Agency bookings are up and a general sense of cautious optimism is pervasive. Everyone is walking very cautiously for fear of jinxing the mood. Yes, there are still a few pesky issues that continue to lurk around the edges of the industry (terrorism, unemployment, supplier instability), but for now we will have to accept those items as part of the background against which we work day to day, a part of the new normal. For now, let’s focus on the things that every travel agent can do to better prepare for what we can only hope will be a massive release of pent up demand in 2011.
1. Develop a Marketing Plan – Want to see your bottom line jump next year? Prepare a written marketing plan and it almost certainly will. Travel planning is both art and science. A marketing plan is the science part. Ignore it at your peril.
2. Develop a mission statement – know who you are and why you do what you do. Then, align every marketing message with that core mission statement. If you cannot articulate your fundamental reason for being, chances are pretty good that your clients don’t really understand you either.
3. Clean up your marketing collateral – Still using marketing materials that are all features and no benefits? Does your business card look professional? How about your blog, newsletter, brochures and emails? Upgrade your marketing collateral and your clients will feel better about you. Review your marketing collateral every year and inspect it for accuracy, alignment with your mission statement and professional appeal.
4. Use a CRM system – your communications with clients need to be relevant. You should remember important dates. You should know their preferences. If a client has told you about the safari they want to take someday, quit sending information on cruises to them. Don’t market to your clients en-masse. Product knowledge must be supplemented with a keen understanding of each client as an individual.
5. Be a conversationalist – start a conversation with your clients. A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. The best travel agents understand the art of the client conversation. Conversation is a language of rapport and relationship, a way of establishing connections. Engage your clients through your marketing venues at a personal level and learn to listen closely to what they are telling you. Yogi Bera once complained about being at a party where “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.” The concept of a conversation as the paradigm of your marketing relationship with your clients is paramount to establishing a long-term engagement with them.
One thing about 2011 is certain if past experience is any indicator. In the first couple of years following a recession, consumers part with their money more cautiously. There may be pent-up demand, but only the best of the best travel consultants will handle much of it.
Now is a good time to begin preparing to succeed in 2011.