Fact: owning and operating an agency is tough business. Fact: survival is never guaranteed. Long gone are the days of heading home with red fingers and being a clearinghouse for all things travel. Our role has evolved from a true “agent of the supplier” to a trusted advisor to those who continue to seek our services. But here we are entering into a new decade in about a month. For me, it is a decade that forever seemed so far into the future that I didn’t think I’d ever be around to see it. But here we are on the cusp of 2020 and trying to figure out how to survive and thrive moving forward. I have some thoughts.
If you have not received the memo yet, ask for another copy. Specialization is the key here. Be the expert and people will seek you out. With so much travel information available to clients today, the generalist will get lost. Become the expert in Mongolian Food Tours. Be the expert!
Make It Personal
When a client buys online they are nothing more than an email address, a password and accredit card that can be leaked in a breach. They are order takers in the most basic sense. Go the other way. Make it special for your client. Sure your end result may be the same, but make it special. Destination guides…reservations at that restaurant… referral to your favorite dog sitter… you get the idea. Give them some TLC and you will have client for life!
Use Your Connections
When you are traveling, be sure to build your “rolodex”—Google it if you don’t know what it is. 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. Create a separate email list just for them and touch base with them periodically throughout the year! Then when your client needs a special table for a special event, you have the resources at your fingertips.
Embrace The Simplicity
We do this stuff day in and day out. What takes us 10 minutes, may take a client an hour or two. When we are done, we know that it is the right product for the client. The client has no such assurances when they do it on their own. It is a crap shoot. Show your clients how simple it is to work with you. Keep track of their preferences and life events. Look for promotions and deals and alternatives. Make them realize that working for you is as simple as picking up a phone or sending in an email.
When it comes to money and time, 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.
Never rest on your laurels. One hallmark of this industry is change. Make sure you are aware of the changes and are adapting to them. Take the time each year (or more often if needed) to re-evaluate what it is that you are doing and ask yourself the tough questions to make sure you remain focused and on track.
Got a Pitch?
When making any purchase, one of the top considerations is “why you?”. We all do that. Why do I buy at Best Buy and not someplace else? Why do I go to this grocer and not the other one? The answers may vary, but some form of “why you?” always plays a part. Can you explain why someone should choose you? Make sure you can do that—think elevator pitch at a moment’s notice. Here’s a tip to get you started…the best pitch is not, “I represent 23 travel suppliers and can arrange cruises, tours, trips, air, car rentals, and hotel reservations for you.”
Just as the industry is in flux, so are the products. Keeping abreast of the latest and greatest is critical to your expertise. Clients are more and more educated, and there is nothing worse than a client knowing about the new suites and you sit there scratching your head. And please remember, it is OK to say you don’t know and pass on helping a client. If you do not sell cruises and your client, Mr. Smith, is looking for a 50th anniversary cruise for his wife, pass on it. “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 and Mr. Smith will be knocking on your door the next time he is not taking a cruise!
Promote. Promote. Promote
Just like you specialize—promote, promote, promote. No one knows what you are doing unless you tell them. Make sure your local newspapers, regional television, radio, and websites get your news. Use HARO. Publish on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Medium. Create a Vlog, Blog and Podcast. Ask for referrals. Email broadcast. Direct mail. Do it all. The more your name is out there, the better your chances!
We live in an incredible times. While none of us want to be on call 24-7, that IS the expectation. 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 to be tied to an office—none. Learn the tech at your fingertips and use it to your advantage!
So that’s what I am thinking. Got some suggestions yourself? Leave me a comment!