“Knowledge is power.” We have heard that saying so often that we accept its validity without question. But is it accurate? If the internet has done anything, it has made knowledge far more accessible, shifting the balance of power. Want to know something about weight loss? Google it. Want to research a stock? No problem. Looking for a new home? Zillow it. Knowledge is indeed power, but the internet has shifted the center of gravity from pools of knowledge to a more general dispersal.
At one time, travel agencies represented pools of knowledge. If a client wanted to get from Minneapolis to Delhi and have confidence in their selection of accommodations, travel agencies represented the most accessible resource, a pool of knowledge reserved to travel professionals. The internet tapped into that pool of inside knowledge and the perception of pundits and a portion of the public was that the travel “agent” was now an unnecessary middle man to be removed from the equation. In the mind of the collective conscious, price suddenly became the only differentiator between any two travel plans.
Of course, you know better. Information is not knowledge.
But this is true: your clients are going to do their own research. Consumers today are better educated and informed that ever before. If there is a lower price out there, your client will find it. If there is a hotel you did not know about, it will appear like magic on your client’s monitor. Yet, there are still far too many agents that are shocked and dismayed to discover that their clients are researching alongside of them.
So what’s a travel consultant to do?
Shift the foundation of your expertise. Your power in client relationships, your expertise, can no longer be based on exclusive access to information. Your expertise, the power you wield, has more to do with the relationships you build with your supplier network on the one hand and the relationships and trust you build with clients on the other. Having access to information is not the same thing as being able to understand it, to coordinate it and to perceive its relative value. Your daily interaction in the travel world places you in the perfect position to assist the traveler in better choosing between the options available, in making intelligent buying decisions. But if you approach clients without establishing a foundation of trust and the relationship necessary to properly explain your value, then you are relegated to working with isolated transactions where the client will focus on little except price. A relationship is necessary to having the opportunity to pause the client for the time necessary to direct their focus to value and your role in enhancing value.
Relationships are built over time and are the result of long-term marketing efforts. As Ivan Misner of Business Network International says, marketing is more like farming than hunting. Marketing must be authentic for clients to respond to it, and consistent for consumers to hear it through the noise of all of the other distractions in their life.
If you lose a client to the internet or to another agency, it won’t be because that agency knew more about cruising or safaris or Ireland than you. It will be because they knew more about marketing, sales or customer service than you. The travel consultant of the future is going to be spending more of their time and energy on understanding marketing than on product knowledge. That’s where true power is hiding, and, frankly, where travel professionals should be seeking.