Way back in 1979 I decided to change careers. “I stopped being a starving musician and started being a starving travel agent”. I’ve been a professional speaker and author since 1999 and I often mention the previous quote in my presentations. When I speak to travel agents, it’s always met with laughter and giggles. It was a joke that rang true 35 years ago and still sounds familiar to many of today’s travel professionals. But, something has changed.
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! As shocking as it might be to industry veterans, many of them do it specifically to make money. Yes indeed there are people are making serious money as travel agents right now. Sometimes 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 vastly different than it was 35 years ago…10 years ago…5 years ago…last year!
One agent I know 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 a top cruise producer. 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 agency of which I am now a client is another good example of not letting old habits get in the way. The agency 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 instead focused on transaction charges and self-service 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 but realized that new circumstances called for new strategies. One 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 is 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 reality: nobody “needs” a travel agent any more – you have 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!
You all sell the same cruises, tours and flights as everyone else. The only distinguishing factor is you and your service. The agencies above 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. While others struggle against rising costs and ever-diminishing commissions, they forge ahead putting their focus where it really counts: service.
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.