It’s rough out there. I know. I also know you have a lot on your mind and that 2010 seems too far off to even think about right now. However, it really is just around the corner. Suppliers are scrambling as well. Every consumer is being bombarded with travel specials that seem too good to be true and every travel agent is fed up with people looking for “cheap”. On top of all that, there are some agents still trying to figure out how to charge service fees.
I’m not sure, but I have a feeling this is the way it’s going to be for a while. What else will the future bring? No one knows. However, one thing I’m certain of is the future normally shows up before you are ready for it. So, why not take this opportunity to get ready. So, I thought I would share my thoughts on what I think you need to do to make more in 2010.
1) If you’re not, start charging service fees. So there’s this man…Ok, actually, there is this kid named Tom Taylor. He also goes by “Tsquared” and is apparently one of the best video game players in the world. Yes, video games. He’s a professional video game player (being a professional, like in any other sport, means you get paid, have sponsors, etc.). He belongs to a professional video game playing league. These video gamers are fanatics as you know; they play video games for hours and hours, day after day. They go to hotels and convention centers to play in tournaments. Video games are big. One thing all gamers have in common is they all want to get better. They want to be the best and they want to win. They’re looking for the ultimate video game experience.
Back to Tom, I mean “Tsquared”. As it turns out, this guy is good (he makes $100,000 a year playing a game called “Halo 3” on the Major League Gaming circuit) and a few friends started asking him for tips. Tips turned into lessons which morphed into one-on-one tutoring sessions where he gives advice and teaches. At first, he was giving advice for free, but not any longer. “What’s his going rate now?” you ask. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, he charges $115 an hour. Now get this, he is so busy, he started a company called Gaming Lessons and recruited some of his expert students to be instructors to pick up his overflow of consulting clients. Their rates, by the way, start at $45 an hour. He now has sixteen instructors to help him with all the customers.
So, where am I going with this? Just last week I was on a call with a few travel agents, some of whom were Tripologists. Some of the agents were asking one of the successful Tripologists how she charges fees. It was then I decided to write something that might help everyone with this dilemma. After I sold Zeus Tours and Yacht Cruises and my employment contract was up, I spent two years consulting. I know how hard it is to charge fees. I remember when I first started, I had so many questions. How much should I charge? For which services should I charge fees and which services should I offer complimentary? Trust me; I know it can be hard. The rest of my top things to do for 2010 will help you get started as well.
2) Be an expert at something, be it a trip type or a destination. (I can hear some of you now going “Here he goes again…”) Well yes, here I go again. Look at Tsquared (hey, he gets $115 an hour; I should likely call him Mr. Tsquared). He is an expert, a real professional. He plays video games for “eight to fourteen hours a day to keep his skills sharp” according to Entrepreneur Magazine. When you know something cold, like the back of your hand, forget charging fees, you can COMMAND fees. People want advice, but not from people that do a little research and regurgitate information. They want advice from experts. They want advice from people with first-hand knowledge and experience. Do you go to Italy every year? Have you seen and stayed at dozens of hotels there? Have you eaten at many different restaurants there? Can you recommend a great local Chianti? Yes? Yes. Yes! Cha-ching…People will pay for that kind of insight.
3) Look like a pro. Act like a pro. If you want prospective client to regard you as an expert, you need to look and act like one. What does your website look like? Does it scream about your specialty or is it an off-the-shelf website template? If you’re an Italy expert, to continue the example above, does it have pictures of Italy? Videos of Italy? Recipes of your favorite Italian dish? Helpful Italian phrases you might need while traveling in Italy? Or, does it say “Disney, Cruises and Tours, we do it all”? Does it have a blog section, where you (at least once a week) write about all things Italy? Are you getting the picture?
4) Learn a new language. Do you speak the language? All things being equal, if there are two Italy specialists and one says they speak Italian and the other doesn’t, whom do you think a consumer will trust more? Corrigere, la persona chi parla italiano (correct, the person that speaks Italian). If you haven’t seen or heard about Rosetta Stone, look them up online. Their language classes on DVD and CD are very easy to use and they’re very reasonably priced. With some time and a few hundred bucks, you’ll be speaking another language in no time. (You can also get used copies on Ebay.) There is no doubt in my mind this investment would pay for itself fairly quickly, not to mention that you can impress your friends and family.
5) Know the jargon: If your specialty is a “what” and not a “where”, say golf, then you better “speak” golf and be up on the latest information. I don’t mean you should know the difference between Callaway and Ping, that’s a given, but you better know the key courses in your favorite destinations and it would be a big benefit if you knew the starters (like a course manager) at those courses too.
6) Start small: If you are indeed an expert but still, for some reason, nervous about charging fees, start small; a $10 per reservation or per hour fee for “handling”. But, charge something; it will get you over your fear. Then, after a few of these, double it. Then, double it again. Really, if you’re truly an expert at something, I’m telling you people will pay for your expert advice. Again, what they won’t pay for is some information that can be found easily online.
7) Travel. Now. Do you find yourself not really being an expert at a destination? Well, hop on plane, fast. Travel is affordable and fams are even less expensive. I don’t care if it’s Athens, Greece or Athens, Georgia or Disney. If you want to be an expert in that destination, you need to go there…often. If you live in a popular vacation spot – like Miami’s South Beach – then you can even start there. Get to know all of the attractions, become involved in the local CVB and Hotels Association, familiarize yourself with the restaurants, night scene, family fun, etc. that makes your destination thrive as a draw for tourists. You need to have friends that work at the hotel you recommend. You need to know the restaurants in the area. You need to know the “ins and outs” of everything involved with getting there, staying there and enjoying the destination. Find out-of-the-way hidden gems, like a quaint place to eat or a little-known antique store; something that shows you know really know the place.
8) Take a class. Heck, take three. I know you may not have much free time in the next few months, but if you are serious about the travel profession and you just can’t travel, you should at least get a couple of classes under your belt. Taking a destination specialist class or earning your CTA, CTC or CTIE certification from the Travel Institute is, in my opinion, one of the best investments you can make. These aren’t quick little classes; these are real classes with real homework and workbooks and reading. Take one. You’ll be sure to learn something and learning is good. Plus, having your CTA, CTC or CTIE certification will show you are a professional and impress your clients. See http://bit.ly/TravelInst
9) Get involved, and network, network, network! If you can manage it, the U.S. Travel Association is offering a special trial membership at a reduced membership fee of $195. As a new Trial Member, you’ll receive the latest travel news, up-to-date research findings, and the use of the U.S. Travel Association logo. Consumers are impressed with the company you keep. U.S. Travel gives you access to a network that spans the entire travel industry, allowing you to meet new business colleagues and partners that can help grow your business. Sitting around the office (living room) is now way to grow. You have to get out there. Plus, U.S. Travel is working every day to protect your interests in Washington. It is our voice. Like I said, I feel this is worth the $195 per year. For all the details, go to: http://bit.ly/USTravelAssocTrial (By the way, if you are senior person in your organization and involved in travel marketing, you should consider ATME; the Association of Travel Marketing Executives. For more info go to: http://bit.ly/ATME
10. Social Media. This is simply too big of a topic to cover here. However, if Facebook, Twitter and blogging sounds foreign, you MUST make an effort to get involved. You are losing business by not being totally immersed in social media. But, where do you start? We can help. We are just about to announce something very special that will help you make more money in 2010. Those that will be hearing about it first are our Tripologists and Twitter followers. If you are a Tripologist, great. If you’re following us on Twitter (@tripology), great. You need not be a Tripologist to take advantage of this very special offer. This is simply Tripology’s attempt to get as many travel professionals involved in social media as possible. Stay tuned.
Why do I think these ten items are important? I mention all of this because it is so much easier to charge a service fee when you appropriately present yourself as a real expert; your website shows it, your knowledge of the destination demonstrates it, you know the ins and outs, you are professionally connected and you speak the language. Expertise is priceless. If you’re already charging fees, this list will help you anyway. If you’re not, but you find yourself in doubt, remember Tsquared; he’s making $115 an hour giving advice and you should be as well.