“When you’re dealing in people’s dreams, you have to get it right!”

Wise words from Tom Higgins, Marketing and Communications Manager for luxury tour operator and long-term After Digital client If Only.... He continues; “Nowadays the Internet has made booking a holiday very easy, but if you’re going to luxury destinations across the Middle East and Asia then you need specialised help”.

If Only... are just that - a highly specialised and bespoke holiday service provider. The business model consists primarily of operating through travel agents and offering tailored luxury holidays to a limited number of prolific locations across the Middle East, Asia and the Indian Ocean, with new high-end destinations like India joining the portfolio all the time.

Tom explains, “Our destinations are long haul and our clients are looking for every detail of their holiday to exactly meet their requirements. We can’t afford to get anything wrong, so booking directly online is not an option for either our travel agents or the end client. Our call to action therefore is always the same – give us a ring.”

The company’s people and conversations are at the core of their offering, but the Internet has been the platform that has projected the business to success and opened up vast new opportunities to enhance reach and brand awareness.

Our website is our shop window to the world and because we’re in the luxury market, the site has to constantly reflect this. So, we aim to showcase our resorts and maximise on quality content. There are lots of high quality images but there’s also as much relevant content throughout our website as possible, especially with our unique reports. All of this contributes to our aim to build relationships and become the preferred supplier, particularly to travel agents.”

But the website is far from a simple online brochure. It is a rich collection of relevant, customised content, that is there to help customers and travel agents find the best luxury holiday possible.

We pride ourselves on the fact that our Travel Agents have personally visited all of our resorts and upon their return we write up first-person reports and publish them on our website, so that our customers can get a real feeling for our offering. If you want to know how far it is from the bar to the pool at the Fusion Maia Beach resort in Vietnam, our staff can tell you (it’s 10 steps by the way).

With the dawn of the digital age, consumer behaviour and purchase patterns have altered drastically across the board. The advent of budget airlines and online hotel booking have had a significant impact on the travel sector, changing the way customers research, find, book and experience holidays.

Despite this If Only... has blossomed as Tom explains, “We’ve always been in the luxury end of the market and most of our destinations are long haul.  It means that customers are less confident in booking both the airline and the hotel online, thus making us more immune to trends such as the budget airline and online booking.  Our customers want more information about long haul resorts, from people who truly understand and can take care of all the ins and outs. The kind of holidays we provide are probably the largest single annual purchase our customers are likely to make, meaning there’s no room for unpleasant surprises.”

Tom continues; “Weddings and honeymoons constitute a big proportion of our market, as well as packages for younger families. Primarily we cater for the 30+ market and we have lots of celebrities who regularly use our services. These people are demanding customers, so everything has got to be spot on. There is no room for error, especially when you’re talking about someone’s annual holiday - it’s a real event and a high value purchase.”

The company’s digital strategy has played a key role in presenting this vast resource of content to its audiences, allowing customers to feel confident in their purchase decisions and build a trusting relationship with If Only... as a provider. It is this unique content, built on the company’s desire to add that extra level of personal service and understanding of the customer experience, that sets If Only... apart from its competitors.

Tom explains; “Because of the customer and travel agents’ need for more detailed information we publish in-depth reports on every one of our resorts online.  These are written by our own in-house experts who visit the resorts. For example, we’ve recently published a detailed report on Abu Dhabi – it’s less well known than say Dubai so our experts visited and fed back on their experiences via the reports. We see it as being more like a trusted advisor to our clients than a travel agent!

While the website is essential to future expansion and prosperity, the company’s core business still operates through travel agents. In this digital age some people may view this as slightly backwards, considering they could be cutting out the middleman and supplying directly to clients online. However, If Only... knows its market and audience well and the figures speak for themselves.

Tom confirms; “The evidence is there to say this model is working for us - 90% of our business comes through the trade.”

He continues; “Booking online for a truly luxury holiday is not really an option, so what our target demographic tend to do is visit a high street travel agent. That’s where we come in.  The travel agent sees us as the specialists in long haul luxury destinations – we have the personal knowledge and the experience of these resorts to guide the travel agent in order to best help the client.”

Essentially, If Only... recognise that while the vast proportion of their sales come from external travel agents, their online presence makes them accessible to these agents and a wider reaching global audience. Ultimately, it is down to the end customer where the company will go, both online and off.

Although most of our business is conducted through travel agents, we also want to be seen by our target market, so that means we use email marketing, Twitter and Facebook extensively. We’re also looking at other social media channels like Pinterest to see how that would help our digital strategy. In the end our customers dictate where we go!” says Tom.

So, if money were no object, where would Tom pick to go on his dream holiday?

Now that’s a leading question, but there’s a big buzz around Vietnam at the moment, and they’re building some fabulous resorts out there. The combination of history, cuisine, hospitality, beaches, scenery all add up to an unforgettable destination,” says Tom.

Our thanks goes to Tom and If Only... for providing an interesting insight into the company and luxury tourism market.

In our client feature series so far we’ve looked at our customers and what part digital technology has played in their development and growth. One key principle that stands out and is mirrored in all our clients’ businesses is a devotion to understanding and meeting their customers’ needs. Successful businesses must strive to deliver on their promise and whether they’re selling bikes, ballet performancestheatre tickets or long haul luxury holidays, the customers is always at the heart of this proposition.