Before 9/11, we looked to travel agents for knowledge and expertise, and booked our travel experience with a lot more confidence than we do today. Now, everyone is a travel agent because everyone knows how to book travel on OTAs. But, is that the qualification of a travel agent? Does your qualification mean the ability to put together an itinerary online? I submit that many travel consumers have very little insight into the day-in-the-life of a travel agent; and if they did, our value would become more apparent.
Were you ever told honesty is the best policy, but then when you told the truth you got punished? Today, I want to discuss the very delicate and controversial topic of how travel agents are treated in the industry. In my transparency, I’m mindful of the “honesty is the best policy” adage, and I’m wondering how this honesty will play out. But, courage and fear cannot reside in the same space — I choose courage.
Who are travel agents?
Our current job description may read something like this:
- A travel magician who will spend unlimited number of unpaid hours designing a perfect travel experience for travel consumers with no promise or commitment of a final sale or fee
- We often take vague requests such as “I want the least expensive all-inclusive travel package to Mexico. We can travel for 4 nights any Thursday through Monday during the months of May to July.”
- Often we are expected to be responsive — immediate response to inquiries, 24/7 hour support and instant quotes (again, without any promise of a final sale or service fee)
- The majority of requests include 5 star packaging with an unreasonable budget
- To be the end-to-end solution experts of travel. We replace Google; and every travel question falls in our turf (again, at no payment for our services)
I asked myself how to best serve my clients. The exercise I undertook was valuable and I encourage you to give it a try. Here’s what I learned:
In my niche, I serve the romance travel community. I take your love story and design an experience that will transform your dreams into a reality, with memories that you’ll cherish for a lifetime. To complete this process, I must be able to listen to your vacation dreams, take your love story, and customize an experience that is based on your personal taste, lifestyle, and budget. This design must include education protection, value, and follow-up.
Our job requires us to wear multiple hats
For us to serve you, we must stay on the cutting edge of technology and marketing. We have to be informed and savvy marketers because no matter how amazing I am at designing packages, you won’t know that until you hear my message above the noise. This is a huge investment of time and money. We spend countless hours and marketing dollars on social media, bridal shows, and advertising to bring you the best service and value (again, at no payment for our services).
To be laser sharp and able to zero in on the perfect match for your incredible experience, we also need to invest in education, which again becomes another huge investment of time and money. But, how can we match you up with the ideal package if we have no knowledge of you personally?
We are Entrepreneurs
We must invest in sophisticated communication equipment and processes. Unless your travel agent works for a major company such as American Express Travel, AAA Travel, etc., most agents are home-based entrepreneurs. That means we have monthly and yearly financial commitments such as licenses, email marketing systems, memberships such as WeddingWire, The Knot, etc., and Vacation.com. We are small business owners who are making a huge investment with our time and finances so we are able to design your travel experience as well as bring you the best in service and communication (again, without a service fee to you).
It’s often said that the suppliers pay us, which is an accurate statement. However, we don’t get paid unless you travel. Contrary to popular belief, travel agents are not well compensated. We are in the travel business because it is our passion, not because of the money we make in commissions. Truth be told, the number of hours in research and service may result in a net loss instead of net profit.
Lookers and Shoppers
As consumers you are looking to be served, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I bring my feelings as a consumer into the way I run my business. But just as we have varying levels of service, we have varying levels of demands and expectations.
In the travel industry, the most common expectation is for travelers not to pay a service fee for our unlimited hours of service. It’s also the expectation that we will find the cheapest deal. Many times, a travel shopper may be working with multiple agents in the hopes of seeing who will bring in the lowest price.
I get inquiries like this often:
We’re looking to go to Hawaii from August 20th through the 27th. I’m looking to find the best deal, so I do have multiple inquiries out there.
Is my service and time considered valuable? Or am I a resource to design a meaningful experience for a consumer who may be merely using my services in hopes that I come in lower than the next bidder?
A couple weeks ago, I had an inquiry from a couple. Within 36 hours, she received a PowerPoint presentation with 3 options for her vacation. She called me on Friday evening and I sent her another 3 quotes on Sunday evening. She explained to me after the fact that I was not responsive and didn’t treat her business as if it was important to me so she found another travel agent.
Clearly we were not a good match for each other. I spent a considerable amount of time on the weekend without charging a fee; and a 36-hour turnaround time was not good enough?
I know service is important to you as a consumer – I am a consumer as well. When we partner together, I am committed to designing the experience that you will treasure for the rest of your life. If you’re looking for a true partner, then we are a perfect match. If you’re looking for someone who will merely find you the best deal in the shortest amount of time, then we are clearly not suited to work together.
A day-in-the-life of a travel agent is one of committed time, incredible value, and a well-spring of knowledge that will enhance your travel experience.
Judith White is the owner at White Sand Travel in Stone Mountain, Georgia. The full service agency specializes in destination weddings, honeymoon and romance travel planning for busy couples that want an incredible vacation experience without the stress of planning it. You can find Judith online at whitesandtravel.net