Five Important Psychological Shifts: #1 – You Don’t Sell Travel | TravelResearchOnline

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Five Important Psychological Shifts: #1 – You Don’t Sell Travel

You don’t sell travel. Intellectually, most travel agents will agree with that statement. Yet, read the travel agency forums, and the inquiries reveal that most travel agents believe they are in competition with online sites, with suppliers and with any media that advertises travel to the public. How often do we hear a fellow agent complain they “lost a sale” to Costco or some other retailer? To then compound the problem, those same agents begin imitating the tactics of their perceived competition, advertising supplier brands, marketing price and, in general, acting like a retailer of travel product.

I see so many travel agency web sites that look like Las Vegas – dozens of blinking supplier ads light up the web page. I see countless Twitter tweets that are one product advertisement after another in endless succession. Clients can buy travel without you! They do not need a travel consultant to purchase travel. Travel is available on the internet, in the newspaper, and direct from suppliers. When you market travel, you will almost inevitably be setting yourself in competition with the many other distribution channels for travel product. You will find yourself competing on price. Fundamentally, travel consultants do not compete on price well. Living from transaction to transaction is a lousy way to make a living!

Yet, when travel agents are of a mind set that they sell travel, that is the arena in which they find themselves.


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The most destructive myth permeating this industry says you are a travel AGENT, that you sell travel. Well, if you sell travel, you are in a world of hurt because that pool is full. We have to begin our shift away from that myth.

What if instead of sales we thought in terms of true travel consulting? In a sales dynamic, you find yourself on the other side of the table from the client negotiating. However, in a consulting context,  you are helping them make an intelligent buying decision. You are assisting your clients in evaluating the options available to them and then making the right choices to ensure the best possible travel experience. You can’t be beaten on price because you aren’t selling anything!

Intellectually, I know you understand that shift.  But can you take it to heart?  Can you absorb it so deeply that you not only understand it but you believe it? You can communicate it to others?

Travel agents should be marketing themselves, not travel. Their Unique Selling Point is contained in their ability to help consumers make intelligent purchasing decisions. When consumers are happy with a purchase, they will brag about the buy they made. When they are unhappy, however, they will complain about what they were sold. It is true – people love to buy, but they hate to be sold. In that simple truism is a lesson for travel consultants: help clients make intelligent buying decisions. Sell your access to the best values. Sell your affiliations with industry consortia and professional resources. Share what you do. Marketing does not get more basic than this. You are never competing on price if you are selling your own expertise.

Identify what you do best, and market yourself. Leave marketing travel product to the big discounters. Don’t try to compete on their turf. There are so many attributes that you possess as a travel consultant where the discounters and run of the mill travel agents can never compete. That is your forte. There is where you should find your marketing venue.

This psychological shift is so important. Study it. Think about it. Talk about it with your peers until you are absolutely convinced of its truth. Your travel practice will begin to look very different to both you and your clients.

  2 thoughts on “Five Important Psychological Shifts: #1 – You Don’t Sell Travel

  1. Nice post, Richard – I couldn’t agree more! First and foremost, I aim to be my clients’ trusted advisor of all things travel. The harsh reality, though, especially having just started out, is that 95% of the calls, leads and referrals I get are from people who have already done the research, asked the questions, posted on message boards and have made up their mind. They are looking to see if my price can beat theirs and what perks, upgrades or extras they can get out of me.

    I do get them to take a few steps back with me so that I can understand them better, build rapport and position my service as more of a consultation but it rarely works.

    I would love to hear some live conversations of top performers! Any volunteers?

  2. Richard Earls says:

    Steven: Starting out is the toughest period, before you have built the relationships necessary to insert your expertise early in the planning exercise. Coming in during the last inning does not give you an appropriate opportunity to do much more than vette the client’s decisions and then, as you indicate, check the pricing. Seldom is this a winning proposition for the travel professional as it makes everything pivot on pricing. Just keep hanging in there until you have the opportunity to train clients to come to you early and often! ~ Richard

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