Like most technology geeks with a marketing background, I am fascinated by the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. I get the social media stuff; I believe in it and I think there is a place in almost every travel agency’s marketing plan for these online tools. However, I also believe the marketing that really counts is rooted in the local, physical community of each travel professional. My concern is far too many agents hide behind their computer screens when they should be out speaking locally, writing articles, developing word of mouth tactics, and practicing public relations instead. I know, I sound like a parent fussing at the kids to get away from the computer and get outside and play.
Actually, I suppose that is exactly what I am doing.
Real travel consulting is a matter of personal attention; one-on-one, not one-to-many. Most of the travel consultants I know who have built successful practices have done it the old fashioned way: marketing locally, meeting with clients, advertising, and solid public relations work. Online communities can be a wonderful resource for new clients, but for most travel consultants, the most important community is the one right outside the door of their office.
Not to say that every now and then I don’t meet the exception. It is absolutely possible to build a business that is conducted primarily, even totally online. But an online travel agency is a very different animal from what most travel agents are in reality. If your practice is based in a locality, with clients derived from mostly within a 100 mile geography, the skill set required is more akin to a good real estate agent than the social media director for Travelocity. Being an online travel agent is not the same thing as being a travel consultant.
New media is seductive. The possibility of millions of consumers just a few key-strokes away carries a lot of promise. Ginning up a batch of friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter is exciting, even entertaining, and can be done from the safety of one’s bedroom.
Which, of course, is exactly the problem.
Travel consulting is about relationships developed on the basis of trust. Our business is a community business, both online and in the physical world. People skills are paramount and to properly develop those skills, one has to meet people in the flesh. Even the agents who make sales from their websites, or from a client they met through Facebook or from Twitter will tell you the importance of reaching out to their local community activities, or from the niches they have developed over time. Most of us cannot afford to neglect the fundamentals of marketing in favor of the somewhat less demanding requirements of social media.
Marketing is a tough master. The key to doing it well is first know yourself, and then to define your community. The sage advice is to direct even your online efforts at your local community. How many people within your local community are seeing your website, responding to your tweets, or reading your blog? For most of us, it’s in our local communities that our practices will be built, and it’s dangerous to neglect that community for the pixilated one on-screen.
At the end of the day, there really is no place like home.