Venturing Outside the Comfort Zone | TravelResearchOnline

Venturing Outside the Comfort Zone

Over the past couple of months I have racked up a serious number of air miles, mostly on domestic carriers.  Each trip demonstrated what everyone already knows: the flights are packed to capacity.  Fewer flights, tighter schedules, baggage restrictions, and a surlier than usual set of passengers:  this, we are told, is the “new normal.”

But not everywhere. Hang with me here, beyond the airline discussion.

I contrast my recent flights on Delta, United, and American, with one I took last year on Thai Airways and another to London on British Air. The seats were comfortable. The flight attendants were friendly and service oriented. The food was well above the average, even in the coach class seats my budget afforded.  The entire experience was most pleasant.  Smooth as silk, you might say.

ThinkstockPhotos-466503007I see an opportunity. Actually, I see a couple of opportunities.  Foreign carriers would do well to step into the breach left by U.S. carriers. With the U.S. carriers largely abdicating their lead role in consolidation, doesn’t it make sense for some smart foreign carriers to ink some aggressive contracts with consolidators catering to the domestic market? This appears to be an excellent opportunity to gain market share by providing financial incentive to the distribution chain.

But, what’s my point? Ask the average U.S. traveler if they would rather fly Delta or Thai Airways and Delta would likely win handily simply on the basis of familiarity with the brand.  The public knows the brand and anticipates that service levels differ little, having experienced mostly domestic carriers. But educating the public is exactly what the travel professional channel is all about.  With the possibility of presenting a better travel experience at an equivalent price (with higher commissions), the opportunity is appealing.

But that is not really the opportunity I want to address.

Instead, consider this: Why not instead of here, we recommend there?

Clients come to us with ideas about where they want to go and what they want to do, and far too often travel professionals simply take the order. But what about venturing a bit beyond the client’s idea of what travel entails? What about helping them dream a bit?

What about Machu Picchu instead of Cancun (again)? What about Antigua, Guatemala instead of Costa Rica?  What about Costa Rica instead of Miami?

Any of these destinations are terrific, I’m not suggesting one over the other.  What I am suggesting, however, is your capacity to assist clients to think big. There is no need to tie our clients to the familiar, to the easy, to the generic. Not all, but some of our clients would jump all over the opportunity to see Mayan Ruins, to go on a gorilla safari, to visit Reykjavik, or to walk on the Antarctic ice shelf. As professionals, our job is not just to do what we are told –  it’s to tell our clients what is possible.

If we really, really believe in the life-changing power of travel, we can help them dream.

Let’s face it: the average American traveler is a bit timid. As a nationality we are lousy at geography and we tend to flag when it comes to creative ideas about other cultures and the inherent possibilities of travel. That’s OK if you are a civilian, but not if you are a travel professional.

So let me suggest we suggest.

Suggest the next step. Not everyone will take you up on it, and your intuitive sense of your own clients is your best guide for who is a good candidate for a “next step” and who is not.  But you owe it to a few of your clients to educate them. You owe it to those clients to have their passports stamped with something other than the circumference of their comfort zone.

Otherwise, they will have no bragging rights at all. And it will be your fault.

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