Interview By: Andy Ogg, CTIE, Senior Editor – Travel Professional NEWS®
Interviewing: Drew Daly, CTIE, Senior Vice President and General Manager – Dream Vacations
For those of our readers that aren’t aware of Dream Vacations, can you share a bit about your business and history in the travel industry?
Dream Vacations is a travel agency franchise that launched in 2016, as the sister brand to CruiseOne, which launched in 1991. Dream Vacations is the result of listening to our 1,400 agents who said they needed a brand name that spoke to selling more than cruise. We are part of the business-to-business division of our parent company World Travel Holdings, which is one of the top sellers of cruise vacations in the world.
Dream Vacations has been ranked the #1 franchise for veterans and we are tops when it comes franchisee satisfaction in the travel and hospitality industry, according to a third-party survey conducted by Franchise Business Review. Our goal is not to be the largest travel agency, but to have the most profitable successful travel agents.
Why is engagement so important in 2019 and the future?
Our Dream Vacations agents are in business for themselves, but not by themselves and our Vice President of Engagement has developed a team and strategy so our agents, many of who work-from-home, make sure they know they have a support system and are not alone. In addition, it is one of our top priorities to create in-person events throughout the year that allow our agents to get to know each other, as well as our headquarters staff. We even have a Director of Events who makes sure our time together is well-spent – creating events that are packed with the perfect blend of education, networking and FUN!
These events throughout the year are why our agents have good relationships with each other and feel like they are part of a family. In fact, we often compare our events to family reunions. At the end of the day, we find that overall our agents are more financially successful and feel valued as a result of our engagement initiatives, which is an important factor in why we lead all travel and hospitality industry franchises in franchisee satisfaction, according to a third-party survey conducted by Franchise Business Review. Travel is a people business. Everything we do is designed around, and focuses on, our customers. It is our core belief to spend in person and quality time with our network of travel professionals.
What are your top tips for building loyal customers as a Travel Professional?
The most successful travel agents are those who build relationships with their clients and are in touch with them more than once a year to book their annual vacation. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way; reach out to your clients on holidays and other celebratory occasions. Your clients will be impressed that you remembered their birthday or anniversary. The more touch points you have with your clients, without being overbearing, the more likely they will remember you when it is time to book their next vacation. Our Director of Loyalty Marketing and Brand Management ensures that we have creative and easy-to-use programs in place that will help you build and retain a loyal customer following.
To build loyalty, it is essential that travel agents prove they are invaluable to their clients. This is especially important because we are in the service industry and must prove our value over booking on the internet. Your clients shouldn’t have to spend their precious time researching information. In order to establish yourself as their go to resource for all things related to travel, you need to anticipate your clients’ needs and answer questions they didn’t even know they had.
What are quick and easy tips to grow a travel business?
My favorite piece of non-traditional, low-cost advice is to wear your business name badge or a shirt with your company logo everywhere you go – the grocery store, the movies, gas station, everywhere! It is such a great conversation starter and people love talking about travel.
As a work-at-home travel agent, the number one thing you can do to grow your business is to get involved in the community. This means joining networking groups and local business organizations, as well as participating in community events, big and small. While larger events are beneficial because you may get your name in front of the masses, you will typically have more quality conversations and stronger leads at smaller events which generally have a lower cost-of-entry.
Small businesses support each other, so try to shop locally and use the professional services of other small business owners.
Lastly, the education never stops in travel. Take as many trainings as possible to educate yourself on the products you want to sell, and leverage your travel supplier BDMs. They have a wealth of knowledge and resources that will help you grow your business.
What do you personally love about travel industry?
First of all, it’s FUN! I love traveling the world and meeting new people – and this industry allows me to do both. Plus, in my role with Dream Vacations I am able to share my passion with other travel agents and help them inspire others to see the world too.
I take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way to experience new destinations and cross items off my bucket list. This year, I am going to Vietnam and Cambodia.
What is the best way to network as a Travel Professional?
Preparation is key when it comes to networking. Whenever you leave your home, wear your name badge, bring business cards and be prepared to give an impromptu elevator pitch. We are in a relationship-based business so be interested in what others have to say, ask them questions and be sure to follow up. You never know what business opportunities may arise – whether it is a new vacation booking or opportunity for a partnership to grow your business.
What is the key differentiator between Dream Vacations and other travel agency options?
On the surface, all travel agencies may look similar and offer the same services, products and support. What makes Dream Vacations stand out from other travel agencies? We have a culture of caring and camaraderie. We plan a variety of programs and events designed to create a strong bond with our network of professionals. We love learning from them and they learn from each other. Our agents don’t view each other as competition, but rather as colleagues who are there to help each other and offer advice.
Our headquarters team cares more – in fact, it is even written on our walls as a reminder that our travel agents are our customers and that our only business is making them successful. That is why we are constantly making significant investments in our technology and team to ensure we continue providing the best service possible. We believe in transparency, listening to what our agents have to say and seeking their insight on new initiatives. Our agents have a voice and are more than a number to us. When comparing travel agencies, make sure you are joining an organization that is the right fit for you. This will hopefully become a long-term, profitable and mutually beneficial relationship.
What are your top tips for success on Social Media in 2019?
My top tip for social media is go where your clients are. You do not need to be on every social media platform. If you find most of your clients are on Facebook and not Instagram or Twitter, then you should focus your efforts on Facebook. Interaction is important to ensuring that your posts get seen.
Once you decide what social media platforms you want to use, create a business page for your travel agency that is separate from your personal page. This is where you can post all of your promotions, agency news, inspirational travel posts and more on a daily basis. Invite your friends and family to become a fan and follow your business pages, and encourage them to spread the word about your business. Engage with your followers by replying to their comments and encouraging feedback on your posts. Of course, you can and should share that you own a travel agency on your personal pages, but you should limit your sales pitches to your business page.
Clients want to know that their travel agents have been there and done that. Every time you travel – whether for work or pleasure – make sure to share and post on social media. This will inspire your followers to travel and hopefully book their next vacation with you.
How can Travel Agents utilize video and video marketing?
Video is one of the best ways to educate your clients and often seal the deal for those who are on the fence. Dream Vacations has a robust professional video library of resorts, cruise ships and destinations that were filmed with the intent of educating the consumer about a variety of vacation options. If your client is already booked, send them a video right before their vacation to get them excited.
If you are feeling creative, take a chance and create a video! It is a great way to engage with your followers. Plus, this is a great way for your clients to get to know you and put a face with a name if they are not local. There are several options for posting videos. I love doing live video posts while I am on vacation that provides my friends with a glimpse into what I am experiencing – whether it is a quick video tour of my cabin or shooting while in destination saying how much fun I am having. With more planning and utilizing editing tools, when you return home you can create videos that provide a ship or resort tour, and also fun how-to videos educating your viewers. Additionally, you can create a photo slideshow summarizing what a great vacation you had and encouraging others who want a similar experience to book with you.
What type of marketing support do you provide at Dream Vacations?
While Dream Vacations’ travel agents are small business owners, they have the backing and support of a multi-million-dollar corporation and this is evident in the professional websites and marketing materials we provide. In fact, each year Dream Vacations headquarters funds $4 million in promotions and exclusive offers – more than any other travel agency. How do we maximize these promotions and offers so our travel agents can cash in? Well, we create professionally designed marketing pieces that complement each promotion – these range from social media posts, direct mail postcards (which are free to send), brochures and more. Plus, we offer Savvy Sorter, a customer segmentation tool, which ensures the right clients are receiving the right mix of direct mail pieces from you. As part of Dream Vacations, you don’t need to be a marketing expert or graphic designer to have beautiful marketing pieces.
How is Dream Vacations expanding its footprint nationally to become a household name?
We have forged strategic partnerships with lifestyle brands such as Tumi, Swarovski Crystals, Wine.com, Boston Proper and more. Using reciprocal marketing, Dream Vacations is getting exposure to these four iconic brands’ customers and vice versa. In addition, we have secured appearances on national syndicated TV shows such as Steve, Rachael Ray and others. All of these alliances are working together to make Dream Vacations become a household name.