Agency execs weigh in on 9 common mistakes and how to avoid them

This story originally ran in the January 16, 2020 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.

TORONTO — Making assumptions about a client’s budget? We’ve all done it. Forgetting to set an out-of-office reply on your email while you’re away? It’s a small gesture that goes a long way with clients.

The start of any new year is a time for reflection and resolution, to move forward in life with the lessons learned from past mistakes and the fortitude to never repeat them.

With this in mind, we asked various travel industry professionals to list a few common mistakes and how they can be best avoided moving forward in 2020.

1. Making assumptions about your client’s budget.

A common mistake a travel agent can make is thinking the customer is focused solely on price. Not so, says Michelle Suggett, Brand Leader at Flight Centre Travel Group. “While consumers are always looking for the best value for money, this doesn’t always mean the cheapest. We encourage our agents to have more robust conversations with our clients to best understand how to get the most out of their holiday versus focusing on the cheapest deal for a destination.”

Flemming Friisdahl, Founder of The Travel Agent Next Door, agrees, and says the important thing is to not make assumptions about what clients can afford.

“Years ago, when I used to work for Sears Travel, I came back from Egypt and did three consumer evenings in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary,” he recalls. “I needed my fellow travel agents’ support to get these consumers out but they all said their clients wouldn’t be interested. I ended up selling out two groups of 50 passengers each in two weeks. The #1 comment I got from the customers was, ‘I didn’t think Sears Travel sold these kinds of trips’. You may not know that what your clients are actually looking for is a bucket list trip.”

2. Disregarding the value of social media.

No longer considered a passing fad, social media has long since been established as an invaluable marketing resource for businesses of all sizes. No other medium offers the kind of immediacy, convenience, and direct line of communication to clients like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms.

Suggett encourages agents to get personal on their platforms to build an instant rapport with clients. “We encourage our agents to share their holidays through their social channel channels so that the people in their networks can witness authentic experiences,” she says, recommending apps like Hootsuite Amplify to share content about destinations, tips and product offers. “The more we showcase our experiences and travel knowledge, the better opportunity we have to connect with people who want to travel.”

3. Failing to promote yourself in the community.

Taking the concept of social media one step further, promoting yourself and your services in your community often goes unlooked. This, says Friisdahl, can be a crucial mistake as it’s a missed opportunity to market your brand to potential clients closest to you. He suggests attending small community events like farmers markets, or having a booth at a Canada Day celebration, or having friends and colleagues hand out your business card with an offer for a first booking. And another good way to get your name out there?

“Have you ever sent your local newspaper a press release after you just got back from a fam to tell the people in your community that you were just there and would love to tell them about it?” adds Friisdahl. “It’s simple and easy and doesn’t cost you anything.”

4. Specializing in too many things.

Being a jack-of-all-trades is typically a good thing when it comes to the workplace, but sometimes focusing your skills on just one niche can go a long way. Mike Foster, President of Nexion Travel Group-Canada, says that the most successful travel advisors he has met settle on a niche after considering a few questions: What am I good at? What am I passionate about? Can I add measurable value?

“Today’s travellers have a world of readily available information at their fingertips and have become exceptionally savvy consumers,” he says. “Ironically, it is that same information overload that makes an advisor more valuable than ever before. But they can only add value when they know their niche. With a marketplace that can potentially extend to the whole world, it’s easier than ever to connect with prospects anywhere and, therefore, almost no niche is too small or focused.”

5. Missing the chance to upsell.

McDonald’s didn’t make their billions off of hamburgers, says Foster. Where the fast food chain really makes its money is through its French fries and soft drinks. This approach to maximizing each sale to every customer serves as a lesson to all travel agents.

“The most successful advisors don’t just sell one component but also offer to help with the other parts of the total travel experience: hotel, car rental, tours, transfers and insurance,” says Foster. “In doing so, the advisor isn’t only earning more revenue for themselves, but they’re also providing their client a valuable service and are less at risk of the client going elsewhere for services. The relationship is strengthened and the client becomes far more likely to use their services again and recommend the advisor to their network.”

6. Passing on travel insurance.

In that same vein of upselling and maximizing revenue, selling travel insurance often falls by the wayside for agents. To some, it may seem like a lost cause since clients tend to rely on credit card coverage to cover any expenses incurred during an emergency abroad. But it’s important for agents to explain the many benefits of travel insurance that their credit cards don’t typically cover.

Says Christine James, Vice President of TL Network Canada: “Travel insurance is a win-win for you and your clients. It protects the agency and the traveller, giving them peace of mind while they’re preparing for and on their vacation. While travel insurance helps add to an agency’s profitability, more importantly it gives your client options should the unexpected occur, whether it’s a trip disruption or medical emergency.”

7. Not taking advantage of consortia programs.

For agents who are part of a larger consortia, a ton of marketing materials, resources and special offers are at their disposal to help inspire clients to book their next vacation. “Be sure you’re in the know about all the marketing support your consortia has available, and make an annual plan to tap into those resources to generate new business and keep loyal customers returning,” says James.

TL Network, for example, offers digital marketing, direct mail and social media marketing programs. “If your network/consortia is not delivering you new customer leads, find one that does,” adds James.

8. Forgetting to have an out-of-office reply.

It can be said that the smallest gestures can make the biggest impact. An example of this, says Friisdahl, is setting up an out-of-office reply email that best represents you, the travel agent. As he has seen, many agents forget to implement an adequate standard reply with up-to-date contact information when travelling or out of the office.

“For any email that comes in say, after 5 p.m., or while on vacation, just simply listing the hours you are available for clients to contact you is important,” he says. “If you want a consumer to spend thousands of dollars with you, then you need to look professional and tell them when you are available.”

9. Saying ‘no’ to additional training.

Education is key in the travel industry, and without it travel agents run the risk of falling behind the competition. It’s been proven that continuing education and specialization credentials attract new customers and result in new business, says James. “Ensure you are taking advantage of education programs offered by your network and specialty programs offered by destinations and suppliers.”

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