When I first entered the travel industry one of the first “warnings” I received was that my family members would come looking for discounts, deals, extra benefits and what-have-you. I was told I should be prepared to tell them I can’t work with them and I should also for the possibility that doing so could make our relationship frosty.
I decided this was not something I wanted to get involved in so I set a few ground rules right off the bat and let my family know about it when I announced my new career. I haven’t yet had any issues booking travel for family members, so hopefully my tips will work for you!
Know Your Limits, and Stick to Them: Not every family member is a potential Devil Client, but it’s important to understand which family members are right for you. Know up front who you can work with and who you can’t, and don’t give in when a “bad” family member comes calling. For me, I knew my most immediate family (my parents and sibling) would be okay because they understand how I work and I understand how to interact with them properly. They have a sincere interest in my success and want to contribute however they can. My extended family is similar, but I don’t interact with them as often, so I decided I would not handle travel for extended family, but would be happy to refer them to a suitable travel professional.
Define Your Role: It’s important to let the family members you DO work with know what to expect from you. Like any other client, they have to understand how you work and what you provide, but it needs to go a step further – they need to know what NOT to expect. I explained to my immediate family that I would be happy to assist them with their travel plans, and because they were family I would not charge my normal retainer fee. But, I would not guarantee any special discount or benefit unless it was something I would do for any other client.
Treat Them Like Clients: This may be a “duh” point, but when your family members are acting in the capacity of your client, they are not your family member. The distinction between the two roles must be emphasized and adhered to. I explained to my family when we were in “travel agent/client” mode that family matters, arguments, nuisances and so on were not to be discussed – it was strictly a professional arrangement.
Listen: Yes, this is another “duh” point. But, it’s important – being family, it’s easy to let familiarity get in the way to the point where you don’t listen as closely as you would to a non-family client. Take extra special care to make sure you are truly hearing what is being said.
Be Ready to Refer: Deciding to work with family as clients is a personal decision, and it may not be for you. You may decide it’s just not worth the potential hassle, no matter the reward. Be ready to refer them to another travel professional you trust – one who will do good work. If they screw up, you will hear about it more than you want to!
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a six-year industry veteran and owner of Exclusive Events At Sea (http://www.exclusiveeventsatsea.com) and Journeys By Steve (http://www.journeysbysteve.com), based in Springfield, MO. In addition to producing special events on board cruise ships, he specializes in vacations to the British Isles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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