For years we have been told it is our expertise that will differentiate a professional agent from a faceless database portraying itself as an agent on the Internet. I wholeheartedly agree. We need to make sure that our expertise is one step ahead of the game—all the time. Real agents get it right. When delays happen, the faceless, soulless app will likely not have accurate information. The real people in the airport may be trying to quell a situation and not be as forthcoming as they should. A hotel representative may be getting a commission for restaurant referrals. Real travel professionals will get you the real information. And the savvy travelers know that!
And despite the plethora of training available at conferences, online and regionally, nothing beats a FAM (familiarization) trip. But, as the industry has evolved in the last decade, many do not understand the value (or perhaps the definition) of a true FAM. They are not vacations. They are not designed to bring along the family or potential clients. They are work. They are tiring. And often, they are completely paid for by the supplier or destination. But, as travel professionals, we need to take them seriously—not only for the benefit of the supplier, but for the benefit of our customers. Remember, those are the people who come looking to us for our expertise.
From my experience, one of the biggest mistakes is taking a FAM trip to the same location time and time again. Unless you specialize in that specific destination or property, your job as an agent is to be visiting the destinations that your clients are asking about. Today’s traveler typically knows as much (if not more) than you, so you need to be on your “A” game. Let’s be honest; has your favorite resort changed that much in the past year to warrant a quarterly FAM? Sure they may have swapped out the soft goods in the rooms and refreshed a game room; but if your clients are clamoring for the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, doesn’t it make more sense to go there?
As travel professionals, we need to keep on top of the trends and the hot and emerging destinations. While every trade magazine and consortia will publish a list of “hot” destinations, just make sure that they are “hot” for your clients, too. Somehow, I feel the travel dreams for Westport, CT are far different than Pontiac, MI. Ask your clients—Survey Monkey offers free surveys and it is a perfect opportunity to find out their hot buttons. And the huge bonus is that you get to reach out to your clients again. Never make the assumption that they remember you, and will return for their next trip—they likely don’t and won’t.
Training is the bane of our existence. However, it is imperative that the training we select is the right training. If all of my clients want cruises and all I do is suck up the Cancun FAMs, my clients will shortly find another qualified professional for their business. Choose wisely.