When you become a travel agent, the question that will undoubtedly annoy you the most is this: Do travel agents still exist? You will come face to face with the prevailing perception that the travel agent is long gone. Your profession is invisible.
You weren’t always invisible. Thirty years ago, you had a brick and mortar office and were as common to Main Street, USA as the “Dime Store.” All you needed for a good marketing plan was a preferential listing in the Yellow Pages.
How you became invisible goes back to the 1990’s when the online booking engines emerged and airlines eliminated commissions on all domestic and eventually most international tickets. These 2 blows devastated many travel agencies. So much so that a large portion of them went out of business.
When the dust settled, a new breed of travel agent emerged. Thousands of the displaced desk agents/employees chose a new path – to work from home for themselves. But without the presence of a brick and mortar storefront, and no understanding on how to market differently, this new breed of home-based travel agent fell under the radar of most of the traveling public. Especially since the traveler was totally enamored with their newly found power in the online booking engines.
As an industry, we’ve spent the last 10-15 years complaining about the problem of invisibility. But the solution has been there all along. The solution is to shift from travel agent to travel expert. There is absolutely a demand for travel expertise. TripAdvisor would not have established the presence it has without an enormous amount of demand. And quite frankly, I don’t believe there is a great supply of accessible travel expertise. So the opportunity to make great money as a valuable travel expert is there and it’s huge.
What is a travel expert?
Before I answer the question of how to establish your expertise, I want to define what a travel expert is. One of the biggest objections I hear from those new to the business of selling travel is that they don’t feel like an expert. I think they feel that way because they have an inaccurate definition of an expert in their head. An expert is NOT someone who knows every single thing there is to know about his or her area of expertise. An expert is someone who knows a lot about a subject and if they don’t know something about it, they know where to get the answer. It’s that simple. And the other thing I love telling “newbies” is that to a third grader, a fourth grader is a genius. Own your expertise. You have the resources to get the information you need.
How To Establish Your Expertise?
Your marketing is the key to becoming visible again. It’s not up to ASTA or CLIA or any other travel agent organization. It’s up to each and every one of us. When we all do our part in marketing our expertise and value (instead of products and specials), together, we can put the valuable travel expert back on the radar screen. Here are 3 ways to establish your expertise:
1) Establish a brand with a core compelling message. Rather than be a jack of all trades, pick your expertise and then create a cohesive brand and message around it. Rather than a cruise specialist, become a family travel specialist with the message of helping families bank memories to last a lifetime and develop solid family connections.
2) Marketing content, not products or specials. When your marketing has mostly your supplier information all over it, you look like an extension of your supplier. You look like an agent. Travelers don’t need agents. They have the online booking engines for that, and frankly, the OBE’s are far more accessible, faster and usually offer a better deal. We know that is not the value you offer. So why are you marketing the same stuff as the OBE’s? Instead, market your content. Market your information. You have a lot of knowledge and wisdom stored in your brain. Get it out of your brain and onto your blog, or website or Facebook fan page, etc. When you market your content consistently and authentically, people will begin to see you as an expert. Marketing your content is the most effective way to establish yourself as an expert.
3) Build Know, Like and Trust. As a service provider, there is nothing more valuable than building know, like and trust. Why? Because people do business with the people they know, like and trust. So you must have marketing systems in place to consistently nurture your relationships with your prospects. Once you have implemented marketing systems for distributing your content, you must also develop a relationship with them. The content distribution is what will develop the trust. But you must also be engaging, open up to them, and connect with them on an emotional level. Dale Carnegie said it best, “when people know you, odds are, they will like you.” So let people in. Let them know you.