Written By: James N. Bovino, General Manager -Independent by Liberty Travel
For many of us, our love of travel began early on. It might have started as children, planning the day’s backyard adventure. Maybe it came to life through crafting the itinerary for the annual family vacation. Fast forward to today and you’ve found yourself taking an exciting plunge and opening your own business. End of story? Not exactly. The rules have changed, and continue to change, so to be successful in this industry it’s imperative that you blend a healthy dose of creativity with a willingness to constantly raise the service bar.
Perhaps you’ve chosen membership in a host travel network, like Independent by Liberty Travel, where you can receive coaching and support, plus utilize preferred supplier agreements to offer your clients access to global inventory at a great value and higher commission. No matter which path you’ve taken, the good news is it’s a really good time to be a travel agent. Agents continue to enjoy an incredible renaissance, persevering against a one-time belief that with the rise of the Internet we’d become dispensable and relegated to the past. Actually, advancements in technology have only strengthened our industry as we have more tools that enable us to craft our clients’ overall travel experiences. And, by getting to know our clients personally, we can customize vacations based on specifics while saving them time by taking care of all the details. These are things no computer system can do.
What’s more, millennials are the fastest-growing segment to say “yes” to travel agents due to the overall experience. Gone are the days when a simple “destination, dates and number of travelers” order-taking approach is enough. In an industry that literally offers thousands of resources and countless ways to book travel, your clients are expecting a highly immersive, all-encompassing, personalized experience as well as an expert level of knowledge and service.
So, how can you offer the VIP treatment to every client? Here are the five top ways you can stand out in today’s travel industry.
The Art of Qualifying
This critical first step in the client sales cycle, and arguably the most important one, sets the stage for success. While no two vacations are alike, no two clients are alike either. The majority of the booking process should be spent qualifying your client, getting to know them and asking open ended questions such as, “Where have you traveled before?” and “What is the most important thing you want to experience during this vacation?” A pre-written list of questions can guide the conversation but remember they should not be able to be answered with a simple yes or no. You must spark a conversation. Asking these questions early on helps you work efficiently and enables you to quickly narrow down choices and make recommendations based on specific criteria. Your client will appreciate the time you’re taking to get to know them by showing you care about their vacation as much as they do.
Know the Globe
Your clients are coming to you with the expectation that you will know the world (or the corner of it that you specialize in) better than them. They seek your guidance to provide them with practical destination advice, hotel recommendations and emerging trends better than they will gain on their own. Knowledge demonstrates confidence and perceived value to a prospective client. Bottom line: if a client can get the same information from a travel site, they don’t need you. So, whenever possible, take time to learn as much as you can and stay current. Read magazines, blogs, study brochures cover to cover, take specialization courses, online tutorials and attend supplier training days. Better yet LIVE your career and get traveling! There’s no better way to gain knowledge than experiencing a destination firsthand. Seek out familiarization opportunities and take advantage of travel agent perks from your trade affiliations and preferred suppliers. Plus, don’t forget the importance of your own personal travel to enhance your business and satisfy your own need for adventure. While you are at a destination, meet the managers at the hotel, exchange business cards and leave a good impression so when you call in a favor for your client they will remember you and be happy to accommodate.
Go the Extra Mile
Little touches can make your clients feel special, so take every opportunity to anticipate their needs. Place a call to the supplier rep to have your clients added to the VIP guest list or contact those you’ve met while traveling at the resorts to request a special room location, connecting rooms or an upgrade. Having an amenity sent, such as a bottle of wine or spa credit, can make an anniversary trip more memorable. Sending the family to Disney for a reunion? Why not have personalized mouse ears awaiting their arrival. Offer to set up tee times, spa treatment times, personal excursion guides and dining reservations as part of your service. These are just a few examples of the hundreds of ways you can surprise and delight your clients. Not only does this enhance their overall travel experience but it also builds value in your business. Most importantly, you will be the topic of conversation when your clients come home and tell their friends about their trip, which can ensure loyalty and lead to referrals.
Be the Ultimate City Insider
Your clients are seeking a level of insider knowledge and expertise that only a local or an experienced travel professional such as yourself would know. So, don’t just learn a destination, immerse yourself in it. When you’re traveling, take every opportunity to become one with the city and people you are visiting, live in the culture, dine in local restaurants, take in local sport, find that special shop that handmakes local goods, know where to find the best pain au chocolat in town or Nonna’s handmade ravioli. Knowing the hidden gems of a destination will not only add value but also turn an ordinary vacation into an unforgettable experience.
Forget Me Not
Now that you’ve done everything to ensure an incredible travel experience, built in value, created relationships (and referrals!), and your clients LOVE you, don’t let them forget you. One of the keys to success is repeat business. Don’t assume a client will come back to you. Earn their loyalty by committing to maintaining contact. Set reminders to call your clients before and after their trip, but also on important milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries. A call or a handwritten note goes a long way! On their welcome home call, chat about where they would like to go next, what time of year and ask them when you should contact them to begin the planning process. If you have customers that book the same time each year, set a reminder that it’s time to contact them again. They’ll appreciate that you have thought of them. Stay proactive and WIN those clients for life!
As a travel agent, you hold the power in your hands to literally change the lives of your clients by creating a tailored travel experience. Your clients will choose to invest their time and hard-earned vacation dollars with you, so don’t miss the chance to show them how incredible you are! Take each day as an opportunity to deliver an experience that informs, inspires and changes their perspective of what it means to work with a real travel professional. Investing in your business and setting best practices from the beginning will not only secure your success but help solidify the role of travel professionals as we soar into a future of potential unprecedented success in our industry.