top 20
1315 days ago
 

Top 20 things every travel agent should do right now, online and offline

NB: This is a guest article by Brian Tan, founder and CEO of Zicasso, an online luxury travel referral service that connects consumers with the top travel specialists.

In recent months, some industry research reports found that more consumers are now inclined to use a good travel agent, reversing a downward trend.

That’s good news for the offline agent industry and certainly there are many reasons for optimism.

However, the travel agent industry continues to be a challenge, with very low average annual incomes and almost no top young talent joining the industry. Yet, there are still those who perform much better than the rest.

As CEO of Zicasso, it’s been part of my job to find these top performers, partner with them, coach them, and make them even better performers.

Based on my interactions with them and analysis of thousands of traveler-and-travel-specialist interactions on Zicasso, I’ve put together a list of 20 useful tips for travel agents.

The ideas in the list are things that every agent can do – right now – in order to adapt to and thrive in today’s environment, in which travelers want personalized attention, good value, and the convenience of the internet.

top 20

1. Specialize

Pick a few destinations or activities and resolve to be a better expert at them than anyone else. Consumers now have access to so much travel information, particularly at their fingertips via the Internet that they have themselves become “generalist travel agents.”  When they seek help, they’re seeking a true specialist.

2. Personalize

Differentiate yourself from DIY, self-service online solutions – and instead give consumers highly personalized service, recommendations, etc., right from your very first interaction with them — whether online, by phone or in-person.

3. Develop a repertoire of unique experiences and special access

It’s all about selling experiences. The more unique, the more value you’re adding.  The more you can get clients access to special events or people, the more differentiated you are.

4. Be complex

Consumers can book the simple trips themselves (e.g. point-to-point trips such as Seattle to Las Vegas). Travelers really need agents for complex trips (e.g. longer international trips or cruises).  Your energy and specialization should be on these complex trips.

5. Go upmarket

Segment the market into two traveler types: Those with more money than time, and those with more time than money.  Agents can only compete for the former segment’s business.  Travelers with more money than time value purchasing a travel agent’s expertise and ability to handle every aspect of the trip.

6. Work with net rates rather than take commission

Especially for custom tours, agents should consider getting net rates from suppliers and marking them up rather than taking commission. This gives pricing flexibility and better cash flow, and reduces the hassle of collecting commission.

7. Constantly do a self-check: Am I delivering the best value?

The market’s constantly changing. For all your products and services that you offer, are you getting competitive rates?  Do you have a variety of strategies to get your clients the most value?

8. Master your pitch

Have you perfected your pitch if clients ask: “Tell me about yourself and your agency,” or “What makes you different from other agents?”  What are the top three messages in your pitch?  Memorize them.

9. Brush up on “trusted advisor” sales skills

It’s a consultative sales job: Most agents can sell a lot more if they can be perceived as a trusted advisor. This means relationship-building and trust-building skills rather than pushy sales skills.

10. Develop a trusted reputation/brand

Get yourself or your agency written up in national media or at least your local newspaper.  Join the BBB.  Get clients to write you endorsements on LinkedIn.  Build your reputation with real traveler reviews on a referral service.

11. Have a good website

Many agents have websites that do them a disservice.  Agent websites need three key things: good design + compelling content + easy to maintain/update.  If you don’t have a good web developer, use services like Intuit Websites or HP LogoWorks.

12. Be incredibly responsive & reachable – use a smartphone

Even when you’re not at the office, use a smartphone to be extremely responsive through voice, email, and social media. Use Google Voice to have one number that rings you at your landline, mobile, or any other number.

13. Improve process efficiency

Most agents have plenty of opportunities to be more efficient in their operational processes. For example, streamline the time to develop a custom itinerary, the time to price a quote, etc.

14. Know when to ask for a fee

I don’t believe there’s a cookie cutter answer on when to ask for a planning fee or good faith deposit. Make a judgment call on this for various types of clients.

15. Engage with social media

I highly recommend a Facebook Page for your travel business. Get your clients to be fans and to post reviews of your services.   Engage them with insights and tips.

It is fine to post some specials or deals, but a Facebook page is best used when it’s less about selling and more about engaging with fans and being helpful with your knowledge. As an example, check out the Zicasso Facebook Page.

16. Partner to get new leads

Be a good marketer – or if you’re not, hire a marketing agency to help you, or use a travel referral service like Zicasso for targeted, pre-qualified luxury leads.  Save yourself the time and focus on the selling.

17. Improve your writing/email skills

Many clients prefer email communications. Good writing is a sales skill that helps build trust and relationship with clients. Take a class to improve this skill and you’ll also improve sales conversion.

18. Sharpen your first response to clients

Obsess over the quality of your first interaction with a new client, whether it’s a phone call or an email.  Making a good first impression plays a major role in sales conversion.

19. Don’t sell deals: Sell expertise!

Many agents advertise deals on their website and send the message that they can find the best deals. It’s tough to beat deals on the Internet, and will be even tougher going forward. Transform your business and your message to sell expert advice and personalized service.

20. Be a lifelong student of change

This industry has changed tremendously and the pace of change will only accelerate. Be a constant student of best practices and be ready to adapt and adopt new ways of doing things….no matter how many years you’ve been in the industry.

And lastly…

I have a request of everyone: as you achieve success, be a role model for the next generation of young agents.

Recruit, inspire, and mentor them.  This industry desperately needs new blood and young talent will only join when they see successful role models.  I wish everyone great success in your continued business endeavors.

NB: This is a guest article by Brian Tan, founder and CEO of Zicasso, an online luxury travel referral service that connects consumers with top travel specialists.

 
 
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About the Writer :: Special Nodes

Special Nodes is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles by guest authors from around the industry.

 

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  1. Nazrin Idham Razali

    Dear Sir/Madam

    I am recently open my home based travel agency. We having a difficulty of marketing our brand and because we have a zero capital after we open the company. Can you help us by giving us an ideas to get client offline and online? Our website in Malaysian cost us so much almost $5000 USD to do the website and some of them charges u $150 per year for maintaining the website. So, what should I do? If can we would like to put our price online. But, we concern of our competitors.

     
  2. NAZIM ALAM

    Yes its all about the trust one generates. I am sure many of us will agree with it. Its all about being true and having concern for time and money that one would like to invest for a great experience. I thank you for sharing this thought. I personally believe in it and have experienced it.

    Thank to all and appreciate the trust generated by many recommendations which follow in return.Every year traveler has thus increased, that gave and continues to give me the opportunity to organize unforgettable moments.

     
  3. Jayesh Pau

    Great Post, Thanks for your efforts to create awesome post, it will help to many OTA (Online Travel Agents), most important thing is create the awareness of your Brand and trust on users, there is many great ways to marketing of your business. Develop creative website with great booking engine and other features, put your efforts in online marketing to generate traffics and revenue.

     
  4. Agnieszka

    I just graduated and due to my interests and travel experienced I decided to open ecotourism business in Poland. In fact the article is exactly what I want the company to be. But I must say that even if I “know” what to do, it’s damn difficult. I have a crisis at least twice a month. But well… Let’s see.

     
  5. racheal

    i am 26 years, my interst is on the lastly bit, its very true there will be no young blood joining the industry once there are no successful role models because times are tough and there is need to strive for the best where ther is the best. am writting from Uganda, A frica

     
  6. Nachiket Patil

    Thank you so much Mr.Brian Tan.

     
  7. Hildah Nthatsi

    Thank you for the tips- Please be our Mentor- we are struggling to make ends meet in marketing and we really need of a mentor and tips/tricks on how to tackle markteing .

     
  8. Triin Linamagi

    Good tips and advice in terms of becoming a good agent!

    When it comes to travel agencies and growing sales, as Romen mentioned, it is a bit more tricky. A lot of TextMagic customers are travel agencies. So we recently decided to share our advice and experience when it comes to travel industry and driving sales.

    So I can give you 5 tips how you can definitely grow customer loyalty, which I believe equals to bigger sales numbers. This is just one of the opportunities but may get you started. At least British Airways and Lastminute.com already do use those tricks.

    Hopefully it helps you: http://bit.ly/12EicU8

     
  9. Somen Ray

    Hi…. I am really confused how to increase the sale in our company without any branding or investment or taking risk. Because our proprietor is not going to do any of this. So i couldn`t get how to do increase the sale..

    Please help me with this as soon as possible.

    Hope you will give me better result.

     
  10. karan jaswal

    Brain Tan !!

    First of all , let me congratulate you with such an impressive article you have post for travel associates.

    Personalizing and getting an expertise to a specific kind of tourism is actually beneficial a lot. We have stick to it from the very start .. Being a founder director , i have always strive hard to focus on my core strength i.e Adventure Tourism . And its my continuous effort to explore best possible Adventure Destinations in INDIA.

    We as a team has succeeded in launching ourselves as one of the companies offering Adventure tourism at its best. And we have followed the same rule ” Specialize and Personalize ”

    The highly impressive point is Number 19 : Don`t sell a deal , share the expertise !!!

    Its our relentless efforts towards sharing the destinations to our sacred clients and friends. The best thing is they appreciate it. And once you are read or listened to , the leads are generated at its own :) you don`t need to run after them ….

    Wish you all the best . And let us know how can we share things further.

    Greets and a very happy new year eve to you !!!

    Cheers !!

     
  11. Christa

    Brian Tan please be my mentor!! I am desperate to learn.

     
  12. ayman

    that was really helpful thank you..

     
  13. Cherlyn

    Please help me out with tips I’m recently starting a travel agency in south Africa

     
  14. Bryce

    Great points on the importance of branding, an online presence, specialization, and adapting to the current marketplace. As someone who provides blog services to travel agents (www.travel-matter.com) I wish more agents would follow this advice–it would bring in more clients!

     
  15. Joe

    Hi Brian,

    Great article! I definitely agree that successful agencies today really have to find their niche and focus on their specializations, which is going to be the main driver of growth in the industry.

    Having said that, there’s one point I wanted to touch upon- namely, the idea that agents should work with net rates. One disadvantage that could present itself is the fact that when the agent presents the itinerary to the traveler, the traveler may then check the rates online and see that the agent marked up the trip, which is not likely to foster a good relationship between the two (even with high end travelers). As much as possible, travel agents should strive to work with wholesalers that are going to pay them in a reasonable amount of time, this way the agent can even present marketing materials with pricing to the client in order to show off the incredible deal the agent netted them. That’s why we make sure the owners on Travel Rental Network (http://www.travelrentalnetwork.com) are ready to pay an agent commission out of the price listed, and even allow agents to print out listings with the pricing, photos, and description intact, but with the owner’s contact info removed (to ensure that the agent remains the sole point of contact).

    Other than that caveat, though, I definitely enjoyed the article, and it was a great summary of how successful agencies are moving forward.

    - Joe

     
  16. Abhimanyu

    Mostly well laid out points here. However, there are a couple of things that should be noted.

    “Those with more money than time, and those with more time than money. Agents can only compete for the former segment’s business.” That’s good theory. But even the best of travelers are today looking for bargains. No one wants to let go of a good deal. A LOT of times, you end up sitting in an auction than a custom journeys firm.

    Product knowledge is often lacking in small agents. And as someone above pointed out, it should be one area where an agent simply cannot afford to lag.

    Do have a couple of question on Zicasso (actually quite intrigued to see some companies on your partner list which do not anywhere close to qualify what you seem to be selling). If you are open to it, we can take it up offline.

     
  17. Dorothy

    Just curious as to what Zicasso believes makes a top travel specialist (is it in terms of bringing in profit, clientele or developing expertise in specific destinations through years of experience in the industry and in travelling) and how one’s name can be added to this list.

     
  18. Brian Tan

    @Jess K. – Thanks for your comments. In my point #1 on Specialization, I wrote “Pick a few destinations” –so yes, I think it’s prudent to be extremely good in more than one destination. For example, pick 2 countries in Europe, 2 in So. America, and 2 in Africa (or Australia / NZ). This reduces dependency on a single country AND smoothes out seasonality of business. It’s a manageable number of destinations to maintain true expertise.

    While it’s impressive that you’ve been to 133 countries, it would be incredibly impressive if you can be a true expert in all of them. I would venture to guess that most agents can’t do that.

    Regarding your comment about Zicasso: We are actually a referral service network and not an agency. We match travelers to top travel specialists on our network. Each specialist is an expert in typically a few countries. Thus, we can service over 50 countries (via our travel specialist partners).

     
  19. JESS K

    Some good points, however, focusing on one destination is NOT the thing to do in todays world. i.e say one was a Egypt, New Zealand, or Japan specialist only, they would be out of business! There used to be a concept called 80/20 rule. As a Manager of Sales and Marketing for a Major International carrier I fought that concept for years, and still disagree. If travel agents focus on one specialty and forgo other destinations, they very strongly face the possibility of losing their clients who want a more ’rounded’ knowledgeable agent that is familiar with the world. Looking at the Zicasso site it appears they have tours all over the world, not just specialized in one area. In my case I have been to 133 destinations around the world and sailed over 100 cruises and feel I can do justice to all the destinations and selling cruises. Knowing tour operators and their specialties is much more important. Specializing in [A} destination means you will deal with new clients all the time and never establish a long term relationship with the client and their family. Very few clients go back to the same destination over and over again.

     
  20. Hilde Geerkens

    You are so right! We are trying to do so within a community/cooperation.(see URL)
    Good summary!

     
  21. Bruce Martin

    A very good list but it’s a shame that ‘continually improve product knowledge’ is not considered to be a top 20 tip. The article suggests agents should become experts but doesn’t suggest how.

    Agent product know-how is one of the key reasons people use agents in the first place and so *maintaining* this ‘expert’ status is key for agents.

    Agent product training is increasingly popular with both agents & suppliers saying it’s a vital to business. Travel agent road-shows appear to be ever-popular in the UK, with seemingly more and more events taking place and new event providers entering the market.

    At http://www.OnlineTravelTraining.com we have seen a huge growth in popularity for product e-learning in the last few years with 80 product courses now live and over 20,000 courses passes in 2010. We survey agents to ask WHY they complete e-learning and the #1 reason is always “to increase product knowledge”. The fact that so many agents take time to engage with e-learning tells us they see a real commercial benefit to continual product learning.

    But hats off to Brian, it was a formidable list!

     
    • Gargi Adhikari

      Hello! Brian Tan,.

      Gargi here from ICMS TRAVEL & TOURISM. We are into both home & abroad tours. Thanks a lot for giving us such a brilliant idea! We will definitely work on it. Great points mentioned on the importance of branding, an online presence, specialization, and adapting to the current marketplace.Thanks a lot once again. I just wanna ask you a question, you have better let us known that how to keep a client & to enhance our business but i would request you to let us know how & from where to get a client? I mean a broker who would provide us clients & at d same time would be genuine,..We will ever remain grateful to you for this.
      Looking forward to your answer at the earliest.

      Best Regards,
      Gargi & ICMS Team.

       
 
 

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