How photogenic are you? I am not. It takes either the most amazingly lucky lighting or the most skilled of photographers to make me look good in a photograph. I tell myself it has nothing to do with my personal appearance. Instead, I am the victim of bad lighting. Worldwide.
At ASTA’s Global Conference in Reno last year, I participated in a panel titled “The Value of Using a Travel Agent.” Driven by ASTA’s Research Department, the information provided was actually quite remarkable. Perhaps the most interesting and hopeful number in the report is the number of people currently using a travel agent which hovers around 25% in all age categories. Wow.
Such a low number is amazingly good news for one simple reason: enormous potential for growth. But how do we get there from here? How do we manage to project the best possible image to the public of the travel profession and make our value proposition evident? How can we be seen in the best possible light?
For more than fifteen years, the demise of the travel agent has been a part of our collective culture. The profession has been the butt of jokes on sit-coms and poorly conceived illustrations and anecdotes.
I want to explain why.
Our profession has often been the victim of bad lighting. Consumers view us a sellers of travel rather than as consultants in travel. We are lumped in with Best Buy and Walmart, Expedia and Travelocity instead of accountants and financial planners. If we are going to repair our collective image well enough to take advantage of what seems to be some growing momentum, how do we do so?
First and foremost, remember this is 2017. Your clients are smart and technically savvy. If you hope to succeed you will embrace technology and your clients’ ability to research right along with you. We will learn to communicate using whatever means are best suited for the particular client whether handwritten letter or texting. We will step ahead of the technology and popular culture curve instead of riding behind it. We will market using both traditional methods and social media in the most sophisticated and intelligent manner. We will be mentally astute and tuned in.
We must see the need to rise above our clients’ ability to keep up with the overload of information they experience each time they Google “travel”. Simply put, it is imperative to add real value to every research and planning exercise you undertake.
In the face of online discounters and the technology resources of the likes of Kayak, Trivago and Expedia, many travel agents have difficulty understanding their competitive advantage. Haunted by the ghosts of a lower price “somewhere”, many travel professionals approach their presentations in fear and trembling. The lack of confidence shows – it’s why so few travel consultants feel confident charging fees.
If you are harboring secret doubts about the travel profession or about your value to your clients, it’s time to pause and take stock. I have spoken at length on the necessity of travel professionals to value themselves, to properly understand their role as consultants. True travel professionals see themselves as fully in charge of their destiny and have little doubt of their value to the buying process. Quietly confident, top travel consultants are highly ethical and project their expertise gracefully.
That’s the picture we want to project as a profession. If we do so successfully, the capacity to earn our share of the 75% of the public who does not currently use a travel agent is within our reach.