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Agent to Agent: Don’t Sweat Airbnb, Just Get Smarter

Dear Tammy: Being a travel agent since Airbnb came into play has been difficult. First, we had to deal with online travel agents who took our business and now this. How are we supposed to compete?

Tammy: 

First of all, relax…seriously.

The travel industry isn’t any different than any other industry out there. There’s always someone who is competing against someone else. There’s always a business where someone else has invented a way to do things smarter, faster, more efficiently, less costly, etc. We’re supposed to compete and always stay on our toes. When one business makes something or does something, our job is to make or do something bigger and better.

Here’s the interesting part about Airbnb and the changes it has had on the industry. Ever since it came into play, villas are a hot commodity to sell.

I recently met with Steve Lassman with Villas of Distinction and our conversation was very interesting. We talked about the fact that Airbnb and other online home rental places have opened the doors to villa rentals around the globe.

Here is something to consider. How is it possible for Airbnb to vet out and screen over four million properties that they sell or do a complete screening of the renter rather than the property owner?

This is a key factor when working with Airbnb and other online rentals. At the end of the day, whatever you sell as a travel agent you are representing. It is a reflection of your business and your standards. Your number one concern should be the safety of your clients and their travel experience.

As for me, I personally would never resell an online product or Airbnb, However, I have found with Villas of Distinction that a lot of the villas are very reasonable and, I can’t reiterate this enough, they are secure and safe with someone there for you 24/7 if you need help for your clients.

I am sure that there are other companies to work with. I am just sharing my personal experience and making sure I have covered my agency from any potential liability. So, when faced with something new, like Airbnb, think about how you can change your business to make it work for you.

Agent to Agent: Working With (and In) the Media

Dear Tammy: My travel agency business is going really well and my marketing and public relations campaign is starting to pay off. I’m getting clients and booking trips.

So, what’s the problem? I’ve attracted the attention of the media and while that sounds great, it terrifies me. I’m nervous about being misquoted and I feel like I stumble in interviews. I see that you do a lot of interviews for print and you’re on television, so I’d like to know if you have any tips for me.

Tammy:
First of all, congratulations because your PR and marketing campaign really seems to be working well. Being interviewed by the press can be a little intimidating, but don’t let it be. With a little practice, you’ll be a media pro before you know it. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Rehearse: Have a friend or co-worker ask you questions that you might be asked by a reporter. Practice your responses, but don’t memorize. You don’t want to seem over-rehearsed. Just practice until you’re comfortable talking about your business and the industry.

Research: If the reporter has given you an idea of what you’re going to be interviewed on, take a few notes before your interview. For example, let’s say that a magazine reporter will be calling to talk about the top five island destinations for summer travel. Choose your five favorites and write out a few notes as to why they made your list.

Of course, this method works great for radio and magazine interviews, but if you’re going to be on television, you’re not going to be able to write out notes. Do your best to remember your facts about each island so you can explain your answers.

Talk in sound bites: If you are on television or radio, keep your answers relatively short. Long-winded responses aren’t necessary. However, if you are doing an interview with a magazine reporter, you can probably go into more detail and they will extract what they want for their story.

Stop promoting: Overall, the media does a great job getting the name of your business out there. Do not start every answer with, “At my business, Ann’s Travel,” or you will most likely be edited. They aren’t looking for an interview filled with ads. If you’ve written a travel book, make sure that you do not respond to every question with “That’s in my book.” Give the reporter the information they need to do their segment or article on you. If they wanted to just take it out of your book, they wouldn’t have contacted you directly.

Follow up: Don’t annoy the media. If they do not respond to your press release, following up once is fine. After that, assume they aren’t interested. However, if they do respond, follow up immediately because they are often on tight deadlines.
Oh, and if you don’t want something quoted—don’t say it!

Agent to Agent: Stop Giving Your Own Business Away

Dear Tammy: 

So far, 2017 has been a lackluster year for my travel business. I have friends who are always asking me for travel advice and I give it to them every time. I do that because I believe that when they are ready to book, they’ll come back to me, but that’s not the case. I belong to a community association and they are always looking for trips to organize, so they ask me for advice.

Again, I haven’t gotten much follow-up business from that. I write articles for the local paper and answer people looking for advice on Facebook, but, well are you seeing a trend here? Aren’t these things I’m supposed to be doing? If so, why isn’t my business growing?

Tammy:

That’s so easy (and it seems like you know the source of your problem).

Why should anyone come to you when you’re giving them everything they need for free? It’s okay to give out ‘some’ advice to people looking for it, but most successful businesses don’t give away everything without a price.

Let’s take business consultants, for example, because their job is just that, to consult with you, but if they give away all of their advice without charging for it, they’d go out of business. For the most part, doctors and lawyers do not give out free advice. Professional trainers charge for their advice by the hour. Professional organizers aren’t going to tell you how you should organize your home. They are going to show you, for a price.

What’s the common denominator in this equation?

All the businesses I’ve mentioned treat themselves as that – a business. Travel is a commodity. You are not your client, Treat your travel agency as a business and not as the end product, a vacation.

Your business is not a hobby. It is a business and you’ve worked long and hard to make it pay off. Start making it pay off like a business today.

The next time your friends ask you to provide them with tips about where to go, let them know you have connections at these resorts or destinations and would be willing to help them set up their reservations. Share the fact that you can get them a better deal. Make yourself valuable. The community associations that need trip advice should be encouraged to partner with you for the trip, so that the booking goes through you. Your friends on Facebook? Some advice is okay, but do the same thing with them. Give them a link to your website that has your trips or excursions or a contact me page.

Every time you open your mouth to give advice to someone, think about how you can turn that into a business return. It takes practice, but give it time and you’ll get it.

Agent to Agent: Your Integrity is Your Best Defense

BY: TAMMY LEVENT

Dear Tammy: Last week, I learned a lot when I read your column where you talked about how we can get taken advantage of by our vendors. I’ve been fortunate that this hasn’t happened to me and was appalled that it even happened to someone else in our industry. Even still, I’m interested in learning more about what I can do to stop this deceit from happening.

Tammy:
Thanks for your words and it’s smart that you want to know more about this even though it’s not even happening to you. Becoming more educated about the trials and tribulations of being a travel agent is definitely a start. It’s important to know the signs and the things you should do to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.

As I mentioned last week, one of the first things you need to do is to work with businesses that have a stellar reputation. If anything stands out with a vendor that shows as being sketchy, it’s important to dump them from your vendor list right away.

There are plenty of fish in the sea who want to work with you in this industry because they know that you can bring them many customers and they aren’t going to steal the ones you brought through their front door.

Why? They know that behind that guest is more, but if they do something unethical, that door closes.

Good businesses respect your ethics and your hard work as a travel agent and, most importantly, if a client does book a future trip with them while on the property, they should compensate you appropriately. The same goes for cruise lines: While on board, they offer your clients great incentives to book with them again, you should be receiving this commission. At the end of the day, they are your clients. There’s no question as to whether or not you can depend on them to do the right thing.

Next, it’s time to talk to your clients. If your client is going to a resort and you know that there’s even the slightest chance that the resort will pull them aside and try to sell them another trip or even a time share, warn them. It’s okay to provide them with the information they need, which means you should tell them why this isn’t right in the industry. Casually mention how you have been there for the client, providing outstanding service and being a voice for them should something go wrong.

The resort can’t do that. They can’t make the client’s plane reservations or be there for them if they lose a passport. Explain to your client that if they want to book a reservation with the resort for another trip, they should come back to you and not book directly with them.

Finally, another way that clients can be taken is through co-branded sites.

How do you know that when the client is on your site, looking at a resort and they get ready to book? How many times have you been on TripAdvisor searching a destination and then in the next three days you get messages via email that give you offers for that same destination? In today’s world and technology we all have the capability to obtain IP address and even their email address.

Remember, the co-branded site is not your site. It is the vendor’s site, and you have access. If you have not received a commission check, make sure you question where your commission checks are and if they have or can get you a report of what activity is coming through on your co-branded site. Sending them through the co-branded vendor’s site, you have led your client away from you. You are the most important brand on your site, so make sure that your site points back to you and not the vendor.

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