Many independent travel agents do not have offices that are open to the public. Many of these offices are in private residences, and often homeowner’s association or business license regulations disallow clients from visiting the offices. So what is the travel agent to do when a sit-down with a client is a better option than phone or email?
Luckily, just about every city and town has a few choice places to meet at no cost that can be excellent places to conduct business. Where you ultimately choose is dependent on your needs. Do you need a quiet area, or is the low-level hum of an active coffeeshop too distracting? Do you need Internet access? Is having access to food and drink a requirement? And, because some agents are located in more rural areas, what is the most convenient for you and the client?
Here are five options that you may, or may not, have considered as meeting places for you and your clients:
Membership Club: If you are a member of a country club, fraternal organization, or something similar that has a club house or meeting center available for your use, meeting there can project a great image to the client. A country club near where I used to live commanded rather high annual fees, and every time I was invited to an event there, whether public or private, I was always a little impressed by my surroundings and it usually made me feel a bit more special to be invited in the first place. Be careful though, as this kind of setting can advance an image that you may not want – if the client isn’t the “country club type” meeting there can paint you as out of touch with their needs and wants.
Hotel: Many hotels have meeting rooms or community rooms available to rent for cheap, and sometimes you can use them at no cost. In larger cities, many hotels have excellent looking lobbies with good seating and conversation areas that you can plop down and meet with a client. Some hotel managers frown on this practice unless either you or the client is staying at the hotel, but other properties are more social in nature, being evening destinations due to a restaurant or other venue on the property. It’s a good idea to check with the hotel staff before arranging a meeting.
Restaurants: Restaurants are busy places, and they can often be distracting. But, for the right clients, especially ones that you have known for a while and are like friends to you, a restaurant can be an acceptable meeting place. Booths are generally safer, as they’re on outside walls of the dining room, where middle-of-the-room tables tend to be surrounded by more activity.
Coffeehouses: A very popular meeting place is the coffeehouse. In fact, it’s my preferred meeting place. It’s always a nice gesture to buy a client a cup of coffee or have a plate of cookies from the bakery case sitting on the table when they arrive. They aren’t as busy as restaurants, and many do serve excellent food.
Public Library: Libraries often have study rooms, community rooms, or meeting rooms that can be excellent meeting places. They’re often quiet, and located in good buildings and generally are convenient. Oftentimes, the rooms are at no charge.
In the end, it’s important to consider the client when selecting a meeting spot – you want to choose a location that makes the client comfortable and relaxed, and gives you the ability to conduct business, no matter how large or small, with a positive image.
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS has been a travel professional since 2005 and currently owns Exclusive Events At Sea (http://www.exclusiveeventsatsea.com) and Journeys By Steve (http://www.journeysbysteve.com) with specializations in group cruising, individual ocean & river cruising, and personalized experiences in Europe, especially the British Isles. In addition, Steve heads up WordPressForTravelAgents.com, an email-based WordPress education system designed specifically for the busy travel professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.