I think the main reason why I became a journalist is that I’m fascinated by human nature. I love interviewing people and listening for indications about what makes them tick. That talent naturally translated over to being a business coach. Getting someone focused on who they are, and why they do what they do, removes a lot of the friction entrepreneurs create in the pursuit of their goals.
What I have come to realize, in the more than 35 years that I’ve been studying human nature, is that the most consistently successful people are driven by an openness to constant improvement. What they are doing today is not necessarily going to be good enough for them tomorrow, or next week, or next year.
When we get complacent, we can think there’s little work we have to do on ourselves and our business, until something like a pandemic comes crashing in.
We shouldn’t have to wait for a crisis to assess our skills, strategies, and goals. I’m a strong believer in not just planning, but monitoring performance and trying to understand whether my perception of my skills, strategies, and goals are accurate.
Since the spring, I’ve been challenging the industry to examine the dramatic impact Coronavirus has had on the travel advisor community and ask itself, “Can we do better?”
In some corners, I’ve received tremendous push back.
“What makes you an expert on my industry? My business?”
At other times, mostly quietly and confidentially, I’ve had industry executives and travel advisors tell me that they know “We can do better.”
Anecdotal conversations are one thing. Data typically tells us a more accurate story. When I joined the incredible team here at Travel Research Online, I told Richard Earls that I wanted to get deeper into this nagging question and intuition I’ve had for the last four years of my re-entry into the leisure travel space.
What is it that we’ve been doing the last umpteen years that drives incremental travel sales and higher profit margins, and what is it that we think works – but we never measure?
Accumulating the Data
So, this November, my company, Travel Business Mastermind, set about surveying hundreds of travel advisors about the industry resources they receive and use to market travel, acquire high value sales leads, and close more sales. More than 380 travel advisors responded, and I’m just now starting to dig into the data to see what they said.
The respondents are not necessarily the “typical” travel advisor – by a long shot. For example, 59% have been in the industry for ten years or more. About half are hosted, and half are independent. Most other surveys skew towards a shorter tenure than this group, and more hosted agents. Additionally, while we asked about annual income in this survey, I don’t put much stock in the responses because 2020 was far from a “typical” year.
These respondents told us that they spend anywhere from 60-120 hours a year in training programs of one kind or another, trying to enhance their knowledge. Nearly half of them have taken more than two independent fam trips in the last two years and about 45% have attended two or more group fams during that same time. These agents invest the time and money in their businesses to really know the products and destinations they want to sell.
So, let’s call this sample “experienced travel advisors” who appear to be mostly full-time agents committed to matching their clients with the best vacation experiences possible.
So, what did they say?
Analyzing the Data
The 50-question survey just closed last Friday. So I am only now starting to go through the questions, examining the answers and, where possible, trying to establish if there are strong and consistent patterns in the responses.
At the highest level, this is what I’ve learned: “Yes. As an industry, we can do better, perhaps even MUCH better, providing travel advisors with the resources they need to drive more incremental sales at higher margins.”
I feel that way based on the answers to just a few of the questions. For example: When we asked if they were satisfied with the training and resources they receive from suppliers, 21% of these advisors said they strongly agreed that they were, while 46% said they agreed. For destinations, 24% of advisors strongly agreed that they were satisfied, while 45% agreed.
Similarly, we asked travel advisors to choose from three answers for the question: “Thinking about the many places you obtain education, rank the following for generating marketing tools/resources that engage with your clients and sales prospects.”
Fifty six percent of travel advisors said the resources suppliers provide are “very helpful.” Further, 61% of advisors said the resources destinations provide are “very helpful.” When you ask about consortia/host resources, 55% percent of advisors answer the same.
When asking if the resources available are “not helpful,” only 3% of advisors rate their supplier resources that way, versus 5% for destinations and 7% for consortia/hosts.
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Sounds pretty good right? Well, it’s always been my theory that pretty marketing materials aren’t necessarily driving sales. And Travel Business Mastermind’s data seems to point in that direction.
When we asked advisors, “Thinking about the many places you obtain education, rank the following for generating high value sales leads that close,” those percentages start to flip. Now that we’re talking about actual sales, one out of five of these experienced advisors say what the industry provides them is “not helpful” driving sales leads that close.
Even when you look at the respondents answering “very helpful,” you see cracks in the facade of support. Only 36% of advisors say supplier education is “very helpful” in ultimately helping them drive closed sales, with destinations scoring favor in this regard with 40% of advisors.
Now, I’m not condemning the incredible work many companies have performed trying to empower advisors the best they can to be a sales channel that creates value for both consumers and suppliers/destinations. There are clear signs that the industry is doing some pretty good things.
It’s just that I think this research shows: “We can do better.” And I would propose to you, that “We can do MUCH better.”
I’ve coached and trained sales and client management teams, people leaders, and entrepreneurs for more than 15 years. The incremental performance improvement from great training, great coaching, and better focused resources can significantly elevate an average performer.
We’re going to be pulling ourselves out of this pandemic for many years to come. If the “Great Recession” of 2007-09 is any indication, suppressed demand due to COVID and its impact on our economy will be a challenge for all of us for at least the next four years.
If we decide that having only one-third of the travel advisor channel feeling like the education they receive is “very helpful” in closing sales, this is going to be one long haul.
Like I said, we can do much better than this.
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.