Despite everything we might try to do to label someone this or that – Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, Leader or Follower – people are so much more complex than the simple appellations we would like to hang on them.
I may have liberal views about social issues, but I am more conservative when it comes to how I spend money and how I like others to spend my money. I may enjoy leading a team or take the helm on a project, but I like stepping back and watching others learn how to lead, following their direction so they can learn the qualities they need to one day be a leader themselves.
So, when you are dealing with people in business, it’s best not to think of them simplistically. In our practice at Travel Business Mastermind, my partner Myrna Arroyo and I are always instructing our travel advisor clients that they need to be conscious of the trap of seeing their clients as some kind of monolithic market.
Our caution has never been more important than today, in the middle of this pandemic. As we have seen since the beginning of The Great Travel Slowdown, not every human being has responded to this crisis the same way. Some people completely shut down their dreams of traveling at the beginning of this crisis, and really haven’t shifted their mindset much since. Others started traveling as soon as the places they wanted to visit started reopening.
The challenge for travel advisors who need to earn an income now, in order to survive, is trying to figure out who is interested in traveling and who isn’t – and tailoring your messages accordingly.
The best way to do that is to pick up the phone and call your clients to have a conversation with them. If you haven’t spoken to them in a while, start off by just saying “hi,” and asking them how they are doing. You’d be surprised how happy and welcoming most people are to an overture of concern for their health and welfare. If you’re comfortable with being open about yourself, tell them how you’re doing — and commiserate over any shared experiences.
At all times during the conversation, prioritize listening. Listen for what they are thinking and feeling about everything, from their own job security, their partner’s employment, kids and school, and yes, even that dreaded issue of coronavirus. It’s okay to talk about COVID-19, and how they are feeling about it.
Maybe it is of little concern to them because no one they know has been directly affected by it. Or maybe they themselves tested positive. The fact of the matter is that COVID-19 is ever present in our lives right now, shaping and reshaping our daily habits and experiences whether you believe it is of grave concern or not (I believe it is).
The Complexity of the COVID-Era Traveler
The goal for these conversations is to help you reconnect with your clients and form a deeper understanding of where they are at – emotionally and intellectually. People may think that they buy with their intellect but, more often than not, emotions drive purchasing decisions.
If for some reason picking up the phone frightens you, call me. I will work with you to get over that fear. If calling me frightens you, then check out the latest Travel Sentiment Report from Destination Analysts. Destination Analysts has been surveying consumers since the very beginning of the pandemic, and their longitudinal study is a great example of sound research you can bank on.
Their latest report – published last week – shows a complex picture of the many faces of traveling consumers today. For example, despite the recent uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the percentage of Americans anxious about contracting the virus has dropped from 72% to 69.3%.
However, 60.9% expect the pandemic to get worse in the United States in the next month, up over 5% in one week. Along the same lines, confidence that they can travel safely in the current environment declined 5 percentage points in the past three weeks (26.5% from 32.0%).
Then there is the issue of “travel shaming.” When you are speaking to your clients, not only should you listen for their comfort level about contracting the virus while traveling, you might also hear concerns that people close to them may not be happy that they traveled.
According to Destination Analysts, two out of five Americans might feel guilty about traveling right now, and 50% might believe it is irresponsible to travel today.
Where Do Your Clients Live?
Another big factor for travel advisors to consider is where their clients live. Destination Analysts breaks the American consumer down to four main regions – Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. And, if you look at the trends over time, you can find the “marketability” for traveling rises and falls based on local COVID cases.
So, for example, at the beginning of the pandemic, when the virus was running rampant in the Northeast, that region was the least interested in traveling, and has for the most part remained the region with the least interest even today.
Interestingly though, when COVID cases started to rise in the south in the early summer, marketability for traveling dropped significantly for those residents. Consumers in the Midwest have remained the most open to traveling throughout the pandemic.
Similarly, consumers who live in rural regions have consistently been more interested in making travel plans for the extent of the pandemic, with urban dwellers showing the least interest. However, as the virus has moved into rural regions these last few months, even rural residents have shown less interest in traveling.
Which brings me to my final point. Your clients and prospects are not locked in one moment in time. Their sentiment about traveling moves along a continuum with the calendar and the events that might influence their ability and desire to spend money on a vacation.
At Travel Business Mastermind, our mantra is “The Virus Drives the Narrative.” We cannot escape that fact. But that also doesn’t mean that we shut down marketing travel.
Travel is becoming increasingly safer. Some regions and types of travel appear to be offering experiences that have no higher risk of contracting COVID than the risk we face in our regular non-travel lives. It seems the measures they have put in place to prevent transmission and respect the disease are working. It also depends on our personal responsibility.
If that narrative gets sunnier because we follow the rules and infectivity rates drop, and our consumer confidence rises with a stronger economy, the marketability of travel to more consumers will grow. The objections consumers have about overtures will change too. And your sales and marketing will need to change.
The one thing that won’t change is the complexity of your client’s heart and mind. So, get to know them collectively and individually. And then take back control of your business by communicating with them where they are at in that moment.
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.