In 1979 I changed careers. I went from a starving musician to a starving travel agent for nearly 20 years. I’ve been speaking professionally since 1999 and I often mention my career change in my presentations. When I speak to travel agents, it’s always met with laughter, giggles, and a subtle sense of acknowledgement that I am closer to right, than wrong. It was a joke that rang true 35 years ago and still sounds familiar to many of today’s travel professionals. But, there is something different.
I speak both inside and outside of the travel industry. I also meet quite a few newcomers who have changed careers to get into travel – on purpose believe it or not! And many of them do it specifically to make money. Yes indeed there are people are making serious money as travel agents right now. And many times, those coming into the industry today succeed because they “don’t know any better!” They aren’t burdened with years of habits or skills honed in an industry that is changing daily and is vastly different than it was when I entered it.
Several years ago I met a man who left his comfortable job in technology to open a cruise-only agency. Because he “didn’t know better,” he charged $100 per person as a professional consulting and services fee. He’s now one of the top cruise producers around. How many cruises do you need to sell per year to be comfortable if you earn $200 right up front PLUS the commission? He rarely has any difficulty collecting his fees in addition to any commission he may earn. How did he do it so easily? He didn’t know any better.
The corporate travel agency that handle my own travel is another example of old habits not getting in the way. It was purchased by a former bank officer with the intent of turning it from a business with a loss into one with a healthy profit. Because the new owner didn’t know any better she calculated their fees based on creating an exceptionally high level of service. She was blissfully unaware that most corporate agencies were focusing on the transaction and automation. With a fee that was more than double the local average, her agency quickly rose to enviable profit levels and has stayed there ever since.
I have also met countless industry veterans that did know better and quickly realized that new circumstances called for new strategies. One owner completely reinvented his twenty-year old agency by flipping his revenue upside down! His business was built on a foundation of commission and overrides. Today it sees most of its income in the form of consulting and other professional fees and profit is the norm.
In all these examples there is a common thread. Surprisingly, it is not just the fact that they all charge fairly high fees. They all are keenly aware of the new reality–no one “needs” a travel agent any more. You “need” to make them want you. To make them want you, you have to be as much or more, of an amazing experience as the travel itself. You have to be the product!
Everyone sells the same cruises, tours and flights as everyone else. The only distinguishing factor is you, and your service. All the agencies I have mentioned excel not simply because of their fees, but because their fees allow them to fund a level of service and personal attention not possible with commission alone. Think about what can happen to your service levels with an extra $200 per booking. While others struggle against rising costs and ever-diminishing commissions, these guys forge ahead putting their focus where it really counts–service. Where’s your focus?
Nolan Burris is an author, former travel agent, failed musician and self-professed techno-geek. He’s also a popular international speaker both inside and outside of the travel industry. He is the founder and chief Visioneer of Future Proof Travel Solutions (futureprooftravel.com) based in Vancouver, Canada. Nolan’s believes that if can change the way business works, you’ll change the world. His goal is to spread the message of integrity and ethics in a techno-driven world.