On occasion a neighbor or an acquaintance, knowing I am somehow connected to the travel industry, will ask me about a vacation they would like to take. I use those opportunities to refer the person to a rotating selection of travel professionals I know. I tend to use different travel advisors depending on the person’s request. About a month ago, a neighbor asked me about a trip to Scotland she and her family wanted to take next year. We had the obligatory discussion of Covid-19 issues, refunds and cancellations. I checked with a travel agent friend to see if he wanted the referral and I then put the two of them together.
Yesterday, weeks after our original conversation, I ran into my neighbor and asked how the travel planning had progressed. Looking at me a bit sheepishly she said “Well, your travel agent friend couldn’t find us anything cheaper than we could get online by ourselves.” I explained to my neighbor the travel professional is not about the “best price” but was instead looking for the “best value.” I explained the travel professional was looking after my neighbor’s interests by choosing reliable suppliers, coordinating their travels and acting as their advocates. My neighbor listened, but the lesson was, I fear, arriving too late.
In that one isolated event is the repeated story of our industry’s failure to educate the public on what we do and how we do it. We are failing to properly educate our clients, our prospective clients and the public at large.
It is absolutely too much to assume any potential client understands your mission as a travel consultant. The problem is simple: the public thinks you sell travel. The public thinks of “travel agents” as one more retail outlet where they can shop for a trip.
Unfortunately a too large segment of the travel agency population also thinks they sell travel. We have to move beyond the retail paradigm.
If you talk to the top 20,000 or so travel agents in this country, not one of them thinks they sell travel. They understand they sell their expertise, educating their clients to make intelligent buying decisions. The travel consultant then books the travel their client chooses as a result of the travel advisor’s consultation and advice. The best travel agents are selling the value they add to every travel transaction and they do so in the context of a relationship.
Top travel advisors are selling themselves, not travel.
It is not surprising the public does not understand the travel advisor’s value proposition. Too often, we fail to explain the value proposition to the client, we fail to advise. We allow the prospective client to tell us what they are looking for and then we proceed to research allowing the prospective client to wait on our research with all of the wrong ideas about what we are doing on their behalf. The prospective client believes the “travel agent” is going to come back with the “best price.” The travel professional, however, is bringing all of their experience and expertise, hours of work, putting together a program of reliable suppliers and coordinated effort to ensure the experience is everything the client should have.
ASTA, the American Society of Travel Advisors is asking us all to take on the task of educating the public in the shift of their model from “Agent” to “Advisor.” Let’s give them a hand.
We keep hearing how different marketing travel will be post-Covid. I am not sure I agree it will be different. The same issues are there with a few additional ones layered on. But if we cannot justify our existence, if we cannot move beyond travel as a commodity, then we will have learned little during our hiatus.
The “best deal” to the travel professional means the best value, the quality of the booking intersecting with the client’s needs. The “best deal” to the untrained client means the best price. To move your business to the next level, educate your client. At the very outset, at the first conversation, tell they client what you do and why you do it. Explain your value. Explain the role of price in the value equation. Act like the advancement of the public’s understanding is important to the advancement of your profession.
Because it is.