Over the course of two months, I’ve tried to use most of these columns to reimagine our industry with a focus on the relationships advisors have with suppliers, destinations, and other third parties. I’ve advocated for the industry making a commitment to live up to its long-standing mantra – “travel advisors are our greatest partners.”
I say “live up to” because, while I think travel advisors have never had more respect from others for the value they create, I still see a good portion of our industry paying lip service to the notion that advisors are treated like true partners.
I see it in the travel advisor education portals that suppliers and destinations publish, which are for the most part focused on teaching features and benefits. Our industry conferences do much of the same. They sell AT advisors, instead of teaching them how to stimulate consumer demand and deliver higher premium sales.
I see it in the reluctance that suppliers and destinations appear to have to teach travel advisors who their ideal clients are – in a substantive, actionable way – and the way so many BDMs are under-supported by their employers to coach advisors to success.
And I see it in FAM trip strategies, digital marketing assets, webinars, and sales presentations. The overt message is “sell this,” not, “how can our brand support yours.”
Now, I don’t indict every company and destination for this. Some do a pretty good job “opening the kimono” so to speak, bringing travel advisors into the inner marketing and sales sanctum, where travel advisors truly feel like partners attracting new business and closing more profitable sales. My travel advisor friends tell me about those true partners, and I commend those companies and organizations for going the extra mile.
But it’s clear to me that we still have a long way to go. That’s why our company, Travel Business Mastermind, is funding a travel advisor survey, to gather as much data and feedback about what is and is not working. We want to identify and quantify what travel advisors see as gaps in the tools and resources they need to partner with suppliers and destinations.
If you would like to add your voice to the chorus of change in 2021, please take the time to fill out the survey and provide us with your thoughts.
But There’s a Catch
Now, while there’s nothing wrong with demanding change from our partners, the strongest first step to improving any relationship is the choice we individually make to look honestly in the mirror and demand more from ourselves.
To borrow from a famous quote: “Travel advisors need to be the change that they want to see in their industry.”
Let’s say your favorite resort chain steps up their game with their fam trips, so that they are better designed to help you attract new sales prospects and market to your existing clients. What are you going to commit to for those suppliers and destinations, to create a return on their investment in you?
Are you committed to designing a pre- and post-FAM marketing plan to work with them strategically? Does the sound of putting in that level of work put you off? If it does, is it fair for you to ask your partners to up their game?
Are you committed to bringing your A-Game to industry conferences, setting up purpose-filled appointments with your targeted suppliers and destinations? Will you take the time to fill out the post-conference surveys and give an honest assessment of the content that the presenters, suppliers, and destinations provided?
Are you ready for tough, honest discussions about your sales pipeline, your business strategy, to make your supplier and destination conversations more financially fruitful for both sides?
Are you committed to doing the hard work of knowing how you can improve your sales skills on behalf of your preferred suppliers and destinations, by understanding your financials and your sales history?
Are you up to creating real business and marketing plans, and sharing that plan boldly with your BDMs, demonstrating how you can bring incremental, higher margin business to their bottom line?
Relationships Aren’t Always Easy
Some relationships are kismet and require very little effort. Both of the partners feel a consistent synchronicity with the other, and can communicate easily and openly, sometimes almost without speaking.
But most relationships take work, and an honesty that sometimes feels uncomfortable. I think it’s human nature to slap a happy face on so many of our relationships. We don’t want to rock the boat by pointing out gaps. We may not feel worthy of asking for what we need. Sometimes we don’t even know what we need.
While times were good these last 8-10 years, we in the travel industry often hid a lot of the problems in our relationships behind the cocktail parties, awards celebrations, and the seemingly endless stream of new vacationers ready and able to celebrate with us.
But as COVID has shown us, times have changed. Every single one of us is going to have to challenge the status quo, to confront the truth about an industry reeling from a collapse in near-term travel demand.
Now is the time for us to hold honest discussions – first with ourselves, about what we want out of our relationships with our partners. We need to decide what it is we are willing to commit to, the sacrifices we are going to make, to make our relationships work.
I will be writing more on this topic as the results of the survey roll in. Thank you in advance to anyone who adds their voice to that chorus. I will write about how suppliers and destinations respond to your calls for change. But, as I sign off on this column, I want to leave you with a few questions to help you measure YOUR commitment to introspection and positive change:
- What are the top 3 skill gaps that are holding you back from being a better marketing and sales person, and what commitment are you willing to make to close those gaps?
- How eager are you to build a true business plan for your business so, that in one or two pages, you can see the consistent actions you need to perform to achieve success?
- How prepared are you to discuss your business plan and financials with your top suppliers and destinations, to show them why you want a closer working relationship with them, and demonstrate what’s in it for them?
I could ask a lot more questions than these, but my point here is only to get you started thinking about what it is YOU are both willing and able to do for you and your business to make yourself a better partner for others. If you are in this for the long haul, then I strongly suggest you get out a notebook, copy these questions, and start answering them soon.
2021 is about 40 days away. You can either enter the year with insight into how you can change to take better control of your business, and a personal commitment to doing so, or you can just resign yourself to the same old/same old. But if you choose the latter, then you have no right to blame anyone but yourself for your 2021 results.
Richard D’Ambrosio is a master storyteller who, for more than 30 years, has helped leading brands like American Express, Virgin Atlantic Airways, the Family Travel Association (FTA), and Thomas Cook Travel tell their stories to their customers, the media, and employees. A professional business coach and content marketing consultant with his own firm, Travel Business Mastermind, Richard most recently has worked with The Travel Institute, Flight Centre USA and a variety of host agencies and tour companies, helping entrepreneurs refine their brands and sharpen their sales and marketing skills. Richard writes regularly about retail travel agencies, social media & marketing, and business management.