The past year’s events have shown travel advisors that they will not survive unless they can charge advisory fees, in addition to their usual commissions. If you’re a travel advisor, the advisory fees are yours to keep even if your booking is canceled or deferred to a later date.
There is a rich tradition of travelers paying fees for advisory services. Since 1902, the American Automobile Club (AAA) has served American motorists. While their primary service has always been to get tow trucks and charging vehicles to members in need, a close second has been to identify gas stations, tourist attractions, and noteworthy eating establishments along the route. My parents would never start a motor trip without a custom-made AAA Trip Tik® Travel Planner on the front seat.
AAA made the original Trip Tiks by binding together small strips of maps which included the locations of services that motorists might need on a particular strip of highway. They are available now to AAA members online, and can be printed at home or viewed on smartphones. Car owners can buy tow insurance from hundreds of vendors for less than the cost of an AAA membership. But many still choose to join AAA because of the Trip Tiks.
As a travel advisor transitioning into charging advisory fees, you can do the AAA one better. Not only can you give local travel information for anywhere in the world, but you can assure that it’s the most up-to-date information available. Further, you can provide it, even if you’ve never been to the locations yourself. You can do this with internet searches. The internet can replace the travel guides sold on Amazon and in bookstores, and they don’t require any space in your luggage.
I find them much better than using services such as Travel42 Guides, which some host agencies provide. While these are always a great place to start when you’re learning about a destination, they will not tell you about the hottest restaurants and whether tourist attractions have reopened. For this, you’ll need the internet and possibly a follow-up phone call.
Within a week of my clients booking a trip, I’m going to make sure that they have a Trip File providing things to see and do in each destination. Mine will have a national information section for each nation and, ideally, six suggested experiences for each destination.
- National Information
- For Each Destination
- “Don’t Miss” Experiences
- Foodie Experiences
- Adventure Experiences
- Photo & Wildlife Experiences
- “Get to Know the Locals” Experiences
- Only at this Destination Experiences
What makes custom Trip Files so easy to develop is that they use “hyperlinks” from the internet. Trip Files should have very little information that you need to write yourself. While a Trip File can include a half-dozen links and many pages of photos and descriptions, I can develop one by referencing well-known, trusted sources within a few hours. The main danger is getting so involved in what you’re reading that you’ll spend too much time developing the files!
In late November, my wife and I will (hopefully) sail on the Silversea Muse from Singapore to Sydney, with some other clients. Here are some excerpts from the Trip File I’m developing for the trip. I’ll provide the initial version to those sailing with us, within two weeks of receiving their deposits and advisory fees.
National Information (example)
Republic of Singapore
- The currency is the Singapore dollar.
- COVID-19 in Singapore, according to the CDC.
- Visa requirement for those with American passports.
- “Don’t Miss” Experiences – Australia Zoo – Half-Hour away and will need most of the day to see the shows and wildlife experiences. Excellent choice, if you’ve enjoyed Brisbane before and you love one-on-one experiences with Australian and African wildlife.
- Foodie Experiences – The Delectable Taste of Queensland Food Tour squeezes four Brisbane eating and drinking experiences into a single day. Judging from the website, it all done with considerable class.
- Adventure Experiences – Anyone can fly over The Great Barrier Reef in a helicopter or light plane, but why not enjoy it in a hot air balloon with champagne when you land? It’s an experience that you’ll never forget.
- Photo & Wildlife Experiences – If you don’t have time for the Australia Zoo, another choice is the Brisbane Day Cruise and Eco Marine Safari. It includes a high-speed catamaran ride to Moreton Island, swimming and snorkeling, and several marine and photo experiences.
- “Get to Know Locals” Experiences – The Brisbane City Council offers the free Brisbane Greeters Program. Like the ones operated in Japan, the Greeters Program provides walking tours and other opportunities to meet with Brisbane locals and enjoy what Brisbane offers to insiders.
- Only at this Destination Experiences – The Story Bridge & Adventure Climb is like the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, except that it’s easier to book and less expensive. Be sure to take your camera, since you’ll get photos unlike those taken by any other guests on the ship. At the top of the bridge, they have a cantilevered “Lean Out” experience that I, for one, will happily forgo.
In a set of experiences for each client to consider, I deliberately didn’t go to the list of excursions offered by Silversea or tours I knew about from previous Australian visits. I used only experiences that I found today with an internet search, consisting simply of typing in “Brisbane Australia” and the name of the kind of experiences I was seeking.
If an excursion was available through the ship, it could be twice as expensive—and your commission would be less. I’d let clients know that the ship offered a similar excursion and encourage them to choose based on the schedules, safety, and convenience. Also, I would never suggest a tour with an outside company, unless the next destination is a brief plane flight away.
The Brisbane experiences take up about half a page. If I were to do this for all ten destinations on this cruise, I would have about five pages of suggestions for them to consider. If I were assembling the Trip Files for several clients on the same cruise, I would vary the recommendations based on their ages, physical fitness, and interests.
Also, for some minor ports, the cruise line’s excursion has likely covered most of the possibilities. Suppose the cruise lines’ choices don’t interest them. In that case, they can explore the port on their own, try one of the restaurants or museums that you’ve identified as promising, or use a taxi to visit some places that don’t require an expensive tour. Churches, city markets, and unique shops are often in this category.
After the clients tell me which experiences interest them the most, I’d contact the sites by email or phone and see if they have space available on the needed day. I’d also find out the best travel arrangements to meet the tour and the cost. If everything seems to be OK, I’d make a tentative booking (giving them my IATA number, if they pay a commission) and have the client confirm the bookings by email with their credit card.
In this example, all the Brisbane experiences except for the “Meet the Locals” experience is probably commissionable and averages about $150 per guest.
The commission is what the French call lagniappe, a bonus. What you’re accomplishing is gaining the trust of your clients by providing them with experiences that they would be unlikely to try on their own. When it’s time for them to book another vacation, or when they speak to their friends, they are sure to speak fondly of you and the outstanding service you provide. Your advisory fee will not be an issue, since it gives clients a taste of the benefits it offers. If the advisory fee is about $200-$500 a booking, you’ll be able to make a minimal living even if everything grinds to a halt once again.
Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. He writes a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s read by more than 80,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.