI underscored its move earlier this year through the launch of an online magazine that has a presentation which is the equivalent, in hard copy terms, of the traditional coffee table book. The 84-page publication suggests luxury experiences in upscale hotels and resort destinations—a presentation not unique to MI: AlliedTPro, Teamamerica and Bonotel Exclusive Travel have VIP product and online magazines at least as impressive.† Our discussion with Bayliss allowed us, then, to better understand what makes the VIP/concierge approach work in general and, on the other hand, why it is not for every receptive. Following are some points that Bayliss made during our discussion.
It was a way to break out: “We have a very different product. We’re not just a bedbank,” he told us, explaining that MI launched the new identity at the beginning of the year, even though the product line has been around, domestically, for more than six years (through Mark Travel’s Traterra Vacations). The latter figure seems to sync with the emergence, during and in the immediate wake of the 2008-09 economic recession, of VIP brands offered by other receptives as they sought product that would be immune from damage during difficult economic times. MI’s VIP Concierge Service is strictly international.
It helps to be part of a corporate environment that can synergize its components: MI is part of a large, Milwaukee-based company, Mark Travel, that also has Blue Sky Tours, Funjet Vacations, Southwest Vacations, My Destination Wellness and Showtime Tours. Bayless pointed out that one of the features of the VIP Concierge is ability to offer live, 24-7 service with the extended Mark Travel staff. “The synergy created by Mark Travels’s (different brands) gives us a lot of advantages,” he said. “At any one time, one brand’s staff might depend on others.”
Could he give us an example of what VIP Concierge Service means? To illustrate what the service can mean, Bayless explained that, recently, the company sent a concierge to join a small group of six clients and serve them, 24-7, throughout the group’s four-day itinerary in Los Angeles. (A group of six is about as large a group as MI serves on most occasions, as 90 percent of its guests are FIT. Bayliss acknowledged that the definition of a group has changed include smaller sizes; he defines a real group as 10 or more people booking 20 or more room nights.). While such personal attention is important to some, for others, the priority or the reasons are different. For instance, some clients are members of royal families, Bayless said, and, for royals security and privacy are very important.
What are the top source markets for the service? What destinations does it feature? Currently, Brazil, the UK and Mexico are the top three markets for MI’s VIP Concierge Service. Based on the number of pages in MI’s magazine, Inbound found that that Las Vegas is the locale of most of the inventory featured (26 pages), followed by Florida (14 pages), although it seems to have diversified as other destinations/properties comprise 31 pages. Asked if Las Vegas is still the lodestone for MI clients, Bayless told us, “No, Las Vegas is still very important as one of the top destinations for overseas travelers, but we now have diversified to a full product range with key cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and Miami, as well as National Parks and soft adventure. The main reason for the focus on Las Vegas and Orlando was that those happened to be the destinations where our hotel partners really realized the importance of education to the overseas client. Other key destinations that saw this importance as a destination were New Orleans, St. Petersburg Beaches and Portland/Oregon.”
Along with MI’s focus on the VIP market, there is a strategic plan for the company’s future that involves more multilingual staff and, of course, China. “China is definitely a part of our strategic plan for the future,” said Bayless. In the meantime, the company will continue to enhance its presentation and its online magazine. The magazine is a B2B tool. Specifically, Bayless noted, MI wants to get itself before reservation agents. When an agent is searching for, or about to book for, a VIP client, the agent looks for compatible product. Bayless explained that “many international operators now have VIP departments or the y will have someone who has been VIP-designated.”
So, when it comes to the matter of which destination to search, this is where the MI magazine speaks to the agent though the destination. The magazine is arranged by destination. Said Bayless, “What we wanted to do was give each destination to talk about itself. Tell the reader what they should know … the goal is to drive a longer stay because of the knowledge they’ve developed beforehand.” In the case of the USA—for many travelers who received their product through MI—the destination is a repeat destination. It’s no longer see a dozen places in 15 days. Instead, they’re staying longer in the destinations. It is because of clients who are discerning, clients who are repeat travelers, Bayless emphasize on several occasions during our conversation that. with the VIP product, “You’re not really selling an itinerary. You’re selling an experience.” (You can contact Sean Bayliess at email@example.com)
†Here is some basic information on their upscale product and concierge services.
Team America: “Our selected Elite Team will satisfy the needs of the most demanding VIP clients by booking Penthouses, Suites, Villas and special services starting from Private Jets, Rolls Royce, Bentleys, Yachts all the way to Butlers, Bodyguards, Personal shopper and any other request they might have.”
113-page brochure: http://dream.teamamericany.com/elite/Elite2015.pdf
AlliedtPro: Première by Kuoni—A VIP Concierge Experience
140-page brochure: http://valtech.ipapercms.dk/Kuoni/KuoniDESTMGM/KDMHO/ATPLifestyles/
Bonotel Exclusive Travel
207-page brochure: https://www.bonotel.com/onlineBrochure/2015/BonotelBrochure_2015.pdf