The only direction you can drift is downhill – My father
Ok, dad was admittedly all caught up in the Puritan work ethic, but I think he had a point. It’s easy to “go with the flow” without realizing the noise you hear is a waterfall.
Here’s what I do know. There was a time when being a travel agent was easy. Really. I was there. People could book travel themselves, certainly, but fearless few. Travel agents knew so much more about the products available than the general public. Travel agents held the keys to the kingdom, what with our ARC appointments, ticket printers and all. Airline tickets were the gateway drug, but then the public came in for the really hard stuff – tours, FITS and cruises.
But those were not really the “good old days”. In fact, it turns out to be the travel agency community that was hooked, not the consumer. We were hooked on a transactional way of doing business. If a consumer wanted a cruise, they came to us. Maybe next year they would come to us to go to Ireland. We lived one transaction to another, always looking for the next fix.
But even way back then, the smart travel consultants were forming relationships with clients, learning marketing, customer service and the theory of sales. They were real business people. Certainly the changes the industry went through were painful, but the best adapted.
We know change to be the constant in this industry. It’s happening right now, just look at the deterioration of the mass cruise market for travel agents. You can hear the pain on the travel agent forums. The sound of our grumbling and complaints is the sound of our addiction to a group of products when we should be fixed instead on the needs of clients. Let’s kick our bad habits and clean up our attitude.
Let’s not bemoan the industry changes, they are going to happen with or without your acquiescence. Instead, use them as an opportunity to move first and fastest. Lead your clients into some new waters. I’ve said it before – if you lose a customer to the internet or to a supplier directly, it’s not because the other agency or the online giant or the supplier knew more about the product than you, it’s because they knew more about customer service, marketing and sales than you.
It’s all about relationships, it always has been. It always will be. Because if it’s not, then you fall into camp with the “it’s all about price” crowd, and it’s hard to imagine why you are in this industry. The best travel consultants work with their clients to make the consumer smarter about travel, better travelers, wiser in their choices and selections. Price is only one small component of the equation.
Don’t think for a moment that you can drift your way through the next few years and rise above the herd. Some percentage of your colleagues is looking to enhance its acumen and develop the business skills necessary to rise into the top 20% of the industry. They are learning to market to people with shorter attention spans. They are learning how to use marketing funnels in new ways and to market on new platforms and from differ angles. The goal of these smart agents is to turn your clients into theirs.
It’s my sincerest hope that you are one of the aggressive few, willing to do what it takes for your clients and for your travel practice. As a result, the consumer and our industry will advance.
You have a lot of people, suppliers, trainers and associates pulling for you.