Glance back through the articles in the TRO archives and you will see some very strong opinions on a wide range of topics from travel agents and suppliers. The temperament of the industry as seen through the strength of those articles is a good indication why the industry has endured through the changes it has experienced since the mid-1990’s. Resilience and persistence, a dedication to craft, is inherent in the best travel professionals. Though not without concern for the challenges the industry might be facing in the next few short years, these agents seem to be saying, very simply, they are here to stay.
Here’s yet another change that I want to commend to agents, one that each individual agent can bring on for themselves: clients for life. As I have indicated here before, the original model after which the industry was fashioned was retail – travel agencies were stores where people bought airline tickets and travel. While that model was important to the early development of the industry, we continue to suffer greatly from the hangover. Far too many travel agents still operate like a store, competing on price, offering a variety of products, haggling with consumers like merchants in a bazaar. One of the many problems with this model is its transactional nature. Something happens only when the client initiates a transaction that begins with “I want to go to…” A flurry of activity ensues and then it’s over until the client initiates the next transaction, perhaps with the original agent, perhaps with another.
There is a better way.
Humans are explorers, and pilgrims, wanderers and adventurers. The urge to travel is strong and we will always have the need to see the next place, to fulfill the list we all carry around in our head of where we want to go and what we want to do. You can view each of those excursions, vacations, trips and travels as independent transactions, or you can view them as a single story, the living out of a purposeful fulfillment of a person’s travel ambitions. Unfortunately, many people travel rather haphazardly, planning a few months in advance, often without any long-range goals. Very few of their travel dreams are ever realized.
Here’s where you come in: Develop clients for life.
No doubt you have already begun to change the transactional model to one of consultation and relationship, but I’m suggesting taking it up a notch. Gear your travel practice to span multiple years, five year plans, even decades. The approach will have to be holistic – you will have to speak to budgeting, to goals and other life plans. You will have to re-visit the plan as changes occur and recognize the organic nature of your client’s travel ambitions. But the mission will be to keep them on track in fulfilling a life of travel. In the same way that a financial planner works with clients to achieve retirement plans and financial goals, you can work with your clients to ensure that they see their 1,000 places. By thinking of your practice in this way, you open the door of many years of working with clients, with an open invitation to their lives.
What will a lifetime relationship look like? Will it be retainer based? Will you work with other consultants employed by the client? Would you have a written portfolio of destinations and plans? Will you have a dozen such clients? I’m not sure, but I am certain that this is a possibility for the best of you out there.
Pipe dream? Perhaps. But as travel professionals continue to evolve from merchants to consultants it’s a possibility worthy of consideration.