Written By: Jenn Lee, V.P. of Sales and Marketing – Travel Planners International
Let’s face it – working from home can be quite lonely. It’s common for entrepreneurs to feel isolated, overwhelmed, and stressed, especially when they’re running a business of one. According to a 2018 Forbes article, isolation is one of the biggest challenges faced by business owners. Almost 30% of respondents considered loneliness a “big issue.” Travel agency owners are not immune to this. With more and more people taking leaps of faith and joining our incredulous industry, cultivating a community is more important than ever.
However, just because more people are choosing to join our industry doesn’t necessarily mean a thriving travel community will just appear. It’s going to take more work than that. Joining is one piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, we must shift our industry’s fondness for numbers and stats and focus on softer skills like communication and empathy. Our industry propels forward when we invite a diverse cross-section of professionals to join the movement and make them feel at home.
A perfect example is a runner in a marathon. Yes, to complete the marathon, the runner must be in good shape and have strong muscles. However, to complete the marathon successfully, their community must come out, cheering them on in full force. The runner is dependent on them, as well as on their gear, pacers, and music. It’s a community effort, and that’s what the travel industry needs.
Emphasizing community is crucial to the industry. Cultivating a reputation for having a strong-knit community not only further entices people to launch their own agency, but also helps the current advisor community. Being a solo entrepreneur can be very lonely, so belonging to a community is key to fulfillment and success. Therefore, as an industry, we must push for advisors to find spaces to which they can belong. At its core, this can be done in two ways:
- sharing a physical space
- belonging to some digital group/community
Sharing a physical place has never been so popular. It’s been estimated that in 2018, 1,000 co-working offices opened in the United States. That makes perfect sense since 35% of America’s workforce are freelancers or independent contractors. Within our industry, independent travel advisors are dominating the scene right now! So, why not take advantage of shared working spaces. You may even feel more confident working out of an office where you can meet with clients. Plus, there’s the added benefit that you can network with other entrepreneurs.
Belonging to a digital space also helps cultivate a community. Stop lurking on your feed and transform your social media into a useful tool instead. Start by joining Facebook groups related to the industry. If you need more, look for ones that are centered around your town, state, or shared interest. (Note: Don’t get involved if your only purpose is to advertise your business. Most Facebook groups ban those types of posts.)
Whether travel advisors choose to find a physical or digital space, they’re ultimately searching for inclusion within the industry. Inclusion is an essential facet of creating a real community. Feeling included in your community promotes more camaraderie and overall growth in the travel industry. We can all stand as one, despite not having the same business model, and this is especially helpful in times of hardships.
Cultivating a thriving community is vital for our industry’s wellbeing, but what do we need to master to get there? Communication. It’s the building block of every relationship, both personal and business. It inspires growth, innovation, and transparency. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most sought-after soft skills.
Community can only happen if we make a conscious choice to become effective communicators. In a growing industry where experience levels vary, communication has never been more critical. The byproduct of effective communication (and a whole industry pushing for it) is empathy, support, and mentorship. At TPI, we know this to be true because we see every day within our travel advisor communities. It’s a digital group of travel advisors from all backgrounds, lifting each other forward so that the industry propels forward. If it can work at a small level, within one host agency, then it can work for everyone else.
It’s crucial to note that communication doesn’t merely mean “talking.” Remember Steven Covey’s 5th Principle: “First seek to understand, then be understood.” Here are some excellent communication skills all travel advisors should adopt:
- Active listening
- Speaking clearly and directly
- Showing empathy and respect
- Understanding the other’s perspective
For those wondering, we practice what we preach at TPI. When you join us, we don’t pit you against other travel advisors (although trust me, they are superbly competitive!). Our community of 4,200+ advisors and agency owners become instant family, not competition. You’re adopted into a group of passionate, proud, and hard-charging small business owners who love what they do. Together, we cheer each other on and offer support during tough times. It’s what a thriving community should be doing. Ways we support community for our Rockstar travel advisors are:
- Private Facebook groups
- Local, regional, and national events
Our private Facebook groups are the place to be. In there, you will find a supportive group of travel advisors that can help navigate newbie questions, share opinions on destinations, offer business advice, and more. It’s the perfect place for our travel advisors to retreat to after a long day of hustling. They soak up all the knowledge they can and then put it into practice. Advisors that are on top of their game means beautiful things for the industry.
Because knowledge is power and networking is crucial for any entrepreneur, TPI hosts several in-person events year-round. We sponsor local meetups for advisors to connect with suppliers or just with one another. On a larger scale, we host regional and national conferences that focus on crucial and vital skills that today’s travel advisor needs to run a successful travel agency.
At TPI HQ, we’re treated like a part of The Gagliano family (our founders). Like with any family, we sometimes have challenges with communication. To help with this, we’ve adopted the Four Agreements as a company-wide staple for communication and understanding. As we interact with one another or with our advisor family, we keep the agreements in mind. If you’re not familiar with the Four Agreements, they are:
- Be impeccable with your words
- Don’t make assumptions
- Don’t take things personally
- Always do your best
The Bottom Line
All of this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t worry about our sales or numbers – we do have a bottom line. The stronger the bottom line, the more we can serve our partners. However, our industry promotes acceptance, open-mindedness, tolerance, and kindness in hopes of building the community travel advisors deserve. Together, we celebrate, overcome hardships and struggles, and, ultimately, better the industry. Most of us may be a business of one, but with a thriving community, you’re no longer on your own.