As I sit and write my final travel agent diary piece for the year, I reflect back on what a ride it’s been. Writing the diaries has been cathartic for me. It has given me the opportunity to look at my business, my life, my shortcomings and my successes. Some of it has been painful. Self examination always is.
The year started out full of hope and promise. People would ask if the recession had affected my business and I would say, “What recession?” Things were going great. Then reality smacked me in the face. The phone was quiet, people were nervous about spending money. Those that did call were shopping for the lowest price. Who could blame? At first I tried to accommodate the shoppers. But, as more and more of them bolted with information in search of finding a lower price, I realized that I was selling myself short. People were still traveling. People still wanted to experience different cultures and surroundings. People needed vacations. They needed to reconnect, relax and get away from all the bad news the media prattled on about day in and day out. I implemented service fees. At first it was hard. Some people actually went elsewhere. Letting them go was hard. I sat by and watched paltry commissions flying out the window. But, as I thought about it and became more comfortable asking for the fee, I realized those were clients I didn’t need anyway. They would not be loyal. And to be honest, they were a lot of work for such a small return.
One of my failures this year was allowing the negative economic news to get to me. I have always been an upbeat person. But there were days when it was tough getting out of bed and going to work. I was beginning to crack. The fact the phone wasn’t ringing wasn’t helping. I contemplated quitting—hanging it all up. I considered getting into something else or possibly going back to school. But, the more I thought about it the more I realized I liked what I did. I was going through a rough patch; andso, was everyone else. It helped having a mentor with whom I could lean upon. It helped having a virtual water cooler like the TRO Community where I could go and vent, laugh and get some great marketing ideas. With the encouragement of friends and family, I kept plodding along. Someone once said to me “life is a journey and not a destination.” That is so true, and became evident to me this year.
Networking is a big part of my business and personal life. Anyone that knows me will tell you I love to talk to people. Networking has enabled me to get out, get exposure for the business, and meet people. The purpose of networking is not how much business you can generate but about helping others. I truly believe when you help others it comes back to you. Getting out there helped me out of my funk and to get my groove back.
I have also learned to ask for help. I grew up in a family where they would rather die than ask anyone for help. This has been really hard for me to overcome. But, I have learned when you need help– ask for it. Suppliers, peers, friends, neighbors and family will help you. You just have to ask in a clear, concise manner. Don’t beat around the bush. Along those lines ask for referrals and business. Don’t ever be afraid.
As I made my journey through the mine field of 2009 my brand slowly evolved. Changes and tweaks were made to marketing materials. Social media was embraced. —And I learned I am my own brand. I have a unique personality. I have embraced it. It’s part of who I am. I have learned to take advantage of it. I know I need to nurture and take care of myself by exercising, eating right and taking the time to travel. Education is a critical component of being a travel consultant. I took classes and seminars. I have a niche. I am learning and marketing my expertise in my new niche.
As 2009 comes to a close and I reflect on my diary writings—I have learned a lot about myself, about my business and my fellow diarists(is that a word?). While we all come from different backgrounds, areas and business models, we seem to share many of the same issues. Reading about our collective experiences has helped me tremendously. I am not alone. And that fact was very reassuring to me. What will 2010 bring? I am truly optimistic. I was on one of the local television station talking about Rose Bowl travel packages. It was a blast! Plus, it has given me additional legitimacy and more exposure. Things are looking up. Whatever 2010 brings, I feel writing for the Travel Agent Diaries and my experiences will make me better prepared.
I thank everyone for following me throughout the year and your kind comments. Thank you to Richard Earls and his commitment to travel agents. TRO is a great resource. Special thanks to John Frenaye for his input and encouragement.
Mary Stephan is the President of Allons Travel based in Powell, OH. For more information, you can contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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