In so many ways technology has shrunk the world over the past couple of decades. Twenty to thirty years ago a travel agency owner in Poughkeepsie, New York would never had imagined having clients that didn’t actually live in Poughkeepsie. Nor would they have ever thought they’d have agents working outside of the store front agency, possibly in a different state. But those were the days before email, Facebook, cell phones, text messaging, and e-faxes.
Today it isn’t surprising to hear about agencies with clients and independent contractors spread out geographically. This is great for travel professionals; not being tied to the well-being of the local economy in order to survive. But at the same time, it provides some new challenges.
Technology has made it relatively easy enough to communicate with our far-flung clients and independent contractors. You can email itineraries and payment invoices to clients, they can e-fax signed forms back to you, and you can text message an independent contractor when there’s an issue with one of their bookings. Easy, right? Well, most of the time.
But what do you do when you need to “meet” with all of your agents at once, and you’re in Detroit, and your agents are in six other states? Or you want to make a proposal to a potential group leader, but they are in a different time zone than you? You turn to more technology, specifically virtual meetings.
Simple Conference Calls
If you simply need to talk with multiple people at one time, without video or needing to go through a presentation or demonstration, there are a couple of good options available: Free Conference (http://www.freeconference.com) and Free Conference Call (http://www.freeconferencecall.com/). Similar names, but different companies. Both offer free as well as pay-for services, and do not require downloading any software to your computer. You don’t even need Internet access to make or participate in a call.
The biggest difference between the two, when comparing their services, is that Free Conference Call offers recording of yours calls with their free service. This might come in handy if you do weekly sales calls with agents, or any kind of training sessions. You can record the calls and then archive them somewhere so that your agents can access them later for reference. A small group of travel agents had the opportunity to use Free Conference Call recently. It was easy to use, and the call quality was good.
Calls with Visual Presentations
Conference calls won’t always do the trick though. There will be times you’ll want to conduct a demonstration (such as a BDM doing training on a new booking engine for your independent contractors), or will want to go through a PowerPoint presentation (making a pitch to a group leader in a different state).
Most of us have “attended” such webinars hosted by TRO, suppliers, and others. Most of these have been through GoToWebinar (http://www.gotowebinar.com/), GoToMeeting (http://www.gotomeeting.com/) or WebEx (http://www.webex.com/). Another option is Fuze Meeting (http://www.fuzemeeting.com/).
Free Trials – All of the above-mentioned services off free trials (WebEx only offers a 14-day trial while the others all offer 30-day trials). And once the free trial is done, you start paying. Unlike the conference calling options, none of these services have a completely free version.
Costs – The costs will vary depending on your needs. The “GoTo” options offer more choices, up to 4 different plans at prices ranging from $49 per month to $499 per month, and supporting 15 to 1,000 attendees per session.
WebEx on the other hand only offers one plan (WebEx Meeting Center), supporting up to 25 attendees at one time, and costing $49 per month
And finally, Fuze Meeting. Steve Cousino (Journeys by Steve) has used Fuze Meeting when he wants to provide a visual presentation to a non-local client. “Fuze makes it easy without the high prices of other popular platforms,” according to Cousino. Fuze is easy to setup, and they have a helpful and responsive support staff. Laura Frazier (Bliss Honeymoons) uses Fuze Meeting for agent webinars and likes that they do not require a monthly subscription like others do. Fuze charges $9.99 for a 24 hour period of use. If you need to do an online presentation infrequently, and do not want to be locked into a $49 per month (or higher) subscription fee, Fuze is a great alternative.
However, Frazier has had some billing issues (being double or triple billed), which Fuze has been responsive and quick to correct when she contacts them about the issue. Overall though, Fuze is a good way to provide an experience similar to other products, without the typical costs.
Of course, communicating with independent contractors and clients is unlimited. These are just a few of the great options available to travel agents these days, no matter where they are located.
(Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Brentwood, Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvaations.com) she focuses on travel for young adults under 35. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209).