My doctor and I get along very well. I go to his office knowing exactly what to expect. I know what our mutual roles are and, without fail, he meets my expectations. I give him the information and bodily fluids he wants and he gives me back a precise read on my current health trend along with prescriptions for medicines and for lifestyle. He also gives me a bill for his services, which I gladly pay. It took a long time to find him, but I have a similar relationship with the fellow who works on my 1999 Subaru Outback. I trust him to honestly evaluate what is wrong with my car and to fix it. My bookkeeper? Same thing. I know exactly what she does. She tells me the info she needs, I give it to her and she returns my books in good order, with an invoice for her time.
Most people have excellent professional relationships which work because all parties understand exactly what the other does. We provide the professionals in our lives accurate information with which to work and the professional performs a set of services competently. That is how the public views professionals. We understand the value the professional provides.
Except when it comes to travel agents.
Mind the gap.
I’m hoping that you recognize there is a sizeable gap between what you actually do as a travel counselor and what the public thinks you do. Most clients come to you with a serious misapprehension about your role and even their own. The public thinks you sell travel. You think you plan travel. Those two perceptions are so utterly mismatched that it is little wonder than misunderstandings so often occur. The client thinks their role is to be cagey, to research around you, to withhold information, to shop your research and knowledge around on the internet and with other agencies.
The public at large misunderstands the very essence of your role. Most of the public views you as something of a retail shop, one of many possible outlets where they can buy travel. In this popular vision of the role of the travel agent, agents have some inside knowledge of a list of “special deals” and can therefore obtain travel cheaper the public can. The public views all travel as a commodity. When an item is a commodity there are no differences between the same item sourced from different places. Except for one: price. With commodities, price is the only differentiator. If, in fact, the public’s vision of your role in the relationship is accurate, you had better be pretty good at what you do. The public is armed with some pretty amazing tools for finding the lowest price and some giant retailers out there can almost always source and discount any particular travel product more cheaply than you.
This week, the 365 Guide will discuss the various differentiators that you can use to position your travel agency. It is possible to help the public understand that you are not a commodity. What would really help, though, is if every travel agency in every community across the country would participate in educating the public. In the last couple of weeks practically every travel agent forum has been filled with agents with stories of clients who shopped their research and found a lower price. Collectively, we can help to shift the public’s perception and make our own job a bit easier.
It is absolutely imperative that you are capable of articulating your mission and value to the public. Here’s another gap to mind – when the value of an item can not be articulated, it cannot be marketed. What is the value of a travel agent?
I could tell you, but I’d rather you tell me.