TRO is devoting the next few weeks to assisting agents in developing a 2009 Marketing Plan. Follow along with us each day to gain the traction you need to make 2009 your best year ever.
A key decision in any marketing plan is the choice of product you will use in your travel planning practice over the coming year. It is time to evaluate and re-evaluate your choices of suppliers. At this time you will review even your core supplier’s performance over the past year. It is essential for a travel consultant to have very solid confidence in the suppliers they choose to use. While on occasion a client will already have a supplier in mind, as a travel professional, the travel agent should remain in a position of making recommendations and suggesting alternatives.
The first consideration for supplier selection remains the client experience – have clients been happy with the value the supplier’s product represents? For this reason, if you are not already surveying clients when they return from a trip on their experience, now is a good time to implement this type of follow-up. Your clients represent the most recent and most clear review of the supplier’s product, so take advantage of this valuable intelligence as a way of maintaining your client relationships and staying informed on the supplier’s performance.
A second consideration that is nearly as important as the first is the supplier’s support to you as an agent. How accessible is the supplier? Do they provide marketing assistance? Are their front-line agents knowledgeable and capable of assisting you in your selection of appropriate product for clients? Can they handle special requests? Are documents well presented and handled? Importantly, how well does the supplier handle either a mistake or an emergency?
Finally, are there travel experiences you would like to introduce, for example small ship cruising or river cruising, for which you do not have a supplier? If so, you may well need to make a selection with no actual personal knowledge of the product. Your network of other agents to discuss possible selections with will prove to be invaluable. The more experienced those agents, and the greater their numbers, the better vetted the recommendations you will receive.
In general, now is the time to evaluate how you feel about the professional relationships you have developed with suppliers. Each supplier you choose is a demonstration of the competence of your travel planning practice. Your clients are in the supplier’s hands during the absolute culmination of the travel planning effort. How well they perform is in large measure a reflection on your choices. Choose well.
Exercise – write down all of the suppliers you use in your practice. Divide them by category and destination, and then grade them A/B/C. Are there suppliers that are not making the grade? Are there gaps in your supplier list? If so, consider the resources at hand to quickly come up to speed on new suppliers. One of the best resources is TRO’s Community. The travel professionals there continually share information on suppliers and on customer’s experiences. TRO’s own researchers will make recommendations to you and will even assist you with introductions to new suppliers to get you off on the right foot for your 2009 product mix.
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