I participate in a few different online forums. Each day I read about travel agents should be charging fees, they need a retainer, that generalist travel agents are dead, they need a niche, to only do group travel, that the Internet will be the death of agents…You get the picture. All these issues have their supporters and detractors. No matter which category you may find yourself in, there is a much larger issue that needs to be resolved—why are these clients coming to you and why they are traveling. Without that question being asked, you are dead in the water.
How many agents have a client that books the same trip every year? The client that travels to Hawaii two days after the kids are out of school, stays at the same hotel, gets the same car rental, eats at the same restaurants. Or the one that always books a trip to see family at Thanksgiving. This client needs little service and generally there is little more you can offer. They do not need maps, guides, recommendations, etc. as they have this trip down cold. Why then does this client not book online?
Next we have the “shopper” as we like to call them. Someone who has gone online and done hours of research, checked every website, been on every forum, knows everything and more about their destination than any agent ever could. They call you up and start talking about the price of their trip. Your first reaction is to mentally sigh, then listen and maybe explain your plan to go fees or actually try to quote him a price.
Why are either of these potential clients calling you? For the first client, many will say, it is customer loyalty. Yes this is true, but there still is more. For client two, the usual response is the client wants free info, assurance he got the best deal, needs help to put all this info in a cohesive package or is seeking service. Again this is true and with either scenario agents go into what I call The Travel Agent Zone. Immediately we use the sales skills we are all taught constantly at tradeshows or seminars and try to close the sale. Of course, at the same time, we offer service.
Recently, I heard an agent claim that they had a 90% close rate. Phenomenal I said, you are an exception to the rule. I suggested that about a 40% close rate is considered excellent. That sparked a debate and I heard close rates from 60 to 80%. I can understand these numbers with the first type of client. They booked with you before, were satisfied and really do not need to be sold. I would be a little skeptical about a closing rate that high with client two. Many said they close client two when they explain their plan to go fee. These numbers are not impossible and are truly achievable with any client if you remember to ask the most important question and can fulfill it. That question is “WHY? “
No one buys travel to save money. Travel is an expense, an emotional purchase. It is not a vehicle to wealth and financial security. If either client mentions price, off we go into the Travel Agent Zone wrestling to get to the lowest price possible hoping to meet or beat the Internet. In our falsely guided mission, we forget to ask, “Why?” Asking “Why?” is the key to success in this business no matter how your business model works. Before purchasing anything, we all have a dollar value in our mind of what we think we will spend on a purchase. Depending on the research we have done, we could be right on target or way out in left field. Many of us have paid more for something we wanted. And I contend that we did so because the “Why?” was answered and we made the decision to place enough value into the price to pay more than intended.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to make a travel presentation to some major business leaders here in Orange County. I was scared to death; and had no firm ideas on topics. This group makes more money in a day, than I do in a year. What possibly could I offer? I had a list of who would be attending; so I contacted the HR person at these companies and explained who I was, what I was doing and asked for their assistance. I asked for a family picture of each CEO along with pictures of the employees hard at work. I put these together in a Power Point presentation and created a “Why You Need to Travel Seminar”. I also asked for any personal stories, (not embarrassing) that I could use when I presented. As I gave may talk, pictures flashed on the screen of these business people with their families and I recalled the stories told to me and added how a vacation was the easiest way to create more of these memories. I also chastised them (in a friendly way) if they had not been on a vacation in years. Next I showed pictures of their employees. Many were serious with business being completed (presumably while the boss was away) and others were humorous with employees holding up signs about the boss being away, party time, etc. The presentation went off great And I had more than one CEO approach me afterward thanking me for not being a “boring commercial”.
The value we all talk about…the value we say we add…that value is measured by answering “Why?” Find out why your client is traveling. Is it for graduation, a birthday or some other celebration? Maybe it’s quality time with the kids or quality time away from the kids? Whatever the reason, find out why it is they want to make this financial investment into travel and use that why to overcome their objections. Travel is a non-tangible purchase. You cannot take it home and use it the same day you buy it. It could be months before you actually get to use your purchase. People go online and research to fulfill their “why”, to dream, to feel connected to the investment they are about to make. It is not about price, it is about fulfilling that need of getting away. It is about why.
Tim Richmond is a 20 year veteran of the industry and owner of Craig’s Travel in Southern California. The agency is affiliated with Nexion and TSI and specializes in customized vacation planning. The agency is 100% leisure. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.craigstravel.com