By Richard Earls, publisher, Travel Research Online
We are going to look at five common myths many travel agents believe. If challenged, most good agents will disavow these fallacies, yet day in and day out operate as though these wrong-headed notions are correct. These myths are particularly insidious because you can get away with believing them for a very long time before they blow up and ruin a perfectly good travel planning effort, so a bit of care is in order to keep you from falling under their spell.
Myth #1 – Clients Know What They Want. The very reason clients come to a travel consultant is for advice. It is very seldom that a client knows exactly what they want, even if the client says they do. Many clients will come to an agent with the destination in hand, with the hotel and dates picked out in advance. If not careful, the agent picks up the phone and makes the booking without ever discussing the decision with the client. Don’t let a client use you like an online booking engine. Your profession is one of consultation. Slow down the process to one of questions and answers even when the client comes to you with travel plans in hand.
Myth #2 – Clients Expect Too Much. Clients can be demanding. They have impossible budgets and unrealistic expectations. They blame you for every mishap and seldom give you credit for the miracles you pull off. Right? Not so fast. The travel consultant is the expert in the relationship. The task before the travel consultant is to demystify travel for the client – to explain how it works, to provide insight into how to achieve real value. A well-trained client will expect only what the travel agent has led them to expect. As the expert, the travel agent should guide and direct the traveler, steering the client in the right direction, making recommendations and explaining rationales for the selections made.
Myth #3 – The Sales Process Is Difficult. Why do we think this? Is it because we begin with poorly trained clients and then compete with each other, suppliers and the Internet to sell them a product? Yikes! You’re right. The sales process IS difficult. That is not how I want to spend my days. Let me suggest an alternative.
Instead of focusing on selling, focus on buying. Don’t try to sell your clients anything, ever. Instead, assist clients in making a purchasing decision. Your clients already want to buy travel, but they don’t want to be sold anything. This is not just semantics. Don’t get between the client and the travel product. Instead, move over to your client’s side of the table and look at all of the options with the client. Give the client the insight and the expertise you have as a travel consultant. Show them how to achieve value. Help them BUY rather than trying to SELL.
Myth #4 – Price is Everything. I have many times heard a travel agent say that the only thing their clients care about is price. In fact, there is more consistent discussion of price, discounting and rebating than perhaps any other topic among travel agents. As a result, price becomes the lynch pin on which every other aspect of the travel planning process depends: if the price is not lower than the competition, the transaction does not occur.
Naturally, people have budgets. But that is different from making price the central issue in travel planning. A value-centric approach to travel planning emphasizes first what the client will receive for their investment: your expertise, the quality of the supplier, the location of the hotel, the adventure of the trip, the romance of the setting. Once these components are clearly understood, the price will seem a natural consequence of the value.
Myth #5 – Clients Won’t Pay a Planning Fee. Actually, what many agents will tell you is that their clients won’t pay a “plan to go” fee. These agents know that other travel planners collect an up-front fee, but remain convinced that for some reason their clients are different and will refuse to pay any type of advance payment for services. I think I believe in you more than you do.
Indeed some clients will refuse – mostly the ones shopping strictly on price or the ones that will take your research and book elsewhere. Or the ones that spend the least, but ask the most of you in every exercise. Suddenly, an up-front fee does not sound so bad, does it?
Sound incredible? If so, then it’s time to spend an hour alone with yourself re-thinking your psychological positioning. What kind of clients do you want? What are your goals? How do you envision yourself as a professional? Let me step out on a limb and challenge you with this: If you are not charging a fee, is it because you don’t think you are worth it?
Your time as a professional is valuable. The first step in migrating to a fee-based practice is to convince yourself that you are worth it. Once you understand the value of your time, the next step is communicating that value to your clients. You can charge a fee. Your best clients will pay it. Some won’t, and in the resulting calculus you will be a happier travel planner.
By Richard Earls
Publisher, Travel Research Online