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Agent to Agent: Your Integrity is Your Best Defense

APRIL 05, 2017

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.

Agent to Agent: Building Relationships to Build Trust

MARCH 29, 2017

Dear Tammy:

How do you control when a resort takes your client? I had this awful experience and it really put a bad taste in my mouth about my vendor relationships in our industry.

I had a resort actually tell a client that they could book directly with them instead of going through me. I was so upset. I don’t know how I stop this from happening again. Is it really going to keep happening? Can I trust a resort? I don’t know what to do.

———

Tammy:

First of all, it’s important to realize that every industry has rotten eggs. Unfortunately, you’ll find people who steal clients just because they are desperate for the business and some do it just because they are unscrupulous.

The travel agency industry is, sadly, a victim in this.

I, also, have been a victim. For example, one oceanfront resort in Jamaica has actually taken my clients. I’ve also gone through this with resorts who, once they have my client on their property, have then sold them a resort timeshare or booked them on another trip for a discount. Now, they don’t need me and I’m out of the commission (they say they’ll send a commission, but they never do).

Recently, I had a destination wedding where I actually have a recording where the resort is telling me that the bride can go to them directly and does not need to come through my company, Elite Travel. Unreal.

That being said, we really need to trust that we are working with reliable resorts who won’t take our clients.

Hopefully, we have built close relationships with resorts that want a stellar reputation in the industry. I’ve been in this industry a long time and when I run across a shady resort or vendor, I’m quick to dump them from my list. This is my reputation and I’m not letting anything tarnish it.

Here comes the Catch-22, though. How can you trust a vendor or a resort before you actually work with them? Then, if you work with them and they end up taking your clients, it’s too late.

So, who can you trust and how can you avoid it?

Tune into this column next week, because I’m going to give you some solid suggestions on how you can avoid having this happen to you.

Agent to Agent: Tips for Self-Promotion, The Right Way

MARCH 22, 2017

Dear Tammy: It’s March and, for me, business isn’t going well. I have been working hard trying to get new customers in, but my business isn’t doing the same volume as last year. Any tips on how I can drum up new business?

Tammy:

Boy, I can write a book on how to drum up new business as a travel agent. That’s because there are so many different ways you can reach customers these days. Many of these promotional tools that are at your fingertips do not even cost anything. It’s a matter of finding the time to use them.

First, you need to make time in your day – and I mean every day – to promote your business, even when it’s at its busiest. This is because when business slows down you’re already behind in drumming up new business. Promoting your business is vital to the growth and survival of your company and if you just rely on the people who are calling now, you’ll be in for a big surprise if that suddenly slows down and your name isn’t out there in front of your potential customers.

So, how do you get your name in front of your potential customers?

The easiest and most cost effective way is by using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There’s also Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Tumbler, all are easy to use and do not cost a penny.

Each one of these is a great marketing tool for you. Write a blog post and provide a tip and a photo on Twitter. See a new resort and post some photos on Instagram. Take a short video of your experience at a new destination and post that on Snapchat. Get quoted in a news article and post that on LinkedIn. The more that your name is in front of your customers with valuable information and fun photos, the more you’ll become a respected name they can trust and will contact you when they want to plan a trip.

Another cost effective way of promoting yourself is by using your mouth. Tell people about what you do and make sure your customers tell their friends and family what a great job you did. Much of my business is by word-of-mouth and again that doesn’t cost a dime.

Of course, if you have the budget, consider buying some ad space on google, or on facebook or other social media sites. You can figure out what media works best for you (if you’re not sure, compare all of them and see which one you reach the most customers).

You see, it’s not about how you need to drum up business, it’s when and that is now. It should be a part of your daily activities, not something you do when business slows down. Work hard at promotion and you’ll see that it pays off.

Agent to Agent: What are ‘Strategic Partnerships?’

MARCH 15, 2017

Dear Tammy:

I’ve heard the term “strategic partnerships’”used throughout my travel agency career and I’m just not quite sure what they mean or why a travel agent would even need to partner with anyone. Can you help me figure this out? I really want my business to succeed.

Tammy:

If you want your business to succeed, then it’s extremely important that you wrap your head around this term ‘strategic partnerships.’ A strategic partnership is collaborating with someone who is not your direct competitor. Your relationship is mutually beneficial. Every successful business uses it at some point. Think about how Barnes & noble has a Starbucks in their store or how you can find Dunkin Donuts and Baskin’ Robbins sharing space. Partnering with other companies can make your travel agency business even more profitable.

I know because I’ve done it several times in my career.

In 2013, I partnered with several entrepreneurs, including Kevin Harrington (Shark Tank and As Seen on TV). I’ve also had the chance to form other partnerships in my role as the travel expert on ABC’s Tampa Bay Morning Blend in Florida. I brought in sponsors for the segment. We help each other get the word out about travel.

I have built a career around leveraging partnerships with other businesses. The viewers weren’t watching just me on the show. It made the segments more fun and informative and benefited both of us.

Who can you partner with?

Are you interested in growing locally? Then perhaps you can leverage a partnership with another local business or not-for-profit? How about partnering with a local event that can help to promote your business? Maybe you can partner with a travel doctor to put on seminars about keeping healthy while traveling internationally. You can also partner with a spa or a car dealership as a travel incentive. You can provide trip giveaways with your vendor to promote both brands. The opportunities are endless.

Being a travel agent is not a solitary business, so think out-of-the-box and look at your contacts. You just might find a strategic partnership that works for you.

 
 
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