I’ve had a few once in a lifetime experiences over the years. I’ve watched an exploding comet through a powerful telescope. I’ve witnessed the dawn of a new century. I also met Dr. Suess – really! Just a few weeks ago another of my once in a lifetime events came to an end.
I live in Vancouver, — host of the 2010 Winter Olympics. What an amazing experience it was! Just walking around the free public events and mingling with tens of thousands of visitors from around the world was awe-inspiring. I found myself thinking: “I wonder how many of these people used a travel agent?”
I often ask this question at a resort, on a cruise, or while attending an event. When I ask it today, it has a very different meaning than in the past. It’s a difference that I believe represents the future for agents in a rapidly changing industry.
Long ago, I was a travel agent in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was during the late 70s when airfares were high, operating costs were low, and commission was dependably solid. As such, most of our money was made from two things: transportation and accommodations.
What folks did once they got to their destination, was purely up to them. Sure we sold cruises and tour packages, but our consultations rarely ventured much beyond the commission-paying offerings found in brochures or within our GDS. Things have changed! Or have they?
Every day, during the Olympics, I watched thousands of eager visitors with free maps from 7-11 trying to find the “must-see” sites. I gave countless directions, restaurant recommendations, and tips on avoiding tourist traps. I offered advice on rail adventures, waterfall tours, hiking trails, botanical gardens, ferry schedules and worthwhile day trips. Thank goodness I also speak French and Spanish.
I felt like a travel agent again! What a pity. Why? Because there were two explanations for my experience:
- most of those people needing help didn’t use a travel agent
- they used an agent still obsessed with commissionable transportation and accommodations.
Don’t get me wrong, commission matters! But, the opportunities to earn revenue through consulting fees are virtually unlimited if (and this is a big if), your consulting involves the total travel experience.
All those questions asked by Olympic visitors were of no surprise. They are the sorts of things every vacation, and many business trips are made of. They are rarely commissionable, but oh-so-important. Something as simple as food can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare, or transform an ordinary vacation into a dream. Isn’t that what professional fees are really all about?
The Olympics allowed me to be surrounded by people hoping for their own once in a lifetime experience. For some, it was a roll of the dice. For those who used a forward-thinking, total travel experience consultant, it may have been a dream come true.
Here’s to a gold medal future for all of you!
Nolan Burris is an author, former travel agent, failed musician and self-professed techno-geek. He’s also a popular international speaker both inside and outside of the travel industry. He is the founder and chief Visioneer of Future Proof Travel Solutions (futureprooftravel.com) based in Vancouver, Canada. Nolan’s believes that if can change the way business works, you’ll change the world. His goal is to spread the message of integrity and ethics in a techno-driven world.
Editor’s note: We thank Mr. Burris for leaving any references to that little hockey game out of the column!