Positioning for Travel Agents – Competitive Research

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How well do you know your competition? This week we have discussed the need to properly position your travel agency in the market, largely by defining the characteristics that set it apart. Each travel agency should seek to find some unique selling point that will convince clients to do business with them over all others. However, without some subtle market research you face the possibility of not knowing how to position your agency versus your competition. If your travel agency and the one down the street are both stressing your expertise in Costa Rica as your unique selling point, or if you both offer “excellent customer service” then your selling points are not unique!

Too often, clients hear the most general types of marketing language substituted for clearly defined marketing differentiation. Either the travel agency sets forth their unique selling points in a list of features that are only vaguely understood by the public (CTC, MCC, IATA, 20 years in business) or the language is so generic that it has lost meaning, as in the phrase “one on one customer service.” Every agency promises great customer service. Every agency promises expertise. Before you craft your own set of unique selling points, it is necessary to research your competition to better understand what they are offering their clients. Otherwise, both companies run the risk of simply adding to an ocean of mediocrity, with language that sounds generic and uninteresting to the public.

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It is not necessary to be unethical to research your competition. Look at their advertising and their web site, all publicly available. Visit local trade shows where competitors exhibit. Speak to media sales people and past clients. In each instance, remain positive. Ask about the best characteristics of your competition, why people like doing business with  their agency. Often, you will detect trends in your marketplace by observing what other agencies see as an important part of their own business mix. If they are a part of a large franchise, investigate the franchise’s claims on their web site. Try to understand what your competition views as their strongest characteristics.

Naturally, don’t stop with the brick and mortar agencies in your community. The public also does business with suppliers direct and with the large online agencies. Understanding what makes each competitive sector attractive will assist you in developing your own criteria for differentiation.

Some portion of your client interviews should always delve into their past experiences with other travel agencies. Ask your clients what they liked about the other agencies they have used. Knowing that your competition is always accessible, or has a great hotel program, or always provides destination guides to clients will let you establish how high the bar is for your own customer service levels. Again, it is vitally important to conduct such surveys in a “fact finding” mode, free of all criticism and maintaining a very positive, professional demeanor. Never say negative things about your competition. Your points of differentiation should be stated in terms of the benefits you offer, not in terms of what your competition does not offer.

Competitive research is an important part of the positioning exercise. Seeking out a unique selling point requires you to know what other travel agencies and distribution channels offer as their own strong advantages. By knowing your competition, you can better angle your agency into a unique position to be noticed and appreciated by potential clients.

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