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Agent to Agent: Digesting the Alphabet Soup

Dear Tammy: I’m new to the business, and all of the industry associations that are sending me information to join are overwhelming me. I’m not sure what to join and how it will actually benefit me.

I don’t just want to throw my money at anything, so can you help me wade through all of the acronyms?

Tammy: Sure, let me give you the ABCs on all of the acronyms!

Every industry is filled with many different organizations that you can join and use to network and grow your business. The most important thing you need to know is that you do not need to join every one right now.

As you grow, you can always join another one, but start off small and maximize your time in the organization that you do choose. Use it to meet other travel agents and vendors, promote your business, educate yourself and, ultimately, gain new clients. Perhaps you can even take on a volunteer or a leadership role. You might even lead a committee, teach a webinar or help to organize a conference.

Here are a few of the travel agent trade organizations and what they do. Take time to research each one. Perhaps attend a meeting as a guest or call and ask questions before you apply or join.

ASTA

Short for the American Society of Travel Agents, ASTA is the world’s largest association of travel professionals and includes travel agents and the companies whose products they sell such as tours, cruises, hotels, car rentals, etc. The organization was founded in 1931 and today has members in 140 countries. They also provide conferences that are held around the world.

As someone new and young in the business, you might be particularly interested in the Young Professionals Society, which helps with networking, education, and career development.

CLIA

Are you a travel agent who specializes in cruising? Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is the world’s largest cruise industry trade association and offers training and certification, online learning, webinars, networking opportunities and more.

CCRA

This Travel Commerce Network offers marketing programs, booking tools, call center solutions, education and training, association and even accreditation.

The CCRA is easier to obtain as a new agent. Their resources, webinars and trainings are the best I have found out there.

IATA

Thiis organization, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is the trade association for the world’s airlines, representing some 275 carriers (83% of total air traffic). It also offers training and events for its members.

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I’m sure you’ll come up with more than what is listed here too, including your local organizations as well.

It’s not an easy decision, but I suggest joining a national organization to help get your name out there to start. You may also consider a local chamber of commerce or travel agent association to help network and grow your business.

Regardless of what decision you make, it’s fantastic that you’re considering joining something that will benefit your business. That’s a great first step!

Agent to Agent: Tweet, Tweet

Dear Tammy: To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question.

Really, should I? I see travel agents on Twitter, but what good would it do me? I don’t really understand what the benefit is and how to even use it. What do you suggest?

Tammy: I think it’s an important part of an active marketing campaign. There are millions of people actively engaged on social media, and it’s been proven to be a successful tool to market your brand, obtain new clients and position yourself as an expert in your field.

However, social media cannot replace a marketing plan; it should be just one component of an overall strategy. It should also complement the other traditional and online marketing that you do.

Also, you shouldn’t go into it willy-nilly. Don’t just post to post. Have a plan.

What is the message you want to get out? Do you want to focus on the trips that you want to sell? Do you want to tweet tips on travel? Create a strategic marketing plan.

If you don’t know exactly what you’re trying to say, odds are that your reputation will be tarnished because you didn’t know who your target audience was or what you really wanted to say.

In one sentence (or in this case, 140 characters), ask yourself what you want your followers to take away from your company. Then, make sure all of your tweets meet this standard you have set for yourself.

Finally, be sure to learn the keywords or hashtags you need to draw attention to your tweet. Instead of writing, “Travel Tips On My Website,” you should tweet “Free #travel #tips on website.” Then, those followers who search “#travel” will have a better chance of finding you.

Make sure to retweet the tweets of others to give them some publicity too but make sure those tweets meet with your brand’s expectations and standards. It should all be part of a cohesive social media campaign.

Tweeting doesn’t have an immediate payoff, by the way. It takes time to build up your name, the same way it takes time with any other public relations campaign. You should keep at it consistently and put in the same effort you would do anything else for your business.

Agent to Agent: Be Ready, Be Helpful

This week, in place of my traditional Agent to Agent format, I wanted to share with my readers what happened with me during Hurricane Irma and how travel agents should be prepared to prevent, and bounce back, from catastrophe.

I was actually out of the country when Hurricane Irma hit.

I left my mother and my husband to deal with our office and home. We live on the water so, of course, we were told to evacuate. My husband, who was watching the weather updates, did not evacuate but went to higher ground.

Our house has had no power since September 11th.  We were lucky because a huge oak tree fell right by our business and, thankfully, did no damage, but we were out of power and internet at the office for two days.

It could have been worse, but we made sure to prepare ourselves for any potential catastrophe.

We have VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). Therefore, wherever we may be in the world, the phones will always ring. Unless the server of the entire phone provider is down, VOIP guarantees that you will not lose business.

Even though we have an actual office, everyone who works for my company can do so remotely from any location. This is also a plus because, again, it practically guarantees you won’t lose business.

Before, during and after the storm, we made sure we took care of all of our clients by working closely with our tour operator and vendors.

Today, the biggest challenge comes now that the skies have cleared.

Florida and Texas are both in a state of crisis. We are a national travel agency, so our clients are everywhere, but many are from these hard-hit locations. Our clients cannot travel right now because, of course, they have bigger things to deal with.

So our marketing needed to change immediately.

We kicked into proactive mode and immediately started additional advertising in other states that were not affected. Calls began coming in.

As a travel agent, you have to be diversified. We sell all products, but we have decided that, right now, it’s in our best interest to focus on Europe and, of course, the Caribbean and Mexico.

It’s especially important to understand that the Caribbean islands’ main source of income is tourism. We need to support our tourism now more than ever.

Rebuilding is what this nation is about. Florida is huge for family travel in the United States. Now it’s important for all agencies to pay attention to tourism in these hard-hit areas of the country, showing the Mouse and our amazing beaches some love.

It’s time to send out an e-mail blast and ask your clients how they are doing. Work hard to start encouraging them to travel. Your business needs this, the hard-hit areas need this and our country needs this.

Yes, we all typically compete for business, but this is a time in our country that we need to rally together.

If you have any specific questions on what you can do or need any other resources or support, please reach out to me at 727-7260-9090 or Tammy@elitetravelgroup.net.

Agent to Agent: A Whole Lot to Learn

Dear Tammy: I’m a relatively new travel agent, and I am doing my best to make sure that I am up-to-date on the most important information I need to give to my clients. However, there is so much training out there it’s making my head spin and my budget hurt.

I really don’t know what the difference is between, for example, product training, travel agent training, FAM, etc. Can you help me figure this out, please?

Tammy: You’re doing a great job so far because agents who are serious about what they do make sure to keep themselves on top of new products, are trained on marketing and public relations, keep on top of all the travel changes on the destinations they service and more.

So the fact that you are eager to learn is a good thing.

Basically, product training will simply give you information about products. For example, at a Sandals product training, you will learn about Sandals offerings. Same with Hard Rock, Hawaii, Australia or Tahiti. Organizations focus on their products. They will show you this room and that property and educate you on what they have to offer your clients.

FAMs or “familiarization trips” are free or low-cost trips that you can take to become “familiar’ with suppliers or travel operators.

Any training you take really means nothing unless you have someone to sell them too—and that’s called a lead. Now you need training on how to get leads, how to keep them, how to sell to them, how to qualify them, etc. The list is endless.

The truth is that you have taken the right steps to make sure you have been trained to learn how to build your company. But you need to take the right training first, and that’s the training on leads.

Don’t take another FAM or product training until you learn about leads. You’ll be building leads all the time and it’s the most important training you can take. Learn what you can!

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