Professionalism, we hear about it every day. For some reason the subject comes up more & more often in discussion. The majority of travel agents I observe do exhibit a high degree of professionalism. They are the first to point out there is no place in this business for those who behave otherwise. However, some agents, particularly new ones, will sometimes let their passion get in the way of good business and common sense.
What does it mean to be or act “professionally”? Here are a five things I believe epitomize what it means to be a travel professional.
1. Have a plan
Be prepared, and that means having a plan. This will set you apart from the majority of travel agents. This should be a specific plan for building a business with a preferred vendor. You should include realistic sales projections, target prospects, a marketing program, and financial commitments from both parties. Ideally, you should have one to share with each of your preferred vendors.
2. Have skin in the game
Are you willing to put up your own money and time to execute the plan? A realistic co-op expectation is 1% of your sales volume. In order to get these funds, you must be willing to match at least the amount you are asking for and provide a plan of how the money will be used. If you aren’t willing to invest in your own idea, why would you expect this from anyone else?
3. Invest in your professional education.
This is my soapbox! Selling travel is our chosen profession and continuing education is essential to long term success. “Knowledge is Power”. Pick a specialty and, invest your own time and money to become the “go to” expert in the field. If your sales skills are lacking, take a course online or at your local community college. A coach who specializes in travel sales would also 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 work with a business coach of my own who specializes in helping me be more effective. I am a believer in emulating the success of others and a good coach will help to move your business forward.
4. Operate from a place of uncompromising integrity.
You have a business relationship with your suppliers and your actions speak volumes. While you may not always agree, don’t take anything personally. Both parties have the same objective, so yelling at a reservation agent or threating to “off sell” one brand to another not only makes you look bad – it isn’t going to win any friends. As large as it is, this is a very small industry and you want to make sure you have friends to help when you really need it. In my past role as a cruise line sales executive, I had very specific instructions for our reservations team. If a travel agent was rude or disrespectful, I wanted to know about it. We would all listen to the recording – yes, all conversations are recorded. Depending on the severity we would either let it go, send a quick email to the agent, reach out to the agency and/or consortia management to discuss, or in extreme cases, decline to do business with the agent in the future. Also, be on your best behavior on FAMs. More about this in a future post.
Be the agent others look up to and aspire to emulate, you know the one.
5. Think of your suppliers as your partner, not an adversary – particularly the BDM.
Business Development Managers typically have large territories. If you need to schedule a meeting with your BDM, it is preferred to send an agenda with a clear purpose so he or she knows what to expect. You do this, it will almost guarantee a meeting. They have a wealth of knowledge, ask them to share. For instance, if you plan to propose an idea that you think will revolutionize culinary travel in your area such a partnering with a local chef and the BDM suggests there might be better ways to spend your collective efforts – I suggest you listen to them. Odds are they have already seen and tried it 99 times. It’s doubtful once more will produce a winner.
BDM bonuses are based on revenue growth from their territories, so they want you to succeed as much as you do. They are investing in your success, be respectful of their time and treat them like a true partner. Everyone wins.
We all represent this great industry. Let’s continue to promote the travel agent channel to our supplier partners with positive and professional actions. Lastly, if you really want to make a strong lasting, impression, every now and then – buy your BDM lunch.
Very few achieve success without help from experienced coaches and mentors. If you want to learn more about how we can help you achieve financial freedom and become the Wealthy Travel Agent, visit www.danchappelle.com or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Chappelle is a professional business advisor, sales consultant, author, and speaker. His personal development 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 Amazon.com.