In my career as an executive for both a luxury cruise line and two well-known travel franchise organizations, I have witnessed some of the best and worst practices of professionalism from travel agents.
Unfortunately a number of agents, especially newer ones, will sometimes let their passion get in the way of good business sense and manners. Here are a few of things you can do to epitomize what it means to be a travel professional in the eyes your suppliers and peers.
Have a plan
The ultimate way to prove your professionalism is preparation; have a plan. This will set you apart from 90% of other travel agents. In addition to your overall business plan, having several strategic plans including one for growing preferred supplier relationships are essential. It doesn’t have to be a book; in fact, a simple one page sales plan works best. This plan is your road map. Since you will be asking your preferred suppliers to invest co-op marketing funds, it also creates accountability for both parties. You should include realistic sales projections, target prospects, prospecting and marketing initiatives, and financial commitments from both parties.
Have skin in the game
Make sure you are prepared to pay at least 50% of the cost for any advertising or event. If you are not willing to invest in your own idea, why would you expect the supplier to do so? Treat the partnership for what it is and don’t take advantage. Never, ever ask for anything for free. If I had a dollar for every time a travel agent said to me, “I can’t sell you until I’ve been on you” I would be rich. These agents are also usually first up for the shrimp at industry functions. This is a clear indication to suppliers that you are only in the business for your own benefits
Invest in your professional education.
This is my soapbox: Selling travel is your chosen profession. It doesn’t matter if you are a full time professional or part time hobbyist; be prepared to invest your own time and money to gain the knowledge needed to properly serve customers.
If your sales skills are lacking, a coach who specializes in travel sales would be good investment. Not only will you learn more, you also have someone who is holding you accountable. I coach a number of travel professionals, but I also personally work with a business coach who specializes in what I do. She helps become a better coach and holds me accountable for the goals I have set for my business. I believe in emulating the success of others and a good coach will help to move your business forward.
Your Business Development Manager is your friend, not your foe
BDMs typically have large geographic territories. As a result, they are stretched for time and resources, so they tend to focus on proven agents. If you are new or just beginning your product specialty – your plan will be the key to opening the door to a call or meeting with the BDM. Make sure you have a clear purpose for the meeting and a desired outcome. This can be communicated in advance with an agenda. Be respectful of his or her time and stick to the agenda so the BDM knows what to expect. Do you have a plan and an agenda? The more focused you are on achieving results, the better. Most BDMs will be blown away by your organization and professionalism.
If you have an idea that will revolutionize travel sales in your area, such as partnering with a local chef for a culinary trip to Sioux Falls, and the BDM politely suggests there may be better ways to spend your collective funds – you might want to listen to them. Odds are they have seen or tried it 99 times with little success. So it’s doubtful the 100th time will be a winner. If you are home based, plan on meeting for coffee or lunch; don’t expect them to come to your home.
FAM trips are a great way to learn about experiences and destinations; however if they are not available, you should be willing to invest the full price of the vacation in order to experience it in the same manner as your guests. You will be a much better salesperson for it.
FAMs are designed to be fun, learning experiences and the vast majority of agents behave in a respectable and professional manner. However, there are always a few who give the profession a black eye. I have seen a number of “travel agents” over the years treat FAMs as their own personal holiday at the supplier’s expense. Unfortunately, this behavior is more common than one might think and as a result most suppliers now carefully choose those to be invited.
Suppliers invest substantial resources in these programs. The biggest sign of disrespect, and a sure way not to be invited back, is to not show up for meetings and events. They don’t do these for their health. These events are an opportunity for you to get to know the management and staff as well as networking with your peers.
Just because the food and booze are free, doesn’t make it ok to overindulge on either. I have actually witnessed an agent dump a bowl of shrimp into her handbag and others reach behind the bar to grab bottles of liquor to take to their rooms. One word: Unacceptable.
You are not only representing yourself, but also your consortia, agency, and host agency. Be the person who, professionally, we all look up to and want to be like – not the “Shrimp Lady”.
Lastly, if you really want to make a strong lasting, professional impression – buy your BDM lunch.
Dan Chappelle is President of WealthyTravelAgent.com where he develops sales leaders for the travel & tourism industry. He assists sales professionals achieve their full potential by expanding their vision, shifting their mindset, and transforming their businesses to produce tangible results. An internationally known travel industry expert, sales executive, and speaker, Dan has earned an enthusiastic following among travel agents and industry leaders worldwide. He has been featured in numerous trade and consumer publications and is an instructor for the Travel Institutes’ Professional Educators Program, providing insight for travel professionals. You can contact Dan by email at Dan@WealthyTravelAgent.com.