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Agent to Agent: Your Value Versus Online Booking Sites

Dear Tammy: I have a client who always contacts me after they go on to one of those online travel sites. They do this on purpose.

See, they say that they want to do their research first to see how much the hotel and airfare is going to be, so they can compare it to what I say. Now I understand, and even appreciate, that a client does his/her due diligence when it comes to budgeting, but I always feel like I’m walking on eggshells and that all I have to do is say one dollar off from their number and they’ll go buy their tickets elsewhere.

What can I tell them to assure them that they should be doing all of this through me?

Tammy: First, it’s understandable that you’re frustrated and feel as if you’re walking on eggshells. It’s hard to keep clients today with the advent of these online travel sites, so we have to make sure that we’re on top of our game.

What that means is first teaching your clients about the advantages of booking with us and not with the online travel sites.

Let your clients know that obtaining their rates on these travel sites can change almost minute to minute. If they go in and out of the same site to see a hotel rate before deciding—just to see if the rate goes down—their cookies tells the computer that they’ve been here before and actually may make the rate go up. Not always, but sometimes.

Do they want to risk that?

Airline sites are notorious for forcing the consumer’s hand. As a result, the traveler sees that the prices are going up, so they book their tickets as soon as it does and you lost the booking. This happens to many people.

In addition, teach your clients that going in and out of these sites has provided the online sites with some valuable spending habit information. These sites then sell their information, and your client is suddenly being targeted with emails etc., trying to get them to buy into other vacations.

His/her research is extremely valuable information to them.

Travel agents bring more to the table than dollar signs. Teach your clients that. Tell them that we are there if something goes wrong. We are there to do the work for them, booking the trips and the excursions. We have everything ready for them so all they have to do is go to the vacation spot of their dreams and enjoy themselves.

We will remind them of things they might have forgotten about: A dream wedding in another country? Sure, we can do that, but here’s what you need to know about paperwork you’ll need to get married there.

The bottom line is that you’re competing with online travel agents, so to do that you have to act like one. My agency does just that. We are open 24 hours a day and offer price match guarantee. Except we also do all those other things I’ve mentioned too—that the online travel agents don’t do.

If your customer still wishes to do their trips this way, (by researching first and then calling you), tell them to block searches by going incognito on their site and not have history stored when they searching.

Hopefully, once you share this information with your clients and show them your value, they’ll eventually drop their research and just phone you directly.

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: Above All, Sell Yourself

Dear Tammy:

I’m trying to increase the sales of my business, so I do what I need to do. I go on FAM trips and I travel all the time. The truth is, though, while I’m learning about all these destinations, it doesn’t seem to be translating into sales. I know what I’m worth to my clients, but I can’t seem to convert my knowledge into sales. Can you help?

Tammy:

The legendary actor Burt Lancaster once said, “Sell yourself first, if you want to sell anything.” The truth is that if you want your travel agency to succeed, you have to sell yourself as the expert that people should go to. Would you go to a foot doctor if you were looking for an orthodontist? No. You wouldn’t go to a hardware store if you were looking to buy produce either. With any business, you need to go to the right person or business to get what you’re looking for. It’s up to you to market and sell yourself properly.

However, it sounds like you are caught up in one area of being a travel agent and that’s the actual travel. Through the years I’ve noticed that travel agents are caught up in the travel agent world. They are worried about when there will be another familiarization or FAM trip. Many aren’t even open that much and most just have their voicemail on. By the way, in this day and age, not many people leave messages anymore.

For your business to succeed, you need to be able to sell yourself and the products that you are selling.

Studies show that the majority of small businesses fail in their first five years, not because of the product or service, but because of poor sales. Travel agents need to learn to be sales people and owners need to run their agency like entrepreneurs, but not all travel agents have the ability to sell in them, so how do you increase your sales?

I seem to have great luck with sales and growth in my business by hiring outside salespeople. Why? It’s because salespeople are driven by just that, sales. Sales people are motivated and have to keep working. They love working on their own time and making commission. They are also good in getting their own leads. Once you teach a salesperson what to sell, they will go out there and do it for you. It’s a simple fact.

If you’re struggling, then why not pass off the sales to someone else and you handle everything else? Once the salesperson has brought you an interested lead, you can use your travel knowledge to seal the deal. See if that works for you.

Agent to Agent: Dealing with Bad Reviews

Dear Tammy: I have a unique situation and need some help.

While many travel agents are aching to get publicity, I’ve received a lot of it. That’s been great, but with it has come with some negative publicity too. I had one client who posted a scathing review of me on Facebook and Twitter. I remember her, and she was a difficult client who I just couldn’t please. She complained about everything—including the five-star resort, who also said that she couldn’t be pleased. We did what we could to even compensate her but to no avail.

Will this one bad experience ruin me?

Tammy:

Believe it or not, this isn’t a unique situation.

There are many travel agents who aren’t necessarily bad agents but have been the victim of a client-gone-wrong. Ever hear the expression, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Well, throw it out the window because bad publicity can cause quite a problem for your business.

Think about what United Airlines just went through.

In this day and age, all it takes is for one comment, photo, video or review to go viral and it can affect your business. Of course, if you truly did something wrong, then it’s hard to get back in a positive light with your clients and it could take a long time before that negative review is just a blip on your radar.

So, how do you prevent this from happening to you and, if it does happen to you, how do you get over it?

First, if someone posts something negative about you or your company, do not have your knee-jerk reaction be to start defending yourself and posting private information about what happened all over social media. However, don’t avoid the situation either. You can say something like, “I’m sorry to hear that this happened. I would like to talk to you to discuss this.” It shows you’re concerned, but does not admit fault—since you may not be guilty.

Once you talk to the client about the situation and have rectified it to the best of your ability, ask if they would be willing to post a positive follow-up about the situation.

If there is something incorrect in an article, use the comments section to correct the information as well as contacting the writer to see if the information can be fixed in the article. Many writers will run a correction in the next day’s printed paper.

If the situation is minor and will just go away if it’s not addressed, there’s always the idea of saying nothing. Remember that “Haters gonna hate,” and on the internet, someone is always going to say something negative about someone.

How you respond can often be the catalyst for an even bigger public relations debacle. Think before you act and then act professionally. Have a plan in place as to how you can deal with situations like this.

Finally, if you really are doing something wrong in your business that’s causing these bad reviews, fix it.

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