Over the past few weeks, we have established that travel agents don’t sell travel. Although the public often views the travel agent through a “retail paradigm”, travel agents should strive to position themselves not as sellers of travel but as consultants in the buying process, building a long term set of relationships with both the client and a select group of suppliers. Either paradigm, however, inherently offers up a direct purchase from the tour operator, cruise line or other supplier as an alternative distribution channel. Understanding why clients sometimes purchase directly from a supplier can assist you in broadening your market reach.
Consumers are driven to book directly with suppliers by two key motivators: the perception of expertise and the perception of greater value. Look at a supplier’s web site – most are a wealth of information on a niche area of travel. If a client already knows, for example, that they want to go on a safari, the depth of resources on many safari tour operator’s web sites is impressive. The site has personality and confidently speaks to exactly what the consumer is looking for in their travel experience. In addition, many consumers operate under the incorrect assumption that using a travel agent will cost them more as a result of the supplier covering the cost of the travel agent’s commission. Both factors, niche expertise and and expectation of higher costs, may serve to drive the consumer direct to a supplier.
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What we have here is a failure to communicate the travel agent’s value proposition. In both your marketing materials and your one-on-one interviews with clients, explain how the travel industry works. Because perception is reality, if your clients do not understand how they benefit from your services, they do not believe there is a benefit.
Travel agents offer something no supplier offers: choice. Suppliers are not consultants and will not recommend their competitors. The supplier will not assist the consumer in shopping around for the best value. Explain to the client they will not be precluded from the niche expertise of any tour operator by working with you as their consultant. Instead of being limited to one tour operator’s products, the entire array of options and possible tour operators is now open. By utilizing the professional tools at your disposal, your supplier relationships, peer communities, consortia and other industry resources, you can assist the client with evaluating which supplier is the best match for their needs and desires.
Explain suppliers do not charge additional costs when an agent is involved and there is no discount for not using an agent. Again, your marketing and sales hurdle is two fold – disabuse the client of misperceptions and explain how the industry is structured. Do so without heavy use of industry jargon. Carry your expertise with grace and confidence.
The retail paradigm has outlived its usefulness and now does a great disservice to the travel professional and consumer alike. Put the retail model as far away from your agency as you possibly can and begin to align your travel agency’s mind set, marketing materials and language in the buying process to a model based on consultation and relationship.