December 20, 2018 Blog

Over the past year I have said the following line hundreds of times, “There has never been a better time to work in travel!” And now the highly-respected travel industry research firm Phocuswright has released a report validating this statement. Well, what they actually said is, “The rise of the internet, mobile platforms and a plethora of consumer-facing booking options have created an array of challenges for traditional travel agencies. Yet despite predictions to the contrary, travel agents have survived and are even being courted by suppliers and others trying to promote their products.” OK, they used a lot more words, but what they mean is: There has never been a better time to work in travel!

And when I say that I am not being flip – I truly mean it. For the past 18 years I have worked in the travel industry and I have seen an evolution (and I use that word intentionally) of the way the industry works. For people who want to have a salaried job in a brick-and-mortar travel agency, the trend isn’t a great one. But for those who want to create their own business, the future is bright!

Sadly, it isn’t great for everyone who has their own travel business. The travel agents who aren’t doing well are those who don’t have a specialty and just take whatever booking comes along. They are operating under an outdated model of the industry. Somewhere along the line they were probably told, “book anything people want for the first few years and then you can figure out a specialty”. But what really happens when you do that is that you train your clients that you will do anything and you find yourself spending a lot of time booking low commission trips that take a lot of your time. And most of those agents never get around to evolving their businesses to focus on a specialty. Worse yet, when they look at what they are making on an hourly basis it’s depressing. So what do many of them do? Work more hours to sell more of what they already are selling and making very little on.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s a radical idea: Close your doors on December 31 and reopen on January 2 with a completely new mission! Change your name if you want to! Be brave and go after what you WANT! Say no to people who want to book things that are time consuming and make you no money. Continuing to do what you’ve been doing is just going to get you more of what you already have. Is that fueling your passion for travel? Or wearing you out?

OK, enough of the negative. Let’s talk about people who are THRIVING in travel. People are not only following their passion, but making money at it! What are they doing differently? Three things:

  1. They clearly understand their value
  2. They use that understanding in their marketing to reach their ideal client
  3. They charge professional fees because they know they are adding value and they are worth it

If you are working in travel and you can’t comfortably answer the question, “Why should I book with you instead of online?” then you have a problem. If you don’t understand your own value, how is a client expected to understand it? You should be able to easily identify your target market and how you serve them. That value is the basis of your marketing – not vendor ads and promotions. Sure, you can supplement with these things, but for too many agents rely on them exclusively.

And because you understand that value and have a specific skillset to offer you can – and should – be charging professional fees (I don’t really like the term “service fees” because to me it implies to get service you have to pay for it). Recently I visited a travel agent’s website and at the very top – even above the company name – in large bold brightly-colored letters it said “We Always Work for Free”. It literally made me cringe. What does that say to a potential consumer? To me it says, “We are desperate and will take any business you throw our way. We don’t value ourselves and don’t expect you to either.” Free has NO VALUE. Why would you say that about yourself?

And please do not try to tell me that the type of travel most of your clients do won’t allow you to charge professional fees because your competitors don’t. That just means you are all racing to the bottom. Disney is probably the biggest area where I see this. And I know LOTS of Disney-focused agents who charge $250 to $1,000 to assist clients with WDW vacations. And clients are happy to pay it because they know they are getting lots of great guidance.

But you have to be doing far more than “making a booking” to command those fees. You are probably doing it now and just giving it away. And if you aren’t doing it but just focusing on making a booking and moving on, then you have really got to rethink your model if you want to make more money.

So, if you are reading this and are experiencing double-digit growth in your profit (not just sales) then I say, CONGRATULATIONS! But if you aren’t experiencing significant profit growth, or worse yet can’t afford to go on a vacation on what you’re making, then now is a great time for a change! Make 2019 the year you turn things around. It’s never too late. There are lots of ways to make this happen and resources to guide you. But one word of caution: More vendor and destination training or one more fam is NOT the answer. All the product knowledge in the world won’t make you more profitable.

To be inspired by people who are succeeding in their travel business and loving what they are creating, go to our videos section of our Facebook page. Look for the interviews we did this summer with successful agents as part of the Travel Agent Startup Week. They will inspire you with what they are doing.

Or come to the Book More Travel Workshop in February to get your year started off right. But don’t wait to register because there are less than 30 spots remaining before we are sold out!

Or if you want other suggestions, reach out to us and we will be happy to help: joinus@giftedtravelnetwork.com.

Bottom line: I love the travel industry and know that there is a tremendous amount of opportunity, but you can’t operate under outdated notions of how things are supposed to work. 2019 is going to be an amazing year in the travel business and I want it will be incredible for you too!

By Sandy Saburn