This week marks two full years since I launched The Wealthy Travel Agent. Thanks to all of you who have helped make it a success. What started out as a dream to pursue my passion helping others achieve the level of success they desired has become a thriving company – one that looks nothing like I had originally envisioned. Everything, from my services to the website, have been a work in progress.
I had a dream, I had the passion, but the big question was, could I leverage my skills, knowledge and expertise into a business that would help me reach my personal goals?
In case you missed it, the luxury and niche travel business has been exploding in growth. Tour operators are offering more upscale itineraries with custom built coaches and five-star hotels than ever before. Capacity in the luxury cruise segment increased by 45% in 2016 alone, and will double again by 2020. And of course, river cruising is still on a juggernaut, fueling the growth more than any other sector.
I attended the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) back in the mid-1980s, but as my Uncle Howard once told me – my real education was the summer of my freshman year I spent selling books door-to-door. In those short two and one-half months, I developed many of the life skills that have become an integral part of who I am today.
The classic argument of who came first, the chicken or the egg, is most evident when discussing marketing and sales.
The marketing folks will say that without them the salesperson would not have any customers. The salespeople will say without them no one, including the marketing people, would have jobs. As a lifelong salesperson, I subscribe to the later theory.
Remember when you first decided to become an independent travel professional. You were so excited to be embarking on a new career, one that could take you all over the world, live a lifestyle others only dream about, and heck -you were even going to get paid for it! The thought of associating yourself with a trusted brand, or finding a business model that worked for you made the decision that much easier. Regardless of the reason–you jumped in with both feet.
I had just finished presenting my Selling to the Affluent Traveler seminar at a recent industry conference, when one of the attendees asked the question, “Dan, how do you feel about fees?” This is a loaded question and, while it was outside of the scope of the program, everyone in the room was waiting for my response.
“I love fees!” I replied, to which you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief. “Especially service fees, but in my opinion,” I continued, “you should only charge planning fees if you are adding value to the purchase!”
I have been fortunate to have spent most of my career as an agent, agency owner, and in consortia management. But as a former cruise line sales executive, I also have the luxury of the supplier perspective on many subjects that affects travel professionals every day.
Some years ago, while the owner of a successful cruise agency, I was interviewed by a major travel industry trade publication for my opinion, on what was and is still a very sensitive subject. The question put forth was “Do you believe that cruise lines should continue to grow their direct business channel?” My answer might surprise you. I responded, “Yes, absolutely.”
The reason, while not a popular one, remains as valid today as it did then. Cruise lines (and other suppliers) are not charitable organizations. They are for profit corporations – just like yours and mine. In most cases, they are part of very large public companies which demand ever increasing shareholder value.
Last month, while speaking at the Travel Agent Forum in Las Vegas, I asked the audience of over 400 agents a simple question. “What makes each of you a better choice for the customer?” Followed by, “Why should a prospect buy their vacation from you versus the person sitting next to you?” In that room, there were over 400 choices that I as a consumer could make. So why should a prospect choose you?
The answers were, in my opinion, very pedestrian. Such as “I give the best service” – says who I ask. and “I am passionate about selling travel.” Well, so is everyone else in the room and so on.
Last week, my in-laws decided we should all go to the casino for an afternoon of fun. I am not a big gambler, but for a few hours—I was game. One of the players at our poker table repeated these words with every hand: “Go big or go home.”
This reminded me of a big gamble I made with my travel agency. Outwardly, we were very successful, and from a sales perspective, we were. We did a fairly high volume of contemporary product. Because of this, we were often treated like VIPs—flown first class to inaugural events, served lavish dinners with industry executives, and so on. However, we were in real danger of going out of business due to low margins and high cost of sale, so we made the biggest gamble since starting the company. We turned our business model 180 degrees and began focusing on attracting affluent customers as a large part of the overall sales strategy. Go big or go home!
Last week, an interesting post on one of the newer travel agent Facebook groups caught my attention.
A person made a very public declaration that she was leaving the group because she only wanted to associate and share ideas with what she considered to be “real and legitimate” travel agents.
What I found interesting is virtually all agents in this group (around 1000) are home based and many are cruise focused. This agent had particularly strong feelings about who was “real and legitimate,” and those in the group who didn’t make the cut.
Read the rest of this entry »
Torstein Hagen founder and Chairman or Viking (River) Cruises, said in a recent interview. “We are focused clearly on what we are and the number of things we are not.”
In a world where everyone and every business from Costco to Sea Ray Boats seems to be selling travel, how can you not only survive but thrive to build the business and lifestyle of your dreams?
If you want to stand out among the plethora of options – get clear on who you are and who you are not. Ask yourself these two simple questions. “What makes me special?” and “What do I want to be known for?”
Read the rest of this entry »
A couple of years after we started the cruise agency, we were growing a fan club of loyal clientele. We focused on fundamentals of sales and did what we knew best “providing the same high level of service our customers expect on their cruise vacation.”
One of our early customers was the Vice President of Sales at Dell Computers at the time. He was so pleased with the way we handled his personal vacation, he asked if I would be interested in bidding on Dells next sales incentive trip which happened to be two cruises- one seven day and the other a 4 day. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the years, the travel industry has conditioned the buying public to shop for price. These days, it is far easier to feed the beast than to change decades of conditioned behavior. As a distribution channel, we too deserve a good chunk of the credit for perpetuating the discount-driven vacation market. Research shows it’s not just contemporary and premium customers who expect a discount – its affluent buyers as well!
One of the services I provide my corporate clients is to “mystery shop” their businesses. Recent experiences confirmed what I often observed as a supplier sales executive. Many travel professionals do not adequately qualify their prospects and will often do the prospect an injustice by “underselling” the experience.
What do I mean by this? Read the rest of this entry »
As we come off the holidays and kick off the new year, I want to ask you something: “How were your sales in Q1?” You are probably thinking, “What the heck is he smoking? We’re just now starting our first quarter.” Let me qualify the question.
Most businesses operate using one of two calendars. The first is obviously a calendar year, January – December. The second, used primarily for accounting purposes, is a fiscal year, which will vary depending on the company. Most of us are familiar with these two, but if you have followed me for any length of time, you know there is a third year. The one I use, which has been instrumental to my success selling travel, is what I call the “Sales Year”.
Have you ever thought about why most cruise and tour companies are so focused on their Alaska and Europe products in the fall? Trying to book your BDM for an event is virtually impossible unless you did so in June or July. Here’s why: Read the rest of this entry »
First you must know how much our family loves the holidays. When we were shopping for our home years ago, the first thing my wife looked for is where to put the Christmas tree. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is required viewing for some families, for us “Love Actually” is our favorite as our girls and their boyfriends gather in our home for this annual event. As is tradition, the day after Thanksgiving (USA), we all pile into the truck and head out to a local tree farm nestled in hills of the lower Cascades not far from our home. Over the years our entourage has grown from just the four of us to include boyfriends, in-laws, nieces, nephews, dogs, and grand-dogs. Quite a show. This year there were just six of us and four dogs. Read the rest of this entry »
“WAVE” Season, the busiest time of the year for the travel industry, is just around the corner. I challenge you to ask yourself a simple question: “Will you be busy selling or just be busy being busy?”
After the holidays, consumer interest in vacations increases exponentially. If someone takes the time to reach out to you, the odds are good they are actually planning a vacation. They may be just getting started in the process or already know exactly what they want, but the real question is, will they book it with you?
If you treat new inquiries as though they are simply “shoppers”, you risk falling into the same trap many seasoned travel agents have done over the years and you will lose out on a tremendous amount of business. Conversely, if you assume everyone is a buyer, I promise – you will book a lot more sales. Read the rest of this entry »
The following is an excerpt from The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Selling Travel by Dan Chappelle, MCC to be published in January 2017:
Have you ever had a close friend or family member ask you to help plan a vacation for them? You help them find the perfect package for their needs—and then you never hear from them, only to find out they booked it with someone they hardly know (or direct). You spent a lot of time and effort with nothing to show for it. Did you wonder why they did this?
Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter conducted a groundbreaking study in the 1970s about how people get jobs. In his study, Granovetter found that people rarely found jobs in the newspaper or other resources available at the time—and it wasn’t because a close friend or relative helped them get a job, either. He found most people got jobs through acquaintances, or what he called “weak ties.” Read the rest of this entry »
The best piece of advice I got in this business was also one of the first, and I have lived by it my entire career. I got into the travel business after recognizing an opportunity. I came to realize most of the problems we dealt with, as a purser onboard cruise ships at the time, tended to be travel-agent related. It was then I decided to start a cruise-only travel agency. Back in those days, there were probably fewer than 500 cruise specialists in the US and far fewer dedicated cruise agencies. From the ship, I sent letters to 5 or 6 cruise-focused and franchise companies for information on starting the business. Not a single one responded, with the exception of Gary Brown, owner of Metairie, Louisiana-based Cruise Shoppes America. Gary explained, they were no longer in the franchise business, but if I was interested we could join his new consortia and he would help us get up and running. Read the rest of this entry »
As a sales coach and business consultant in the travel and tourism industry, the question I am asked most often is, “What do I have to do to become successful?” It is a simple question and one that really has a simple answer.
Contrary to popular belief, the reason many travel agents fail is not due a lack of product knowledge, lack of planning, or lack of marketing. In fact, we tend to be pretty good at all three. The cost of entry in travel sales is typically very low, so it’s usually not for lack of funding either.
No, the reason many agents fail is so obvious, it is often overlooked. According to legendary management consultant, Peter Drucker, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers”. That’s it – period. Nothing else happens in this or any business until someone buys something. This first sale generates the revenue to help keep the lights and internet on. It helps to create momentum and funds marketing initiatives. This sale, and the others that will follow, helps you to create the lifestyle you want for you and your family. But it all starts with a single sale, or does it? Read the rest of this entry »
In my career as an executive for both a luxury cruise line and two well-known travel franchise organizations, I have witnessed some of the best and worst practices of professionalism from travel agents.
Unfortunately a number of agents, especially newer ones, will sometimes let their passion get in the way of good business sense and manners. Here are a few of things you can do to epitomize what it means to be a travel professional in the eyes your suppliers and peers.
Have a plan
The ultimate way to prove your professionalism is preparation; have a plan. This will set you apart from 90% of other travel agents. In addition to your overall business plan, having several strategic plans including one for growing preferred supplier relationships are essential. It doesn’t have to be a book; in fact, a simple one page sales plan works best. This plan is your road map. Since you will be asking your preferred suppliers to invest co-op marketing funds, it also creates accountability for both parties. You should include realistic sales projections, target prospects, prospecting and marketing initiatives, and financial commitments from both parties. Read the rest of this entry »
I had an interesting conversation with a student of my online program a few weeks ago. She lives not far from me, so instead of the usual phone consultation I asked if she would meet me for coffee. It was a beautiful Seattle morning and as we talked, part of her story had a familiar ring to it. In fact, I hear it so often, I have come to expect it.
She has been in business for about a year and has done everything her host/franchisor instructed. She wrote a marketing and branding plan, built a website, became active in social media, and participated in numerous product webinars, but something was missing. That something is “Sales”. They trickled in here and there, but not enough to sustain the business, much less make a living. Read the rest of this entry »