Written By: Jackie Friedman, President – Nexion Travel Group
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
In this month’s column, I’d love to share some pointers on navigating the ‘new normal’ and the importance of reassessment and looking at things differently in your business. First, we’ll look internally at business operations and then externally to qualifying and selling to clients. As a two-part series, we’ll finish up with reassessing partnerships and what you sell in a future edition.
Reassessing How You Operate Your Business
The first step in pivoting your travel business for success during a downturn is to look for opportunities to reduce expenses. Revenues are reduced right now, so ask yourself these important questions:
- If you are not currently a home-based travel advisor, should you move toward becoming one?
- Do you need to carry the cost that a brick and mortar agency entails?
- Does having a retail location give you the benefits of walk-in traffic of clients who have never done business with you, or do the associated expenses outweigh the revenues that are brought in from new clients?
- Does your location add to your business or take away from it? Is the space inviting?
Look at your business location with a fresh perspective, and reconsider whether you need this space to run your agency.
Next up is looking at processes in general where you can streamline and introduce low-cost automation to help you work more efficiently and work from anywhere. This could mean looking at using a different Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program, itinerary builder tools, programs that manage your marketing and social media, etc. Find out what your host agency or consortia offers as part of your membership to see what works with your business model. The goal is to take advantage of tools or resources that will help you spend less time working in your business, so you have more time to work on your business.
A final tip in reassessing business operations is to really look hard at your business expenses and evaluate what could be different or that you could do without. Simple things like monthly subscriptions costs add up, so ask yourself if they are necessary and if you’re getting the return on value that their cost brings. On the flip side, are there investments that you’ve been wanting to take advantage of that now have a cost-savings in place, such as scholarships for certifications?
Reassessing How You Qualify and Sell to Customers
In addition to internal reassessment of your business, external reassessment of clients is important in navigating the new normal. Customer qualification and having meaningful and insightful conversations with customers is more important than ever, as you truly need to know your clients’ priorities when booking travel. Are you asking open-ended questions to gauge interest in traveling now, comfort levels and what your clients are looking for? It’s important never to brush any client concerns under the carpet just to get a sale. Active listening is imperative.
A big part of selling travel in this new normal is assessing not only the readiness of your clients and what they want in a vacation but also what’s realistic. Travel restrictions are changing daily, so it’s important to set expectations with customers and ensure you’re keeping on top of changes, new travel requirements and what’s happening for suppliers and destinations you sell. There are many government and organization websites and resources to assist the travel advisor with up-to-date information, and your host agency and/or consortia may have additional resources to help.
The sale is not over when you have the customer’s credit card. It is important to repeatedly monitor the situation where the customer is traveling and keep that client informed and properly insured with coverage.
Destinations that are opening now include all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, for example, as they are being recognized for taking necessary precautions to protect travelers. While this is encouraging news, it is still critical for the travel advisor to do due diligence prior to booking and sending clients there, or anywhere. What activities are open? What can your clients do on vacation? If bars are important to your clients, does the resort have a swim-up bar, and is it open and what are the hours? What restaurant and food choices are available? Will travelers be required to wear masks on property, and is this enforced or recommended? What’s the airport situation, and how are resort transfers being handled? These are just a few of the questions that could be included in researching and preparing clients prior to arrival.
Some of these questions ring true with cruising as well. Is your client planning to go on a specific cruise because of a particular port? It’s important that expectations are set that ports may be canceled. By asking the right qualifying questions, you can ensure what’s important to your customer and then provide that client with status information on what’s open and available for that sought-after vacation. Your professional value goes a step further by staying on top of all details in the event the situation changes.
These things are always important in providing service as a travel advisor, but they are more important in today’s world and will be scrutinized. Be careful with the words you use and point consumers to credible resources. Never promise anything that is outside of your control. Use language such as, “I have read and done the following things, and this is what I’ve learned.” You don’t want to scare clients, but from a liability perspective, you do want to be careful.
In looking back at many of today’s successful businesses, such as YouTube, Twitter, Netflix and Starbucks, they had to pivot first. Pivoting is simply making a change in strategy or fundamental aspects of your business, without a change in vision. It could be about shifting product, target market or style of how you run your business.
We may not know what the future holds, but success comes from reassessing what is in our control and shifting as needed. The one thing we do know is that people are going to want to travel again. They are also more likely to use a travel advisor, and more specifically a trusted travel advisor. And building client relationships with honesty and integrity, of sharing facts and guiding them when needed, will prevail long term. Here’s to your success!