It’s been fifteen years since I quit a perfectly good job in travel franchising to start my little company. I used to question the logic starting a new career and a new business in this crazy industry. At that time travel was in quite a state of upheaval.
The airlines had just completed their multi-year assault on commission, effectively reducing it to zero throughout North America. Travel agencies were closing, merging, fleeing the corporate business and turning to cruises. Professional fees were still a rarity and the Internet was still a novelty. It was clear that the net would continue to grow and flourish while many experts predicted the opposite for travel agencies.
Why would I choose to start a business focused on training, educating and inspiring travel agents when their eventual demise was being proclaimed all around? My reason is not logical. It came from my heart: I believed that with a few fundamental changes in mindset and strategies, travel agencies could become future-proof.
So, what does it mean to be future-proof in this business? It doesn’t mean tossing aside things that work today. However, it involves strategies that are not dependent upon temporary resources.
If there is any lesson we should have learned from the evaporation of airline commission (and the more recent cruise commission shenanigans) it is this: relying on other companies to protect and secure your financial future is a risky arrangement at best.
I don’t suggest giving up on commission. But I do strongly suggest that every travel agency slowly but surely move toward financial arrangements that YOU control. Of course, I’m referring to professional fees.
As you’ve seen in TRO on numerous occasions, there are many agencies now earning 60% and even up to 80% of their total revenue from fees. For them, commission has not gone away, but it no longer represents such an extreme point of vulnerability. The whims of shareholder votes and boardroom decisions have become far less threatening.
Becoming future-proof is not just about fees. Actually, they are more of a natural result of the shift in mindset and strategies I mentioned. In order to be successful with substantial fees, an agency has to be substantially different, providing a substantially superior experience. Such an experience doesn’t come cheap; and thus, fees are the most logical solution. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many in the industry still struggle with that concept.
There are a few common traits among those that have transformed the struggle into success. As is often the case, the answers are not complicated, but beautifully simple:
1. Play The Right Game and Promote It
Some travel agencies still see the Internet as their competitor. Future-proof agencies do not. Rather than trying to win the game the Internet plays – which is all about deals, discounts, and impulse buying – they play a completely different game.
The Internet is incapable of delivering advice and client-focused consulting. So, that is exactly where future-proof agencies place the majority of their marketing and operational efforts.
What about you? Before you place that next ad or send out yet another deal-covered flyer, think about how much (or how little) it promotes the game you can actually win.
2. Overcome The Obsession With Bookings
Any app or website can make a booking. Bookings still matter – but only to you. Your real value to a traveller is about making good personal recommendations.
Future-proof pros haven’t stopped making bookings (yet). They even tend to produce more than most! But, bookings are not the objective; they are the result. This very important difference should influence how you speak to clients and prospects, and how you promote your business.
Pay attention next time you find yourself scolding someone who made a booking on a tablet app. A future-proof pro would ask: “how can I help make it even better?”
3. Don’t Be Seduced By Today
Is it possible to succeed today without charging fees? Absolutely! Can a travel agency thrive by cranking out mass-market cruise deals or leveraging back-end overrides? You bet! Just be careful not to confuse fleeting opportunities of today with sound strategies for tomorrow.
The single most outstanding characteristic of the future-proof professionals I know is that they never take their eye off tomorrow. They choose today’s moneymakers carefully, selecting only those that help carry them toward their goal. They actively avoid those would be in conflict with the business they plan to become.
Being future-proof is not an exact science. It’s more of an intuitive art – one that relies on staying in touch with your humanity. After all, data and demographics don’t take cruises, people do. Remember that and you’ll be taking a huge step toward your future.
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.