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Do you know better?

June 12th, 2013 . by Nolan Burris

In an older article I mentioned a curious phenomenon I see over and over again–people who succeed in travel because they “just don’t know any better.”  I am not suggesting their success is accidental or luck–quite the opposite. I was referring to those who enter the travel industry with little or no experience who do things a little differently than the rest.  I talked about those that seem to easily charge rather high professional fees.  (Note that I did not call them “booking” or “transaction” fees!)

Besides not “knowing any better” why do you think these entrepreneurs are able to so easily charge their fees?  Service is the answer ! But what does “service” really mean?  What are today’s travelers seeking when they contact a travel agent where they may, as above, pay a fee?

Surprisingly, lowest price is rarely at the top of their list. In fact, nearly 97% (wrongly) believe travel agents are the most expensive option of all.  Of course they want the best price possible, but clearly price cannot be the deciding factor. Price will always be in the mix but something else is driving them to call a professional.  Something else defines service in addition to being friendly, helpful and knowledgeable–we are all that…just read everyone’s websites.

In our 2008 (somewhat dated, but still accurate) survey, the top three reasons given for calling a travel agent were:

  1. I want advice
  2. I want time and personal attention
  3. I need help with something I found online

Unfortunately, most don’t feel they are getting what they want!  Our survey also revealed that only 8% of travelers believed they received actual advice.  Their other desires didn’t fare much better. What an opportunity!

Advice is not your personal or even your professional opinion.  Advice means asking the right questions, in order to do the right research, in order to make the right recommendations.  All of that takes time; and time is money.  Now you might understand why so many of those industry newcomers who “don’t know better” are charging professional fees.

The ever-shrinking margin between commission revenue and cost is one reason to consider fees, but it isn’t the most important one.  Funding an amazing level of service that no website can ever touch is a much better reason!  After all, if you’re selling as fast as possible just to keep the doors open, you won’t be as likely to deliver on those top three desires.

Dr. Bob Jocelyn opened my eyes to fees long ago and I will be forever grateful to him.  In the years since, I’ve become even more aware of how important it is to give your customers what they really want from you.  Fees can help you make that happen.

I had my personal epiphany when I realized that commission is (and always has been) the suppliers’ payment to you for booking their product.  Fees are the customer’s payment to you for all the things you do for them– service, support, expertise, working magic, pulling strings, memberships in associations and networks, staying trained and educated, and (of course) relationships with suppliers for when things go wrong.

My best friend is a lawyer.  After getting his bill for $225 for one hour’s work I quipped “that’s a lot of money for an hour!”  His reply was brilliant:  “If it was for an hour it would be a rip-off.  Luckily, you got 15 years of experience and support and that’s a bargain.”

Our training CD’s on fees and consulting skills are still currently the top sellers on our website.  This is very encouraging to me as it shows that more and more agents are having their own epiphanies.  It also reminds me of just how resilient this industry can be when we put our focus where it really belongs:  our customers.

Nolan Burris is an author, former travel agent, failed musician and self-professed techno-geek. He’s also a popular international speaker both inside and outside of the travel industry.  He is the founder and chief Visioneer of Future Proof Travel Solutions (futureprooftravel.com) based in Vancouver, Canada.  Nolan’s believes that if can change the way business works, you’ll change the world. His goal is to spread the message of integrity and ethics in a techno-driven world.

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