Nobody wants to feel pressured to make a buying decision, and certainly not when planning leisure travel. Yet, in a traditional “sales” situation, both the travel agent and the consumer often find themselves in an adversarial posture, each concerned about elements of the travel planning experience. The travel professional should learn to anticipate and recognize these impediments to an open consulting relationship and remove them from the buying process. Freed from negative expectations, both the travel planner and the consumer can better relax into the buying process and appreciate it for the exciting exercise that it truly can be.
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Let’s begin by simply acknowledging that by its very nature, the retail paradigm creates an adversarial atmosphere. The consumer is the buyer wanting to pay as little as possible, the retailer is the seller, wanting to charge as much as possible. As consumers, we are taught to be wary of merchants, to haggle (think Monty Python and The Life of Brian), bargain and shop around. Little wonder that almost every travel agent has had the experience of doing research for a client and them having the client take the research and book elsewhere. If the retail paradigm prevails, there is little way to reduce the pressure to “close” a sale.
Consider the virtues of the consultant paradigm wherein the travel professional is not a retailer, but the buyer’s coach. Inherently this is a better model. Nevertheless, both travel consultant and client have to disabuse themselves of the vestiges of the retail paradigm that will early in the relationship continue to hang about. The client will be worried that the travel agent uses only preferred suppliers that will pay a high commission at the client’s expense. The client will be certain there is a “better deal” out there somewhere and that the travel consultant is not making a full disclosure.
The travel consultant has his or her own set of concerns. The client has unreasonable expectations and expects to pay too little. The client seems argumenative and wary. This deal probably won’t close and the client will go elsewhere and book.
The professional travel consultant has to very deliberately exorcise these negative energies from the relationship by directly addressing them and then checking for their re-appearance at various stages of the buying process. The travel agent who hopes to move client relationships to a paradigm of consulting must work on establishing trust as the foundation of each client interaction. Until both travel counselor and client trust each other, concerns will linger. Openly addressing concerns and showing empathy with the client’s apprehensions is absolutely essential to the process of building a solid relationship. The beginning of trust originates from the authenticity and empathy of the travel agent, as displayed in personal demeanor, marketing collateral and testimonials from others.
In the presence of trust, there is no pressure to close or to buy, only the excitement and anticipation of travel.