It’s Time to Get Back to Work as a Travel Professional
Interviewing: Chad Burt, Co-Owner – OutsideAgents.com
First off, thank you so much for the time today Chad! It’s always great to connect with you! What a year it has been, but as we step forward from a challenging year, how have things been for you and the OutsideAgents.com team?
We slept like babies through the whole thing…waking up every two hours crying and pooping ourselves1. Seriously, though, OutsideAgents.com thrives in adverse conditions. For example, while we were too scared to know it at the time, the Great Recession was a defining moment for our agents and us. It forced us to trim the fat, get lean, create more efficient and effective systems, and do more with less. We came out of that event even stronger than before. The same lessons will serve us well during this recovery as we not only survive, but thrive as well!
How have the Travel Professionals working with OutsideAgents.com as their Host Agency been? Have you been hearing of some forward movement?
Forward movement? How about leaps forward? March was the best month in the history of OutsideAgents until April came. April was the best ever until May came. Now, June will dwarf May. It’s amazing.
Here are a few important facts and what they mean to business:
- New agent registrations are higher than ever, which tells us that the “man on the street” sees opportunities on the horizon.
- Transaction values are at an all-time high, suggesting that clients are revenge spending. They’re “getting even” for the vacation that Covid stole from them last year.
- Future Travel Credits are being redeemed at an accelerating rate, demonstrating that consumer confidence is rising quickly.
- With capacity already reduced and the redemption of FTC’s in full swing, inventory is dwindling fast, which means prices – and commissions – are climbing fast!
- Vendors are starting to fund co-op again, which is a clear indication that the smart people in the corner offices of our vendor partners see what we see: Travel is bBack!
- Consumers are more than three times2 as likely to use a travel agent today than they were at this the same time last year! They want the human touch.
- Sadly, there are fewer agents and agencies in the industry, 18% by many accounts3. During the recovery, though, that means more potential clients are out there for you, about 18% more if my math is right.
Again, I don’t want to jinx it, but the recovery has arrived. Ladies and gentlemen, the pandemic has left the building!
I think we have all learned a lot through this pandemic, for myself the word “grit” stands as a strong lesson learned. What three things would you say that you’ve learned from this experience?
- Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” It’s the motto of our technology wizard, Dave Whitlock, and it makes a lot of sense. Early in a crisis, appearing strong is far more important than being strong. That’s right, sometimes, you go faster and show more strength when you slow down and do less. The bottom line is, above all else, never let “them see you sweat.” Always look like you have a plan, especially when you don’t. Don’t worry; the plan will come. More than anything, though, appear strong, and, eventually, you will be. It’s called moxie, and it will get you through the early parts of any crisis.
- There is no box. There are no limits. What’s old is new, and what’s new is old. You don’t know what you don’t know or what you know. Say it how you will, the bottom line is that every day is a new day. Every day is an opportunity to see things with fresh eyes and rediscover everything. Make time regularly to think. Don’t wander off too far, though. You have a business to run. Simply set aside an hour or two each month to look closely at all the pieces that comprise your business. Do they make sense? Can they be improved? What are your competitors doing? What about your business processes? Are they efficient and effective? How’s your branding? Are you hitting the goals you’ve set for yourself? You get the idea.
- Be authentic. Being yourself is over-rated. We all have biased views of our “self.” Most of us see ourselves as pretty awesome, and we tend to play up the good stuff and play down the bad. People see that from a mile away. So, we have to stop trying to be our “self.” Instead, be real. People relate to “real” and connect with genuine people, flaws and all. Even if they don’t like what you authentically say, they will connect with your earnestness. Most importantly, people trust authentic people. Trust is always important, and it’s never been more critical than it is right now.
With recovery of our beloved Travel industry in motion, how do you see our industry progressing forward? Do you have any tips to help other Travel Professionals get their business’ back up and running?
Just do it. Covid might have killed you; paralysis by analysis will. At the end of the day, the operative word in your question is “business.” You are a business owner, and your widget is travel. Granted, your business has been through hell, starved, and torn down to bare bones, but it’s still standing. It’s the perfect time to reboot yourself and your business. Let me explain.
As Covid emerged, my pancreas bailed. It just quit. Now, your pancreas is kind of important as it regulates your sugars and the absorption of nutrients. By the time the doctors figured out what was going on, I had gone from 186 lbs to just 131. I was in bad shape. Fast forward to today, and I’m up to 162 lbs. The cool thing is that my body fat is around 11% (I’m told that is pretty good for an athlete, which I’m not). People think I live in the gym and ask me how I did it. Well, when you’re torn down to bare bones, you can come back leaner and meaner than ever if you take a moment to reflect and make some good choices. That’s where you are now. Torn down, beat up, and ready to rise from the ashes better and stronger than ever.
The point is that you have a chance to reimagine yourself and your business. Do it. You may look and see that there is no need for changes. Like most of us, though, you may find opportunities to tweak what you have, create what you don’t, and get rid of the extra weight. Regardless, take a moment to reflect, make observations, consider changes, and do what you need to do.
Chad and I have been working on a pretty cool project that is being referred to as “Spectrum.” As a visually impaired person, Chad and I discussed a lot of things with Travel Professionals on working with a client who may be visually impaired. Chad, how has the Spectrum project been going?
Amazing! I’m beyond grateful and past excited for the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. I’m even more excited to have the opportunity to share what we’re learning. Andy, I’ve learned so much from you, Kristy Durso, our 50+ agent partners with special needs, hundreds of engaged agents, and our special vendor partners that mere words fail me. As we’ve journiedjourneyed together, my understanding has evolved. I’ve discovered the limitations of my comfort level and gotten over them. I realize that serving clients with special needs involves almost no yes or no questions. It’s about understanding. From the scope of their condition to their range of expectations, our duty is to truly understand our clients and their needs.
Learning to ask someone “How blind are you” is tough but imperative. Learning to ask if a person can transfer from their chair to the commode is as essential as it is challenging. Heck, inquiring about how family and friends traveling with them support the client, and what we can do to support the supporters had never even occurred to me. Now, elements of effective communication and much more will be one of the six class courses we’ll be deploying over the next few months in the next generation of our award-winning learning platform. These courses will explore serving those with special needs from a grassroots perspective, emphasizing experiential learning with a hands-on approach.
With the help of our experts and supporting organizations, we’ve created and deployed our first generation of consumer–facing tools. Check out https://go.Outsideagents.com/mobility for some free tools you can use today and to get free future updates. Also, please take a peek at the playlist of our first 3 Spectrum presentations at https://go.Outsideagents.com/spectrumvideo. Be sure to leave an email address and will send you more FREE tools and important updates as they become available.
Working with clients that may require some extra assistance can be a bit challenging, what take-a-ways have you heard from Travel Professionals after the Spectrum events?
Agents and vendors are excited. They see that this is about a spectrum of needs rather than just a box to check. People are excited about learning to communicate in new, more effective ways. Ultimately, being a travel agent is, at its heart, about communication. For us, communication is founded on qualification, and nowhere is this more true than when working with those that we can benefit the most; those with special needs. After all, how can you get them what they need if you don’t know what they need?
As agents participate more and more, they become increasingly empowered. Knowing they have the training, support, and resources needed to get to work lets agents focus on doing rather than worrying. Unincumbered Unencumbered by fear of the unknown, agents are starting to form large groups, family reunions, and even engaging with that community through shows, events, and sponsorships!
Look, no training, resource, or support system is 100% comprehensive because the topic they address is evolving in real-time. Experience is king, right? So, our Spectrum of Special Needs seeks to leverage internal and external resources to get to 99%. Then, we’ll achieve the last 1% by providing an ongoing collaborative environment and continuing education program. Then, because 100% isn’t enough for us, we’ll go to the next level by providing process and marketing support. After all, a special program addressing “special needs” needs attention, and that attention should drive business.
What? Make money off people with special needs? Yes! That was a key takeaway for me. I learned that 83% of families4 with special needs won’t vacation next year over concerns about caring for their loved one. 92% would, however, do so if they knew their travel advisor was trained specifically in special needs travel.5 Here’s the kicker: they spend 38-61%6 more per diem than other travelers! Through Spectrum, our reward comes when we change this horrible statistic, provide whole families with a fantastic experience in a safe environment, and put joy in the hearts of those we serve. The extra 49% per transaction is just icing on the cake.
What one thing, specifically, would you recommend to a Travel Professional as we keep an eye on 2022 and hopefully a full recovery to our industry?
Lean on your host. That’s why they’re there, to help you.
Seriously, reach out and lean on your host. Talk to the owners. Ask tough questions and request help. If they’re worth their weight at all, they’ll bend over backward to get you what you need to take advantage of the travel renaissance. That’s why every single one of our agents has the personal cell phone numbers of the owners of OutsideAgents.com, Chad and Steve.
Your host should be providing a laundry list of well-vetted, industry-leading, best of class tools, including:
- ROBUST marketing support
- Thousands of email templates, social media posts, videos, images, campaigns, scripts, landing pages, and lots of training on using it!
- Professionally created custom marketing programs and materials
- Massive expert lead marketing training programs
- Lead generations programs
- Co-op advertising dollars
- Automated marketing and communication systems
- DIRECT access to experts, including the owners, in sales, marketing, business, technology, and more.
- ADVANCED training on a wide range of topics from leading subject matter pros.
- PERSONAL one-on-one mentoring and coaching from experienced front-line agents and leading executives.
For a Travel Professional looking to expand their business by partnering with a Host Travel Agency, where can they get more information about your newest offerings at OutsideAgents.com?
Everything is on our site at OutsideAgents.com, including an explainer interview with Joanie Ogg. The best thing you can do, though, is give us a call. Steve and I talk to agents all day, and we’d love to talk with you to explore how we can help build your business. If you sign up, use the promo code “OA+Oggs=Win” to get your 2nd month free7