Angela-Landry,-TPI-Advisor-Panel
Angela Landry, TPI Advisor Panel

Service fees are a must, especially now, say TPI Advisors at TPI Re-Ignite

TORONTO — Travel consultants need to value their worth, especially in these difficult times when there’s so much to do and very little compensation.

Service fees should be an integral part of any travel advisor’s business plan going forward, says TPI President and CEO Zeina Gedeon and several TPI Advisors taking part in yesterday’s ‘If I Knew Then What I Know Now’ TPI Re-Ignite panel.

TPI Advisors Kim Hartlen, Angela Landry, Marianne Southall, Dorothy and Brian Bystrom and Ashley Doell all shared their wisdom and best practices during yesterday’s session, moderated by Gedeon.

The focus wasn’t solely on service fees, but given what travel agents have been dealing with for the past eight months – hours and hours of rebooking and cancelling clients’ travel plans, all for free – the subject of service fees was a timely one.

The four-day TPI Re-Ignite conference drew 400+ TPI Advisors and more than 40 supplier partners. Travelweek is TPI’s media partner for the event, with exclusive coverage all this week in Travelweek Daily.

Doell, based in Warman, SK, says the one thing she’d change if she could, in the wake of the pandemic, is charging service fees earlier. But hindsight is 20-20, and better late than never. “When I look back on it, I’m embarrassed that I did so much work for free. But live and learn,” says Doell, who added, “If I’m working, I’m earning.”

Doell sent a heads up to all of her clients about her new fee structure, and she says the reaction was “overwhelmingly positive”. One client in particular stands out. “He said, good for you, and he told me profit shouldn’t come by chance. He told me I should know where my money is coming from.”

She also says it wasn’t an easy decision to charge service fees. “I was terrified. But I’m really happy I did it.”

TPI Advisors Dorothy and Brian Bystrom, based in Edmonton, are also getting onboard with a service agreement that includes service fees. “We’ve got a consultancy fee for pre-booking and a management fee for after the booking,” says Dorothy.

For many agents the COVID-19 pandemic has been an ‘aha moment’, as they put in long hours, week after week and month after month, to assist their clients with disrupted travel plans. Dorothy says service fees have become a real mindset for her post-pandemic. “I have no fear and no embarrassment moving forward to put together a fee schedule and send it out to clients,” she says.

Gedeon says she urges TPI Advisors to consider service fees. “Electricians, plumbers, they all charge for their time. So why are we as professionals doing things for free? After going through COVID, we want to help our customers, but we don’t want to be left holding the bag.”

MORE BEST PRACTICES

The Bystroms are also using communication logs to track interactions with clients, and suppliers. “It’s a detailed account of important conversations, so that I have that information to refer back to,” says Dorothy. Communication logs are especially important in these days of ever-changing policies, she adds.

Doell said another lesson she’s learned is to focus on your specialties: “Don’t be afraid to turn away business that is not your niche.”

An agent who knows niches is Kim Hartlen with Kim Hartlen Travel-TPI in Nova Scotia. Hartlen’s been doing Sandals Resorts groups for 14 years now and says she’s blown away by how successful it’s been. “I typically host two groups a year, in spring and fall,” said Hartlen during yesterday’s session. “My first trip to Sandals was 23 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I thought, why don’t I start hosting groups and bringing some added value? I’m so excited by how well it’s going.”

Hartlen’s value-added touches include everything from meeting clients at the airport with fresh coffee, as early as 4 a.m., to private cocktail parties in destination. Clients who might then take a vacation at Sandals on their own invariably come back to her, because it’s not the same without the added perks, she says. “All those nice little touches that make people feel special, that’s the difference,” she says. “It’s my passion.”

TPI Advisor Marianne Southall, owner, Women’s Travel Club, specializes in women-only small group travel. While the pandemic has disrupted her business just like it has for everyone else, looking ahead to 2021-2022 she has between 20 and 30 group departures on the books. “It’s just snowballed, it’s doing really well,” says Southall, who is based in Welland, ON. Her lesson learned from the COVID-19 crisis? “Don’t take anything for granted, and be prepared.”

Angela Landry, a TPI Advisor based in Nova Scotia who specializes in corporate travel, and charges service fees, sums up her greatest lesson post-pandemic: “Do what you love and do it well and people will pay.”