Travel agents can increase their opportunities for success by understanding the mindset of their current and future customers. We all make assumptions of how we conduct business each and every day. Unfortunately, many assumptions are not based on solid research or an understanding of our customers. The key is to separate fact from fiction. By understanding the decision making process of leisure travelers, travel agents can better equip themselves to address the issues most important to their clients.
According to the 2003 YPB&R/Yankelovich National Leisure Travel Monitor, the following are the five top reasons why leisure travelers choose a travel agent.
#1 Ability to provide the best options and prices.
It is not just about price. Consumers are looking to travel agents to provide the best overall solution to their individual travel needs. We have a tendency to immediately think price is what sells and not necessarily what the customer wants or needs. Qualifying the customer upfront can provide you with a relevant needs assessment. This can include dates, quality or location of accommodation or stateroom, cancellation policy, recreational amenities, the ease of doing business, etc. It may not just be the price.
No two customers are alike. What works for one may not work for another. Taking the time to better understand your customer, one at a time, can increase your closing percentage. Price is important when it is the only thing you sell.
#2 Saving money.
Saving money is also not just about price. It is more about value. If the hotel was not the right location, if the cruise line was not the right cruise line, if the golf course was not the right golf course…it does not matter how much your customer saved. They will not come back to you. One can save a ton of money and be miserable. Saving money is important to consumers only after they have evaluated the value equation.
Value is what they are looking for. This is where you, the travel agent, can provide a discernible difference. By properly qualifying your customers upfront, you can recommend relevant offerings and also provide cost saving strategies. Moving a date, changing the location of a room/cabin, being open to flight options, etc., all can save money. Nobody wants to pay more than necessary. In today’s environment, it is now fashionable for customers to brag to their peers and friends how much they have saved, whether it is a hotel room, airline seat or cruise. Value perceived and received is critical.
And remember, if the customer has a bad travel experience, you will never hear from them how much money they saved.
#3 Product knowledge.
Customers buy insight. This is the most important attribute next to the offering of pricing and product options. Travel agents can position themselves to be travel experts if they have the proper training and knowledge to back it up. This is why continuing education is so critical, whether you are in an office environment or at home.
Also, you cannot be expert in everything. It is important to narrow your scope in travel products and experiences. However, the key is being the best in what you choose.
Learn about the travel products you are recommending thru fams, site inspections, collateral, the internet, past customers, etc. Your insight is what your customers will pay for…not a brochure or handout. Insight is your most valuable asset.
In addition, accreditation builds trust and credibility. Whether it is a CTC, CTA, DS, MCC, ACC, etc., these certifications help to inform the customer they are dealing with a travel professional. Someone who has taken the time and made the financial commitment to be the best.
#4 Ability to answer questions about my safety/security.
Safety and security have always been top of mind with leisure travelers. Since 9/11, it has become more important than ever. Consumers are seeking out safety/security information which provides them with up to date information on travel destinations. In the world we live in today, this is critical.
One cannot make assumptions about any destination, especially international, without having the insight from up to date information, whether it is political, health related, terrorism, or weather related. And we know how rapidly this can change.
Travel agents can provide a terrific service to their customers by providing this information on a timely basis. Many sources are available. One that comes to mind is IJET Travel Risk Management, www.ijet.com. Others include: www.cdc.gov, www.asirt.org, http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html, http://travel.state.gov/
#5 Saving time.
How is value measured today? It used to be price X quality equals value. However, now, it is price X quality X personalization divided by time and energy.
Consumers have no time. We live in a time deprived society. Six in ten leisure travelers do not feel they have enough vacation time. The value of a travel agent is the ability to provide a personalized travel experience at the right quality and price and most importantly, saving time and energy for their customer.
Sure, one can save money going online and spending hours to find the best deal. But a travel agent does the work and has the insight to match the right travel product at the right price with the appropriate needs. In fact, the value of a travel agent will become more enhanced in the future as the world continues to remain complicated, time deprived and stressful. Consumers will turn to travel experts who will act as travel concierges and consultants.
Price is important, however, leisure travelers are looking to travel agents for more. Being knowledgeable, saving time and energy, offering the best options, staying current with safety/security issues, and delivering the best value are attributes leisure travelers desire in travel agents. In fact, as a group, they are much more important than price.
Travel agents who have the right strategies in place to address these top 5 reasons will achieve greater success in retaining customers and attracting new ones.