Travel Agency Transformation Step 1: Build a Rock-Solid Foundation | Travel Research Online


Travel Agency Transformation Step 1: Build a Rock-Solid Foundation

As a teenager, I spent summers working a variety of construction jobs. It was hard work that kept me in shape for football season. One of my favorites was with a masonry contractor in my hometown of Athens, Georgia. Transforming a raw piece of land into a beautiful building is not an easy process, and it all starts with the block masons.

I was impressed by how meticulously they laid the blocks straight and level. Just a small fraction of an inch off level could have a disastrous effect on the building as it was constructed. As with most things, the taller the building the more exaggerated the effect (picture the leaning tower of Pisa).

It’s the foundation that support buildings, and it’s the foundation that supports your business. It’s not very glamorous and in fact you will get your hands dirty, but getting it right is the single most important step in the transformation process of your business.

Be prepared to spend as much time as necessary – even if it takes days, weeks, or months. This will be the genesis for everything you will do, the foundation to rebuild upon. Here are five building blocks to constructing a rock-solid foundation for your business.

Get clear on the “Why.”

This may sound intuitive, but you must get crystal clear on what purpose the business serves. Why does it exist in the first place? Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.” If the purpose of your business is to make money, you are off to a rocky start. If you focus on creating and retaining customers, the money will most likely take care of itself.

Creating customers means you have something to offer, be it a product, service or both. Think about why your company really exists. In the travel business, the customer can buy the same product direct or from virtually any travel agency anywhere in the world. If price was not a factor and everything is equal, why would a customer choose you over the next guy? It’s a fair and important question. Have a clear focus and understanding of why you exist. (note: because you provide the best service is not a reason, nor is it quantifiable.)

Get clear on “Who.”

Who you serve is equally as important as why. Transforming your business from being all things to all people, to one with clarity of purpose requires clarity of who you serve. It is important to drill down to specifics. For example: My customers are cruisers. Really? What kind of cruiser: Ocean, river, large ship, small ship, contemporary, premium or luxury? You get the idea. But if you tell me you serve couples between 55 and 75, who are focused on the European art and history, with a budget of $10, 000+, are physically active and typically travel with a group of friends – I know exactly who you serve and so do you. You are focused on a narrow segment and can devote resources to go deep to find them.

Choose a Sales Model and Stick to It.

In my experience, one of the biggest mistakes most owners make is failing to choose and stick to a sales model. Instead, they get drawn into the trap of the discount price game. One thing leads to another and suddenly everything is always about low price. Price driven customers will always chase one thing – the lowest price. If you are prepared to play that game, just know there will ALWAYS be someone who will go lower. However, the reality is most consumers will pay more for a product or service provided the seller can prove value for the price difference. This is where you add value. As an industry, we do a very poor job of communicating our value.

I will keep this short and sweet. Unless you have a huge marketing budget, a large staff to handle the volume of inquiries, and the financial resources to sustain a business for an extended period on the thinnest of margins – forget about it. Being busy is not the same as making money. The key to a successful transformation is to adopt a specialty model focused on serving fewer quality customers and offering a select product line.

Buyers seek out specialists, so it is an essential quality if you really want to transform your business. Choose one that you are passionate about, and will inspire a long-term commitment. While there is an audience for everything, not everything is easily monetized.

Choose your Partners Wisely.

This is one of the most important decisions you will make in the lifetime of your business. Your partners will include:  preferred suppliers, consortia / host agency, and customers.  For the first two, I suggest that you go big. Choose partners who can scale with you as your business grows. Changing host or consortia is an expensive and time-consuming process. It is also a major distraction. I once had a client tell me she wanted to move from Travel Leaders to Virtuoso. Both are top notch organizations. When I asked why, she said they have better programs for her upscale customers. I asked if she had really looked at what TL had to offer (she admitted she hadn’t). After doing so she realized she already had the resources to serve the majority of her clients, and much more. In the end, it made sense to stay put. Choose well early and avoid chasing shiny objects.

Get Your S.H.I.P. Together.

The real battle between those who make it and those who don’t doesn’t happen in the marketplace. It takes place in the six to eight inches between your ears. Henry Ford said it best, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right!”

It is important to put yourself in a position to succeed.   S.H.I.P. is about ensuring that your tactical skills and those of your team, align with your strategic vision. Having the Skills, Habits, Inspiration, and Plan to reach your goals is crucial.

Improve your sales, prospecting, and business skills through coaching, classes, and books. Take an inventory of your habits, and work to rid yourself of those which are a detriment to your mission. Get in touch with your inspiration, what it is that drives you, and keep the internal flame lit.

Transforming a business is not easy, nor is it for the faint of heart. It takes a full commitment on your part. That said, you will probably need help. One of the best investments you will make is to hire an experienced business advisor, not to be confused with a sales and marketing coach. They tend to specialize in one or two disciplines, and there is a place for them, but right now you need someone who is fluent in “business” of the travel business. A good advisor will help to develop your transformation plan, keep you focused, and hold you accountable during its execution.

A good advisor is not inexpensive, but should be considered an investment in yourself and your business. I personally have found this to be an invaluable service, one that has literally saved me thousands of dollars and countless hours. A good business advisor is your “partner” and will be a major influence on you and your business. You will work closely with them, so do your due diligence and choose wisely.

This is the first step. The decisions you make now will influence everything about your business for the foreseeable future. The key is to seek clarity in the “who, how and why.” Take your time, be brutally honest with yourself, and get help. Like the block mason, the foundation you lay today will determine whether you can build a profitable and sustainable business or one that eventually falls apart.

Next:  Step 2:  Attraction Marketing

PictureDan Chappelle is a professional business advisor, sales coach, author, and speaker specializing in the travel and tourism industry. His training and consulting firm helps develop sales oriented business leaders and entrepreneurs. His best-selling book, Get Your S.H.I.P. Together: The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Sales, is available on
For information on Dan’s business development programs, visit:

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