In the 5+ years that I have been in the travel industry I often come across travel agents that lack self-confidence. They range from fairly new in the industry to agents that have been in business for decades. Some of them question charging fees for their services and expertise; others feel they can only get new clients by competing on price; some are not comfortable asking for business; while others worry about competing with their suppliers.
But they have one thing in common; they do not have confidence in the value that they provide to their clients. If they were confident in the value that they provided, they wouldn’t worry about suppliers that sell direct. They wouldn’t compete on price, because they would sell their service instead. And, they likely would charge a fee upfront.
I see tweets and Facebook statuses regularly from travel agents along the lines of:
How much does it cost to use a travel agent? Nothing! We are paid by the cruise lines and resorts.
And almost in the next breath the same agents are posting on travel agent forums with a plethora of complaints: growing non-commissionable fares, shrinking commissions, net pricing, suppliers that market to passengers directly, and clients that price shop them (and dump them in a heartbeat to save $20). They ask how they can survive on shrinking commissions, how can they retain clients when suppliers contact them directly, and about how clients take their hard work (time doing research) and then book online (or direct).
No amount of marketing will be successful until these agents address their biggest stumbling block: their self-confidence (or lack thereof).
Nolan Burris constantly tells us how we need to sell ourselves. We are not in the business of selling travel; instead we should be selling our service. When we sell our service, we can help clients focus more on value and less on the bare bones price.
To this end we need to be confident in our skills, our expertise, and our knowledge. We need to be confident that we provide value to our clients. Only once we have convinced ourselves, we can finally convince our clients. To put it simply, we need to snap out of it!!
If you are one of those travel agents with a lack of self-confidence you need to do two things.
First, assess your value. Turn off the computer, turn off the radio, close the office door, and set the phone to “do not disturb.” Block out some time and make a list. On this list put everything you have to offer your clients. And I do mean everything. List your own travel experiences, formal classes / seminars / workshops / training that you have attended over the years, trade shows that you have attended, online training taken (webinars, tourism board training sessions, etc.), resort and ship inspections, books read, other agents that you have as resources, etc.
What else do you do for your clients that the internet cannot do? Do you provide personalized destination guides? Do you create personalized websites for their individual trip, or for groups that travel together? Do you specially package their travel documents in a bon voyage gift? Do you visit them personally in their homes or place of business to review their travel documents?
Now, figure out how valuable is that experience, training, and personalized service. How does it elevate you heads and shoulders over the internet? How are you able to add value to your client vacation because of this training and experience? How much money do you spend every year improving your knowledge (airfare, hotel costs, attendance fees, buying books, etc.)? How much do you spend printing e-docs and packaging them nicely? Or on bon voyage gift baskets (or restaurant gift cards for their first night home)? How much time do you put into creating personalized websites, destination guides, and other information?
Why do travel agents devalue this information and give it away for free? We put a great deal of time and money into our education and experience. So every time we do research, put together any type of itinerary or proposal, and then have the client not book (or book and cancel later), we are working for free if we are not charging some type of fee. And in many instances, the commission by a supplier falls short of compensating you adequately for your time – time creating travel documents, websites, destination guides, visiting clients in their homes or places of work, etc.
Once you have assessed your true value then take the second step. Create signs – either on HUGE pieces of paper, or on Post-It Notes, just create them. On these signs write in block letters: I AM WORTH EVERY DIME I CHARGE. Stick these signs on mirrors, office doors, computer monitors … heck, program it to be your greeting on your cell phone every time you power it on.
Determine your value, and convince yourself of that value. Once you are convinced, you will be in a better position to compete against Internet pricing, compete with suppliers that book direct, market your value to new prospects, and justify your new fees to those that want your time and expertise before they book direct.
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.