Many travel agents have found referral networks provide an excellent source of new clients. You can generate strong word of mouth marketing by establishing both formal and informal referral networks to generate recommendations for your travel planning practice.
Referral networks are individual business people in complementary industries who commit to refer business to each other. You send business to your accountant and she tells her clients about your travel practice. You send your clients to a small boutique dress shop in town and the owner of the dress shop places your fliers in her store and tells her customers who are traveling about you. Referral networks expand the sphere of influence for each of its participants and, properly worked, can contribute substantially to your overall marketing efforts.
The key to making a referral network successful is “working” it. Simply establishing the intent to refer business is not enough. The members of the network have to commit to the process and be held accountable for their referral efforts. Organizations like BNI have developed very stringent rules and guide lines for their formal referral networks, with remarkable results. Less formal networks can also work, however, if the participants agree to certain ground rules in advance, including the responsibility to record all referrals and to inform members for whom referrals have been made. Many groups encourage their members to pro-actively call referrals rather than waiting for a call from the person referred.
As with all word of mouth advertising it is important for you to ensure that the other participants understand the essentials of your travel planning practice. Spend time with the group understanding their business and making sure that the others understand the full scope of what you do. Trade business cards and take a supply to pass on to those you refer.
Many travel planners spend the vast majority of their marketing resources, whether money or time, on traditional outbound marketing – yellow pages, newspaper ads and local sponsorship advertising. Referral networks, while requiring more effort than conventional marketing, carries with it the inherent credibility of a third party endorsement, imparting a sense of assurance that a print ad cannot.
Exercise: Check to see if there is a formal referral network operating in your community. If so, consider attending a function to see how the network operates and whether it is compatible with your personality. You can also set up an informal network between your travel agency and a wedding planner, a photographer, a retail clothing store and a jeweler. Jot down a reminder to speak to complimentary businesses about entering into a referral arrangement.
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