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Why Consumers Book Elsewhere – Why Not?

This week we have engaged the reasons that clients might choose to book online through a portal like Travelocity, or direct with a supplier. In today’s final article, we deal with the most obvious reason: Why Not?  For the last 15 years the consumer has been schooled in using the internet to research everything, including travel. During roughly the same time, the general cultural myth has been that the travel agent is dead, dying or seriously bed-ridden. Very simply, the public at large does not recognize the value travel agents offer. The travel community has failed to consistently and clearly demonstrate its value proposition. And it’s your fault.

It is tempting to blame the consumer for this lack of knowledge, but the responsibility is 100% at the feet of the travel industry for failing to properly explain the value and role of the travel agent to the process of purchasing travel. Many travel consultants spend a great deal of time thinking about their competition, developing aggressive, competitive strategies. They view the agent down the street, the giant online web site or even the other agents in the office as their competitors.

The actual fact of the matter is, however, that the greatest competition most travel agents face is the lack of understanding of the thousands of potential clients who do not use a travel agent. The real battle in the travel industry is to create a market: to get potential clients to use a traditional travel agent rather than doing it themselves or, worse yet, doing nothing.

Your real competition is inertia and ignorance and your local efforts can make a difference.

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By focusing on competition with other agencies, you ignore a large segment of the market. If you market aggressively and implicitly criticize the other agents, you in fact strengthen the subliminal message to some potential clients that perhaps no one can deliver adequate service. If you expressly criticize the “do-it- yourself” attitude, you implicitly criticize many potential clients and strengthen their resolve to book their own travel. Instead, let’s polish our own image and then work with other agents locally to educate the public.

Forget aggressive competitive techniques that negatively criticize other agencies or online possibilities. Instead go positive: focus on professionalism, word of mouth and public relations. Make sure that your agency’s literature and promotional material speak to professionalism, to being a traveler’s advocate and to the resources at your disposal. Look the part. Give your image a boost– a real logo and professional promotional collateral – quit treating the business like a hobby with a consumer email address (bettytravel@aol.com) and that web site designed by your nephew. Take destination specialists courses, participate with other agents in your local community and online and take fam trips to educate yourself.

Then, consider starting a grassroots campaign in your own community that begins with collaborating with other agencies in your area. A centralized nationwide campaign to educate the public is a very expensive proposition, but smaller, localized efforts make for easier lifting. The cost of a small, local ad campaign split between six or more agencies is affordable and smart business. The solution to educating the public needs to come from the ground up.

Naturally, anti-trust considerations indicate there are a few topics you and your fellow agents will not want to discuss. Don’t venture into discussion of fees, suppliers, GDS incentives or commissions or make agreements to consult each other on competitive matters.  Your aim is to educate the public.  You might consider inviting a local public relations firm to sit down with you to discuss the local possibilities.

The travel industry is woefully lacking in standards. If the common perception is that anyone with a mouse and a keyboard can be a travel agent, then your marketing challenges will grow proportionate to the success of Apple and Dell. The public needs an education in the value of your services and there is no better teacher than you and your fellow agents.

Do you know another travel agent in your community? If so, email them a copy of this article and then pick up the phone.

You don’t have to change the way the entire world views your profession. You only have to influence a few people just outside your door.

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