They say every preacher really has only one sermon. Here’s mine: success in the travel industry has everything to do with relationship selling. Too much of the agency population continues to act as though it is in the business of selling travel and is trapped in a transactional, retail mentality. The travel advisorys and agencies doing really well have long ago left the retail model behind and have replaced it with relationship sales. It is an easy point to understand, but apparently difficult to implement for many travel agents.
The money collectively spent on travel has an astronomical ring to its tally. Reflect on the fact all travel agencies, including the largest online agencies, handle $240 billion dollars, or about 31% of all travel booked. The number is admittedly an estimate, but one thing is certain. There is a tremendous volume of travel being booked other than by travel agencies.
Numbers like this can be viewed in two ways. The first is to indicate that the travel agency share of the pie is small. The other, however, is to notice just how much business is being left on the table by today’s travel agencies. As an entrepreneur, it is the latter point of view that interests me – there is three times the business volume out there waiting to be picked off by someone clever enough to do it.
Your competition is surely that clever. The question is, “Are you?”
What are you having for lunch today? If you’re not careful, someone else is going to eat it.
I continually see messages from travel agents on industry forums worrying about not being able to compete on price. I don’t think there is any more common topic of anguish. Large agencies are rebating, online companies are getting it cheaper, and the suppliers are selling direct for less.
As gently as I can, let me explain something. If you think price is the most important factor in a decision to purchase, you are going to go hungry. If you move from transaction to transaction with your clients rather than focusing on relationships, your business is at risk. Your share of the pie is in danger.
If price was the most important factor in a purchasing decision, Starbucks would never sell a cup of coffee. If price was the most important criteria in the buying cycle, everyone would drive a Nissan Versa (at $12,800, the least expensive car in the North American market). Actually, most travel agents understand that price is NOT the most important factor in every industry. Except their own. For some reason, many travel agents continue to think all their clients care about is price.
Here’s what I see in the statistics I quoted above: an incredible opportunity. There is so much money being left on the table by travel professionals. I promise you that where there is that much money, smarter sales techniques are close behind. Travel agents had better get smarter and faster. Now.
I believe that you can increase your share of the pie. Do these two things, and watch your revenues and profits jump. This has been proven many times over. It’s not theory, it’s fact.
- Take a sales and marketing course. Not a product or destination specialist course. Sales and marketing. That lunch I want you to eat? It’s not free, so expect to pay for it. Spend money on it. Invest in yourself. Become a professional sales person, not just an enthusiastic proponent of traveling the world. There is a real difference, measured in dollars to be earned.
- Apply what you learn. Really. Don’t just agree with what you learn about sales and marketing, actually do some of it. Write down your goals. Market methodically and enter into your relationships with clients prepared to engage them with a professional sales approach. That is what it is going to take to increase your income.
I am not going to quit preaching the sales and marketing sermon. I believe more strongly than ever that a new breed of travel professional is on the verge of arising from our ranks. They will be spending at least as much time learning about sales and marketing as they will about cruises and tours. The better they become at sales, the more valuable they will become to suppliers.
As Mike Marchev says, “Your customer is someone else’s prospect.” Mike is right. Chances are very good you lose sales not because you know less about travel than your competition, but because you know less about marketing, sales and customer service. The time is now to take the sales and marketing side of this business seriously. That’s why they call it a business, folks.
Otherwise, there will be nothing but crumbs left for your slice of the pie.