January and February of 2017 are literally history. Yikes! The new car smell is gone but we can all look forward to good things for the balance of this year. It’s time to focus on enhancing every aspect of your travel practice, making every point of contact with clients as sharp as possible. As we have said to the point of extreme repetition, travel consulting is all about relationships.
The unique nature of your position as a travel consultant, however, is dual facing. Your relationships with clients are of primary importance. But of nearly equal importance is the relationships you develop with your suppliers. Knowing a supplier intimately is a very large part of mastering the art of being a travel professional. Each supplier brand means something slightly different from any other supplier brand. Having a precise knowledge of which supplier to chose for a particular client, for a particular trip, the ability to match the appropriate supplier with the appropriate client, is paramount. Develop your loyalties to great suppliers who take care of your clients and not to the supplier with the cheapest rates. As a professional, you know the perils of decisions made solely on the basis of the bottom line.
Forming a relationship with suppliers requires effort. Certainly it is easier with some tour operators than others, but in a pinch, a crisis situation or when something goes wrong, it helps to have that little bit of inside edge that a relationship with a sales representative or a reservationist can give you.
When on the phone with tour operators, establish relationships with as many inside personnel as possible. Don’t just make a booking and move on, but endeavor to establish a professional working relationship, and, when possible, request the same reservationist by name each time you book with the operator. While many, if not most, tour operators no longer have outside sales reps, the reservations staff and inside reps have a lot of knowledge and expertise. Slowing the process down and getting to know them can be a worthwhile exercise.
Make 2017 the year of the trade show as well. Work into your business plan and budgets the opportunity to attend a trade show so you can meet supplier representatives. The investment is not insignificant, but important nevertheless. The face-to-face experiences inherent in a trade show are very valuable to a professional travel counselor. There is no substitute for meeting a supplier representative in person to take the measure of his or her company. Old friendships can be renewed and strengthened , new ideas compared and tested.
Educational seminars and discussion panels at trade shows can be very important, especially when the promoter takes seriously the needs of their agency constituency. The topics of discussion at the best trade shows typically represent strategic insight into the future of the industry. The new perspectives, inspiration and motivation provided by a good trade show or conference are hard to over-estimate.
The gates are wide open and the year is well underway. It’s time to take care of those who take care of us, both client and supplier. The benefits will accrue almost immediately, and your place as a first-rate travel consultant better secured.