I had a booth at a business trade show several months ago and someone I hadn’t seen for years stopped by my table. When she asked what I was doing nowadays I responded that I was a travel consultant and I booked leisure and business travel. Her response was, “I thought travel agents were dead?” Dumbfounded, I assured her that travel agents are alive, well, still kicking and that news of our demise is premature. I went on to tell her how much I loved working in the travel industry, what I do, and how professional travel agents differ from the online sites.
Travel agents have an image problem. The term ‘travel agent” encompasses anyone with a pulse that can put an ad on Craigslist promoting themselves as an agent. The Internet empowers people to book their own travel. Consumers think they don’t need travel agents. With a point and click they can book it themselves. While the Internet is a powerful tool it can’t replace the human interaction and expertise that I bring to the table. That’s the message I try to convey and it is an important message.
To differentiate myself from the amateurs, hobbyists and card mills I use the term “travel consultant.” Consultant comes from the Latin word “consultare” meaning “to discuss.” Wikipedia defines a consultant as a person who “is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter or a professional who provides advice in a particular area or expertise.”
Being a travel consultant is much more than clicking a mouse and taking someone’s credit card. As an expert I am continually updating my knowledge by reading the trade magazines, private message boards designed for agent networking , and many consumer magazines like Conde Nast and Travel + Leisure. I take courses through the Travel Institute and CLIA. I attend trade shows, seminars, webinars and take specialist courses. I use the tools and education available to me on the vendor sites, go on FAM trips and participate in on-site training opportunities. All of this helps to increase my knowledge and make me the expert.
I style myself to clients by looking and acting like the professional I am. I try to look, act and conduct myself in the best possible way. I dress professionally. My 30 second elevator speech has a powerful message that differentiates me from the pack. I practice it so I say it with confidence. I let other know that I am indeed a professional. I not only walk the talk but I go the extra mile for my clients every day. And they appreciate it!
How do you see yourself when you look in your mirror?
Mary Stephan is a luxury travel consultant and owner of Allons Travel in Powell, Ohio. Currently, Mary is studying for her CTA and working towards her ACC/MCC designation.