Consumer advocates often lodge the complaint that advertising is coercive and monopolistic, dictating public perceptions and buying habits. According to this theory, the public buys what they are told to buy, the product most advertised, rather than the product that is the best for their needs. Certainly companies with the resources to put into advertising have a distinct advantage. Regardless of the actual merits of the argument, the perception it creates makes it more difficult to form a relationship with clients based on trust.
In the context of travel agencies, consumers often feel that they are not empowered, worrying better travel products or values are somewhere “out there” but are not being disclosed by the travel professional. Consumers sometimes suspect that mass market advertising, commission arrangements and other intra-industry politics dictate the product travel agents permit them to see and from which they are allowed to choose. This perception breeds mistrust of the industry and induces many consumers to go it alone in their research and booking efforts to find the perfect trip or vacation.
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Clients want to feel as though their travel consultant is working on their behalf rather than for “preferred suppliers”. Indeed, most agents keep the needs of the client foremost in mind when researching and booking. However, unless the travel agent makes it clear to the client how recommendations are made and suppliers selected, the client may still feel as though not all options were considered. Many new clients will be concerned that the agent will channel them to preferred suppliers for the agent’s benefit rather than their own.
What to do about the problem: Travel professionals wanting to empower their clients and to alleviate concerns about a bias to select suppliers should shift their advertising tactics away from products to a service orientation. By focusing on and explaining the services a travel consultant performs, the professional moves into the role of advisor rather than sales person. By developing a solid knowledge of suppliers in both mass and niche markets, agents can discuss a wide variety of options with clients more easily. Encouraging clients to bring any supplier or travel product to the agent for evaluation demonstrates the appropriate orientation to the relationship and gives clients confidence. Travel professionals should seek to orient their practice around services rather than products and turn their clients into partners in the travel planning process, empowering the consumer to openly discuss any and all options with the travel counselor. This is the foundation of trust that builds solid relationships.
Remember that most consumers subliminally mistrust advertising. Therefore, be judicious in your choice of advertising tactics. Emphasize service and choice, be authentic in your copy and messages, and choose your venues wisely.