For years we have been told that it is our expertise that will differentiate a professional agent from a faceless database portraying itself as an agent on the Internet. I wholeheartedly agree. We need to make sure that our expertise is one step ahead of the game. This weekend, Peter Greenberg was stuck in Dallas and his automated “travel agent” kept telling him there was a 45 minute delay. However the real people in the terminal told him that the plane had not even taken off from its previous destination—Houston, a 55 minute flight. Real people will get you the real information. And travelers know that!
And despite the plethora of training available at conferences, online and regionally, nothing beats a FAM (familiarization) trip. But, as the industry has evolved in the last decade, many do not understand the value (and perhaps the definition) of a true FAM. They are not vacations. They are not designed to bring along the family or potential clients. They are work. They are tiring. And often, they are completely paid for by the supplier or destination. But, as travel professionals, we need to take them seriously—not only for the benefit of the supplier, but for the benefit of our customers. Remember, those are the people who come looking to us for our expertise.
From my experience, one of the biggest mistakes is taking a FAM trip to the same location time and time again. Unless you specialize in that specific destination or property, your job as an agent is to be visiting the destinations that your clients are asking about. Today’s traveler typically knows as much (if not more) than you, so you need to be on your “A” game. Let’s be honest, has Cancun really changed that much in the past 12 months? Sure some hotels may have renovated and a new boutique resort may have opened up; but if your clients are clamoring for the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, doesn’t it make more sense to go there?
As travel professionals, we need to keep on top of the trends and the hot and emerging destinations. While every trade magazine and consortia will publish a list of “hot” destinations; just make sure that they are “hot” for your clients too. Somehow, I feel the travel dreams for Westport, CT are far different than Pontiac, MI. Ask your clients—Survey Monkey offers free surveys and it is a perfect opportunity to reach out to them and to let them know you are still alive. Never make the assumption that they remember you and will return for their next trip—they likely won’t.
Training is the bane of our existence. However, it is imperative that the training we select is the right training. If my clients all want to cruise and all I do is suck up the Cancun FAMs, my clients will shortly find a qualified professional for their business. Choose wisely.