What do your clients think you do? Do they think they buy cruises from you? Do they come to you to buy an airline ticket for a trip to London? If so, your travel practice may be in deep trouble. The problem with this understanding of your business is your clients don’t need you to buy travel. They can buy travel anywhere. They can buy travel from another agency, from a supplier direct, on the internet. In fact, most of the components of travel are viewed by consumers as commodities. In the mind of most civilians, an airline ticket is an airline ticket and the only point of differentiation is price. The October 13th sailing of the Oasis of the Seas is a commodity as far as most consumers are concerned and, thus, price is the only way you, as a travel retailer, can be “better” than your competition. Life as a travel retailer is a pretty miserable way to understand your company’s mission for either you or or clients.
Image a travel practice that doesn’t sell travel. Imagine the mission of your company, in fact, is not to sell anything. Instead, your mission is to help consumers make intelligent buying decisions. Your mission would be to assist the client in choosing the cruise that is right for them: the right sailing on the right date, the right stateroom, the right shore excursions, the right activities in ports of call, with time so efficiently organized the client would feel as though they had a guardian angel looking out for their travels. There is no pressure to buy, because you aren’t selling anything. If you could properly communicate that mission to clients, would they feel as though your services were different from Travelocity or the agency down the street? I think so.
Fortunately, most travel agencies do indeed have a very valuable asset that distinguishes them from all other retail travel companies or online travel agencies – people. Your travel agency’s human resources are not duplicated anywhere else. Somewhere in your personnel – whether you are a 500 person agency or a one person home based business is very likely your Unique Selling Point (“USP”). It’s important for you to be able to coax your USP into a statement to which your clients can relate. Don’t settle for a statement like “great service” – everyone promises “great service” and merely repeating it in your own marketing campaigns will hardly differentiate you.
What about the way you use travel to change your client’s lives? What about your policy of working with clients for a lifetime to achieve all of their travel ambitions? What about that niche you know so well that all of your clients are dazzled by the absolutely fantastic quality of their travel experiences? Notice that at the heart of each of these USP’s is the client. Your USP is not a feature – it’s a benefit to your client.
Sit down and list the things that make you as a travel consultant unique. Is it your passion for people? Is it the number of years you have been in the business? Is it the destinations you have visited? What about your destination specialist training? Perhaps your unique insight into a particular niche market qualifies as a Unique Selling Point. Can you phrase any or all of these in terms of your client?
How do you empower your clients? Do you encourage their research? Do you let them know how travel works and how they can assist you in the planning exercise? Do you act as a mentor to them? Does your website provide them with inspiration and confidence? When clients don’t feel intimidated, when they understand how you benefit their travel planning, the result is trust, founded on a relationship. This makes your travel practice easy to approach, easy to engage. You are a benefit, a mentor, a coach. You are not just one more possible retail outlet trying to sell them something.
Once you have determined your unique selling point, distill it down into a few coherent sentences that relate directly to a client benefit. Continue to work on your USP until you can reduce it to a tag line. Now integrate your USP into all of your marketing collateral – make it a central focal point of your brand. Once you find your USP, hold it out for the world to see and you will have fashioned for yourself a unique positioning in your client’s eyes.