Written By: Joanie Ogg CTC, MCC, Co-founder and Editor – Travel Professional NEWS®
This was the topic of a thread posted in the Travel Professional Community lately and talk about a “Hot Topic”! Travel Professionals in our online community had some amazing comments and suggestions to the agent, Misty Bellet of Bellet Travel in St. Louis, Missouri, posted this message looking for thoughts and suggestions from colleagues who may have been in the same boat at one time or another. I found this thread to be enlightening and such a great conversation, that I thought sharing some of the highlights here in our May issue of Travel Professional NEWS® would make for an interesting read.
Misty posted that she often gets asked by people how to become a travel agent and she is honestly not anxious to help them set up shop in her small rural area and become her competition. She said she can handle that, but not this! Her best client messaged her and said she wants to be a travel agent and because Misty is so good at being an agent, her client wants her to tell her how to do it too! To add insult to injury, when this client is actually a close friend and family to about half of Misty’s current clientele. Her pain was felt by more than 1500 other community members in the forum who read and shared their thoughts and suggestions. Here is a sampling of their ideas.
How to respond?
Several agents had suggestions on how to respond in hopes of a good overall outcome.
Josie Morris, Dakota Travel in Rapid Vity, South Dakota said “In this situation, it is best to just let things be what they will be. I think the client will definitely find out it’s not all perks and vacations 24/7. It’s hard work and dedication! I think what you have done is perfect so far and please let us know how this turns out and what comes from it!!! Hopefully it is a blessing in disguise no matter what happens!”
Amy Simoneaux with Horizons Unlimited Travel, in Arlington, Texas, shared, “I have had a few clients and friends in general ask about wanting to get into the travel business and if I can assist them with this. Some of them do not even travel much. I send them a long (and friendly) email (or have a long conversation with them), asking what they are wanting from this career: In the email or phone conversation, I explain how and why I got started in the travel business and the time it takes to develop clientele (all done in a very friendly, positive, but frank manner)”
Kirsten Fairweather of Fairweather Travel in Rapid City, Iowa said “ I often get friends who decide they want to become a travel agent. I tell them that if you are looking for discounts, do not get your hopes up. I also say that this job is 24/7 7 days a week and some days are very challenging with flight delays, etc. I tell them they need to set up their business, get a website and email, purchase business cards, pay for E&O insurance, find a good host agency. If they sell travel to people in a certain state they need to be registered in that state. Once they hear of all the upfront costs, they tend to change their minds.
Preston McKinney of Odyssey Travel in San Antonio, Texas and Geoff Millar with Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel in Phoenix, Arizona both shared that welcoming her to work as a sub-agent would be the best way to approach this situation. To that end she would not completely lose this clients business and instead perhaps would gain additional business from her other contacts. Geoff also suggested “The first question I would ask her is why does she want to become a travel agent? Then sit back and listen. Once she answers you can give her a detailed answer. Rather than speculate just ask her why.”
Jesse Morris of WeBookTravel LLC in Henrico, Virginia had some great thoughts on this. “I find that honesty is the very best policy when it comes to discussing what becoming a travel agent means. Far too often do people think that they have so many friends and family that they will definitely be successful. The first thing I share with people who say they want to be a travel agent is what happens when something goes wrong. Do you really want to risk a close friendship or a family relationship because a vacation went wrong? Remember, we can do everything right and still something can go sideways and regardless of whose fault it is, clients still will point thefinger at us. Thats assuming that friends and family will even do business with you. Often they choose someone else because of the awkward position that comes with close relationships and sales. Talk to them about where they expect to find their clients and help them to understand the uphill climb that comes with building a business. If they still want to move forward then they are going to do so with or without you.”
Jan Shaughnessy of Sail Away Travel in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee had some excellent suggestions. “I would let her know that she first needs to decide on her business model. What does she want to specialize in booking? She needs to do her research and warn her about the MLM’s out there. She needs to realize that travel agents don’t book on Expedia/Travelocity/Orbitz or whatever else where everything is just all neatly put together, here’s the price, bam they’re booked.
Let her know about all the hours of training to learn the products, the lingo, and what are the better suppliers. Let her know she will have to learn how to qualify clients and ask the right questions, to match them up with the right product. Let her know there is a lot, a lot, a lot, of hand holding. The booking is over once it’s booked. She will have to send out reminders for final payments and stress out when she doesn’t get replies back from people and their booking is about to cancel because it isn’t paid.
Let her know all the things travel agents do on a daily basis that they don’t see. Also let her know how we are truly paid. IE: A $1000 cruise is half taxes and port fees and non-commissionable that we don’t get paid. An air/hotel package is either little commission on the air or none.
Let her know about E&O insurance, cost of belonging to associations, cost of going to conferences for training.”
Some things to consider both good and bad
Overall, most agents felt that trying to make this a positive by getting the client to work with Misty was a good approach. There are also some risks and other important things to consider as shared below.
Mark Mundon with Galaxy Travel in Palm Harbor, Florida had some great ideas as well. “If she has to start from scratch, the way you did, do you think she will stick with it? If you take her on as a sub-agent, will she stay with you after you’ve invested a lot of time training/helping/answering her constant questions? If she realizes it’s not an instant job with pay, yet much invested time, getting calls in the evening and days off, if you take any, it might not look so good to her.”
Karen Dawson of Southlake Travel in Southlake, Texas said “embrace” her into your life as an agent…be her mentor. This way you’ll be close to her, know what she’s working on…giving her encouragement. Hopefully you can give her direction…and she may open new business for you as well that she can’t handle!… Look at it as a wonderful opportunity for you.
There can certainly be a downside to this as well as Geoff Millar states “The other thing that can happen is when you lose a high producing IC that goes off on their own.
We lost two with a total production of almost 2 million dollars. The thing that bothered me the most was that in both cases it was the Tour Operators who encouraged them to go off on their own. It was a case where the BDMs that were located in the ICs territory were not getting credit for the sales the ICs made because it was through us so, in order to get credit the BDMs in their territory offered them the same commission level we were on and encouraged them to go off on their own. So we had to make up 2 million dollars in sales. I am pleased to announce that after 2 years of hard work we have made it up and exceeded it. It just seemed daunting at the time. Just a warning for those who have high producing ICs that this can happen so plan for what you can do to prevent it or when it does happen.”
Misty was so appreciative of all the amazing responses and ideas shared. She posted this most recently and hopefully she will get a positive response from her client and wannabe travel agent.
“Thank you all for the amazing responses! This site is so very helpful in all aspects of this business! So here’s what I did – I messaged her back with a long, detailed post of honest info on what I do. At the end, I told her if she is still interested then I’d be happy to have her work with me.
She thanked me for being so honest, told me she was a little surprised didn’t realize all that went into it (Lol), she would be thinking long and hard about it, and if she decided to go for it she would love to work with me. I’m not so sure she will work with me, rather than go on her own, but I’m also not sure she will even try it now. I think she, like all others, thinks this is just an easy peasy job with amazing perks. So, we will see what happens. Some of you have suggested explaining to her that she can’t take my clients, well that’s out the door. My clients that she’ll take are her family and best friends, so she will take them and there is nothing I can do about it of course. All I can do is pray and continue working hard to make my clients happy! :)”
Needless to say this topic was certainly one that hit home with many agents in the community. What I love about our online forum is the willingness to share honest and openly between one another and to help each other solve and or work though issues that we all deal with one time or another as travel professionals. If you are not a member of the community, I encourage you to join the free support system for travel professionals. Just go to www.TravelProfessionalCommunity.com to join this forum of over 15,000 travel professionals.