Your clients have your office number, your email address and your cell phone number. They know your office hours and how to get in touch with you after the doors have closed. But how accessible are you? Is there any possibility your clients feel they are actually bothering you when they want to research a bit of travel? Web site designers go to great lengths to make travel web sites “accessible”: easy to understand, use and navigate. But what about your own interface with clients?
Is your entire travel practice easy to understand, use and navigate? Are you emotionally and psychologically available to existing and potential clients?
Conversations with consumers often reveal a reluctance to approach travel agents. Inexperienced travelers actually feel hesitant to use a travel agent and often prefer to go direct or to the internet so as to not “waste the travel agent’s time.” Such travelers feel that they incur an obligation when using a travel agent, a debt of time invested by the agent, and therefore avoid going to an agent at all. Younger consumers will often say it is “easier” just to do it themselves. Logically, the smaller the travel purchase, the more commodity-like the travel, the more probable the consumer is to attempt to “do it on their own.” As younger consumers enter the travel market, the inclination to go online for their travel needs is likely to be much greater than in the past.
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The media, and sometimes agents themselves, contribute to the image of the busy, overworked and harried travel agent. Portrayals of agents as frantically busy or under pressure do not contribute to accessibility. These pre-conceived notions are barriers to use. Good marketing strategy will involve tactics designed to improve your accessibility to the public.
Empower your clients – educate and train your clients. Explain the research process and the resources you have at hand. Familiarize them with your continuing education and your industry associations. Most of all, empower them to contact you with any travel issue, large or small, even questions about which they are curious that have no bearing on a particular booking, or that lone hotel booking on which you know you will never receive a commission. Because every client contact brings you closer to the client, closer to the next cruise or major travel excursion.
Exercise – First, make certain your clients truly know how to reach you. Your website, Facebook page, business cards and all client communications should have a phone number and email address. Then, strive to improve the general approachability and warmth of your practice. Look at all of your elements of first impression and make sure that the appearance of your office, your clothing and, most importantly, your demeanor, are inviting and relaxed. Go positive in all of your marketing messages. Don’t criticize other travel distribution channels, which invites an argument over competing features and benefits. Instead, accentuate your own positive attributes, the benefits of human interaction, of local accountability, of client advocacy. Educate the public. Many consumers simply do not understand travel agents. Incorporate an explanation of your services into your marketing literature. Write articles and newsletters and find opportunities to speak to groups about what you do. Get out in front of the marketing curve!