Face it. Owning a travel agency is not a walk in the park. We have had more re-do’s than a Rocky sequel…and by the way the 8th sequel (Creed II) is due to hit theaters on November 21st. But long gone are the days of heading home with red fingers and being a clearinghouse for all things travel. The role of a travel agent has evolved from a true “agent of the supplier” to a trusted travel advisor—hence the rebranding of ASTA recently. But what do you need to do to survive in 2018 and beyond? I have some thoughts.
- Specialize. Specialize. Specialize.
I said it three times so you get it. Way back when Gloria Stock-Mickelson of Travel Leaders (then CWT) said it was the same for x-rated movie theaters—they needed to say it three times for emphasis—XXX. But seriously, pick a few destinations or activities and focus on them. Be better than anyone else. With so much travel information available to clients today, the generalist will get lost—in fact the generalist agent is not your client. Become the expert in Mongolian Food Tours. Be the expert!
- Make It Personal
There is nothing special about dealing with any of the OTAs or suppliers. Nothing. They are order takers and spit out what you as for. Go the other way. Make it special for your client. Sure you might spit out what they ask for, but present them with a destination guide and some TLC and you will have client for life!
- Use Your Connections
When you are out and about traveling, build your “rolodex”—for the kids that are reading this….google it. Befriend the GM and Concierge of every hotel. Introduce yourself to tour leaders, drivers, and maître d’s. Keep in touch with them by email and foster that relationship. Then when your client needs a special table for a special event, you have the resources at your fingertips.
- Eschew The Simple
A trained monkey can book a flight, hotel and car at Disney. Do it if you must, but look to the complex. Customers will always have problems with the complex itineraries. If you can show them how simple it is when working with you, you gain a client for life. And if your clients are clamoring for the simple, show them why complex is so much better. Sure that 6 night, 7 day package with air for $499 a person looks enticing; but all it gets you is a cramped plane, mediocre room, and an acceptable beach. But for just a bit more, you can be on one of the world’s best beaches, in a junior suite, with someone to spritz champagne on your sunburnt back. Many clients do not realize there is a world beyond simple; nor how much it costs.
- Seek The Affluent
Mike Marchev says there are two types of people in the world—those that know you are alive and those that don’t. Now I agree with Mike on most, but let me go against him here for a minute. There are two types of people—those that have more money than time, and those that have more time than money. Go after the former. They will always appreciate your expertise.
- Doubt Yourself
The market’s constantly changing. Are you delivering the best value for your client’s dollar? Are you getting the most out of your relationships with suppliers? There is never a bad time to re-evaluate these aspects of your business. Never.
- Remember Your Elevator Pitch
Clients are bombarded with marketing messages every day for all sorts of products. The question at the top of their brain will always be “why you?” And when asked that, you have better be prepared to answer it. Hint: the answer is NOT “I represent 23 travel suppliers and can arrange cruises, tours, trips, air, car rentals, and hotel reservations for you.”
- Get Educamated
Just as the industry is in flux, so are the products. Keeping abreast of the latest and greatest is critical to your expertise. Woe is the agent whose client comes in more educated than the agent. And please remember, it is OK to say you don’t know and pass on helping a client. In fact, it makes all the sense in the world to find colleagues that specialize in other areas for referral. How much trust do you think you would gain by saying, “Mr. Smith, I’d love to sell you that special 50th anniversary cruise, but I know how important it is to you and while I can certainly do it, I would feel more comfortable having someone I trust handle this for you.” It’s not an easy thing to say, but I bet it will earn you rewards!
- Promote. Promote. Promote
Just like you specialize—promote, promote, promote. No one is going to blow your own horn if you don’t. Make sure your local newspapers (yes they still exist) and websites get your news. Always be pitching. Use HARO. Publish on LinkedIn. Create a Vlog, Blog and Podcast. Ask for referrals. Email broadcast. Direct mail.
- Harness Technology
We live in an incredible time. While none of us want to be on call 24-7, that IS the nature of the business. You have a smartphone. Use it! From that traffic jam on the interstate you can answer emails, post to social media, return calls, check reservations, book trips, etc. Today, there is no reason for a physical location for an office—none. Learn the tech at your fingertips and use it.
Well, I got on a roll there and am approaching 1000 words. I have quite a few more suggestions as well that I’ll save for later. I am sure you have some of your own. So how do you think we can survive and thrive in 2018 and beyond? Leave me a comment!