With more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, Lynda Sinclair had a lot of wisdom to share.
And share it she did, in a monthly column for Travelweek’s e-newsletter for home-based agents, Sphere. The columns were written in collaboration with Martha Chapman with Tourism Marketing International.
Lynda knew just how strong the home-based sector was, and could be, as it grew exponentially first in the U.S. and the UK, and then in Canada.
Lynda passed away on Sept. 8, 2020 at the age of 60 after battling cancer for several years. A condolences page, where friends and colleagues are invited to share memories, can be found here.
When I met Lynda, she was heading up Travel Counsellors Canada, serving as the host agency’s Canadian operations as General Manager, Canada from 2008 to 2010.
This was after she got her start in retail travel with well-known names like New Wave Travel in Toronto. She joined Ensemble Canada (back when it was still known as GIANTS) in 2000, serving as National Director of Sales until 2004.
From 2004 – 2008 she was Vision 2000 Travel Group (as it was then known), as Director of Operations.
And in 2010 she rejoined Vision Travel Solutions, honing her home-based sector skills again in her role as General Manager of Vision 2000’s Travel@home team before transitioning to her most recent roles as Director, Leisure Business Development (since 2012) and Senior Vice-President, Leisure Travel (since 2014).
Lynda had boundless energy and a great sense of humour. She was also thoughtful and knew the power of personalized service. After I met her for the first time at Travel Counsellors for a media conference, she sent me a handwritten note, to thank me for attending. I never forgot it.
It was a customer service technique she described in this February 2018 Sphere column: “When clients refer their friends to you, be sure to thank them. Something as simple as an old-fashioned handwritten note is a great way to stay in contact with clients and make them feel appreciated.”
Over the years Lynda’s columns for Sphere offered plenty more words of wisdom for home-based agents. Here are excerpts from just a few …
“TACKLING THAT TRICKY QUESTION: MONEY”
Have you ever walked into a clothing store and been greeted by a salesperson saying, “Good afternoon! How much will you be spending today?”
Has a car sales person ever started a conversation by asking what your budget is?
I’ll bet your answer is no. And that’s for a good reason. It’s so easy to get caught up in the price of a trip – the way so many clients are – that it can seem the prime and overriding concern.
Vacations are more about experiences and great memories. Even if the client starts the call, visit or email with “Our budget is $5,000,” let them know you’d like to understand a bit more about where they are coming from before you can make a suggestion. (February 2020)
“SPECIALIZE YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS”
It’s said, “The riches are in the niches” and it’s so true!
There are several reasons being a specialist is so smart. You don’t have to be an expert on everything, everywhere. You will be way more time efficient in closing and processing sales. And chances are you’ll get more referrals than the generalists do, while at the same time cutting down on the time and money it costs you to market your services. (December 2019)
“A GREAT SALES TOOL THAT’S 144 YEARS OLD”
It’s almost impossible to imagine how we would cope with Covid-19 without the Internet. How would we communicate without email, Zoom, Skype and access to online research? We would surely be even more isolated than we already are.
Yet we all own a tool with a history dating back to 1876 and which may be your surprise ‘secret weapon’ during these tough selling times.
It’s your phone. I think we all agree that even if clients are reluctant to commit to booking now, we want to retain them for when the new world of travel – whatever that might look like – reveals itself. (July 2020)
“4 WAYS TO BLOW YOUR OWN HORN”
For an industry based on sales, it’s crazy that so many of us hate to sell. “I hate being pushy.” “Hard-sell is just not my style.”
If you that sounds like you – if you “hate sales” – then here are some great ways to subtly toot your own horn.
Always remind clients when you are upgrading your skills and knowledge for their benefit.
Be sure to recap travels, seminars, trade shows and webinars you have participated in when you write your newsletter or other regular communication with your clients.
Appear like an insider with links to online trade publication articles that your clients don’t have access to.
Stay in touch with your clients when you are away using your favourite social media. (June 2019)
“CLIENT RETENTION: MAKE ‘EM STICK LIKE GLUE”
I’ll bet you’ve had the same dentist for a while. After each visit, do you immediately think: I must look for a new dentist.
Probably not. And if dentists can build loyalty performing a service very few people have at the top of their ‘fun’ list, we should be able to retain our customers as well. (May 2019)
“MAKING YOURSELF STAND OUT”
What’s the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to build your business?
Referrals, of course. A happy client is your best advertisement and worth his or her weight in gold. They may be unaware of it, but they are an important part of your marketing effort, and that’s why when you stand out, you are remembered.
Ours is a service industry and it’s the caring professional service which makes such a difference. It can be as easy as how you answer the phone or how quickly you return calls. (I am always astonished at how often I hear friends and acquaintances say, “But the travel agent never returned my call!” Yikes.) (December 2018)
“WORKING WITH YOUR BDM”
They are your business partner, your ally and sometimes your lifesaver. They are your BDMs. If in life the squeaky wheel gets the oil, in travel the top producing travel advisors get the love and attention of their BDMs. Support your BDMs and feel that love grow! (November 2017)
As an independent agent, you sure have to wear a lot of hats: sales person, researcher, customer relations whiz, part-time accountant (and sometimes soccer chauffeur in the middle of it all). But one important element of your job, and sometimes the easiest one to ignore, is that of marketer.
We’re a people business, of course, but when you are an independent agent it’s even more important that you market yourself. I recommend to all our independent advisors to spend at least three or four hours a week doing marketing. (May 2016)
“YOU MEAN THEY STILL HAVE TRAVEL AGENTS?”
When a stranger asks you what you do for a living and you explain that you are a travel agent or travel advisor, do you ever hear: “Really? They still exist?” Or: “Wow. I thought travel agents weren’t necessary anymore because of the Internet.”
This makes by blood boil. You bet we exist. And you bet we are thriving – even more so.
Try any one – or a combination – of these replies:
- “Actually, we’re busier now more than ever. There’s a ton of information on the Internet, it can be overwhelming. I can sort through all that for you.”
- “I’m not a booking engine. I’m a human. And I’ve got your back in case anything goes wrong.”
- “Not only do we still exist – I’m super busy! I’m able to get my clients upgrades and other goodies because of my agency’s buying power – stuff they’d never get by booking online.”
- “Sure the Internet is great for research. But it can be biased, badly researched or simply false. I’m here to use personal experience and expertise to drill through all that. And hey, would you turn to the guy sitting next to you on a bus and ask for a recommendation for a good restaurant?” (March 2019)