Achieve your business goals and stay ahead of the competition with these 10 action items.
When it comes to doing business, everyone should have a game plan—an overall view of where you are and where you want to go. But in accomplishing the day-to-day of business, sometimes planning gets pushed to the back burner. Have you taken a look at your overall business strategies and planning lately? Check out these top 10 to-do’s of successful travel advisors, then make a plan to shore up any weaknesses in your strategy.
1. Choose a Specialty
You can’t be everything to everyone. It’s that simple. Travel advisors who specialize are able to showcase their deep knowledge and expertise about specific travel segments while building their client base.
“We felt it was important to have a specialty and marketing niche,” says Adam Duckworth, president and founder of Travelmation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “That’s why we specialize in Disney Destinations. Some clients return to Disney Destinations over and over again, but most are looking to explore something different—that’s where we come in. We guide them throughout their journeys to the places they desire to go.”
Michael Migliore, director of sales at Travel Leaders Network, recommends that advisors choose their specialties carefully. “Make a smart choice on what to specialize in,” he says. “Determine who your current clients are. If 80 percent or more of your business is mass market cruise lines, for example, then a specialty of family cruising, multi-generation cruising and group cruises is a perfect fit.”
2. Never Stop Learning
The everyday pressures of running a business can make it difficult to find time for education. Travel advisors who make the effort have a distinct advantage over their competitors. After all, educated advisors are the ones who know the latest about destinations, unique travel experiences, growing markets and lucrative sales strategies.
From webinars to conferences to workshops, the travel industry offers plenty of ways for travel advisors to up their game. “There are so many educational opportunities,” says Duckworth. “In our company we have preferred vendors. We encourage our independent travel advisors to take advanced training with them, and then branch out on their own, to what they would like to specialize in.”
3. Sell Experiences, Not Travel
Countless surveys have extolled the rise of experiential travel. According to the U.S. Travel Trends 2019 Report published by WEX Inc. and Mastercard, unique experiences are an especially big draw for the increasingly important Millennial and Generation Z cohorts.
Savvy travel advisors are well versed in matching clients with unforgettable experiences. “We try to pair our clients with a trip that will exceed their expectations, by learning what it is they are hoping to gain,” says Marie Emmerich, owner and group specialist at Advantage Cruises and Tours in Pinellas Park, Florida. “Are they traveling for simple fun? For adventure? For personal betterment? Once we understand their motivation, it becomes much easier to get them on a trip that will truly fulfill them. Whether it is a culinary tour, mission tour, or ‘people to people,’ I’ve found that clients really enjoy the experience and individuality of immersion travel.”
4. Be Immediately Responsive
It goes without saying that clients deserve your attention. But the extent to which you make them feel truly cared for will affect whether they become a regular customer and refer others to you.
“With the Internet and clients wanting immediate answers, it’s important to stay connected and available to your clients, or they will move on to the next agent,” says Emmerich. “We all have to acknowledge that Millennials and Gen Z want answers now. To make sure we catch all the clients we can, our office has a staff member on call 24 hours a day, every day, as well as staying available via email, text messaging and social media channels at all times.”
Migliore also emphasizes the need to be readily available and fast to respond. “It boils down to giving great service,” he says. “This means calling back on time, answering emails promptly, sending information when promised. Leaving a client in the dark or calling several hours after they anticipated leaves the client feeling like “just a number” or not cared about. Even if you call to say you need more time, the client knows where they stand.”
5. Devise a Killer Marketing Plan
Success rarely happens by accident. A long-term plan for attracting new clients—and maintaining existing ones—is crucial for any agency looking to grow their business.
“Marketing is a huge part of my strategy for agency growth,” says Emmerich. “We make a plan for what type of marketing and what our focus is each month. This, combined with periodic client surveys, ensures we truly have our finger on the pulse of what our customers want. I have found that marketing for our agency is constantly evolving.”
Emmerich notes that industry partners can help make marketing easier. “Thanks to Travel Leaders Network, and their engagement program, we are also able to have printed materials sent to our clients with our branding,” she says. “This ensures that we are truly covering our entire market. Where, when and how we market certain trips or activities has made all the difference in our return on investment.”
6. Stay True to Your Brand
Throughout your marketing—and every client interaction—both the agency and individual travel advisor branding should be front and center. Convey at every opportunity what makes your agency, and you as an advisor, stand out from others.
From the very name of your agency to the font used in emails to the way you answer the phone, every part of your business needs to reflect what you represent and what travelers can depend on.
7. Create an Enticing Website
First impressions count, and for many travelers, the first exposure they have to a travel agency is online—and an attractive, user-friendly website is more likely to engage potential clients.
“A lot of travel agency websites today are still living in 1996,” says Duckworth. “They’re outdated and not refreshed regularly…many travel agencies are stuck in an old world and refuse to get out of it.” What’s a better approach? “Your web presence needs to be clean and crisp with a clear vision of what your organization does,” Duckworth continues. “If potential clients feel that, they will want to work with you.”
8. Engage Through Social Media
With some 3.2 billion social media users in the world this year (according to marketing software company Emarsys), the need to incorporate social channels into an agency’s business strategy is a must. You have to plan well to make the most of it.
“We utilize multiple social media outlets to target different age groups,” says Emmerich. “We have found that Facebook is ideal for the over 45 crowd. Instagram is heavily populated by Gen Z. Twitter attracts almost everyone, but we use it with 35- to 45-year-olds in mind.”
The key, of course, is actionable content that leads to interaction, and ultimately, sales. “We try to post lots of real life photos, videos and check-ins to show our clients what is happening in real time,” says Emmerich. “FOMO—Fear of Missing Out—is a very real phenomenon, and just showing potential clients the experiences they could be having can have a huge impact.” Emmerich adds, “When we aren’t out on trips, we explore Travel Leaders Network’s social media resources for customizable templates and expert advice.”
9. Ask for Reviews and Referrals
When looking to determine if an agency is worthy of their business, consumers generally trust friends and family more than advertising. They’re also more likely to believe the words of a “real” traveler, even one they don’t know.
“Long before someone picks up the phone, they have checked you out everywhere,” she says. “I usually reach out to guests for reviews and request they review us online.”
10. Build Lasting Relationships
Ideally, selling travel is more than just a one-time transaction: It’s an opportunity to establish a relationship that will produce additional bookings and referrals.
“I have found that our clients prefer to book with us because they truly feel like they know us,” says Emmerich. “They are invested in our agents because they pop into the office and everyone greets them and asks how they’ve been.”
She uses multiple strategies to encourage those connections. “I run multiple travel clubs in our community and I am a member of our city’s Chamber of Commerce, which keeps my face and our name at the forefront of our local area’s consciousness,” says Emmerich. “I, and some of our other employees, are social media friends with a large number of our clients—and I’ve found they keep coming back because they know we care about them, their travel and what that travel means to them.”