August 23, 2010
What Did Your Client Just Say?
It's amazing how a few words can change everything. Years ago, I was in the midst of a summer romance with a young lady who had all the physical features I salivated over since my adolescence. She was very sweet, very fun and had a free spirit take on life that made the relationship very laid back and drama-free. But then, something happened.
After hitting up the Bank of America ATM for some cash to take said young lady out to dinner, she said something I will never forget. After suggesting I change banks, I asked her why, and she said, "Think about it... if the terrorists attack a bank, which one are they going to hit first? The Bank of America."
It was right there and then that I realized this relationship was not going to last past summer. Fortunately, we ended things well and still keep in touch. But that was a personal relationship which had little to do with my career or business. So I'm curious as to how agents react when one of their clients says or asks something that makes you do a double-take.
ASTA recently shared a list of the most outrageous travel queries the Association's agents have ever heard, and it was indeed filled with some doozies. So we asked readers of our Facebook page to share some of their more bizarre, but perhaps entertaining, stories as well. Get ready to laugh, because here they are:
Phyllis R Chambers' client asked "can you drive to Hawaii?"
Kimberly Mann Phyllis had a client with a similar misunderstanding of the Hawaiin islands who said they "want to do a four-day cruise, from New York -- to Hawaii."
Karen Lowry's traveler asked, "Can you take your beach chairs on the cruise ship?"
Dianne Papineau had a customer how asked that she "figure out why she hadn't received her Italian rail pass, she was leaving the next day, when she chose not to book it through me, didn't have a confirmation number and wasn't sure who she purchased it through. Maybe a scam as I worked for AAA at the time and she thought I'd just give her one since she was a member?"
Meanwhile, Shop Around Tours "was escorting a tour and got a late night call from two pax because the sink in their room was stopped up. I told them I neglected to pack my plunger and asked them if they called the front desk or housekeeping. Nope, they just called me... as if I was their personal plumber."
Vacations To Remember had a client who asked, "Do I need a passport to go to Hawaii?"
Sharri Moore Cta Ds had two outrageous questions to share. One said she wanted to meet her boyfriend on his sabbatical in India and asked, "Can't I take a train?" The other, who is a receptionist at a law firmm asked "Where is Tokyo?"
Natalie McLeister Smith had two head-turning questions proposed to her as well. The first was, "Do I need a passport for New Mexico?" The second was, "I can't take the train from New York to London? It looks so close on the map."
Sue Clark Koenig's most outrageous questions were "Will I be able to fish from my balcony on the cruise ship?" and "I don't have a passport - can't I just fly to Tahiti? Then I won't really touch another country." '
Virginia Tucker See had a client who said "No one told me I needed a visa... all I have is a Mastercard," and another who "wanted to know if they had a felony warrant out for their arrest if they could still go on a cruise they have already paid for."
David Huber had one traveler flying from Phoenix to Seattle inquire, "So if I am flying to Seattle on Southwest, does that mean that I will be returning on Northwest?"
Terry Guy Larke had a customer who asked, "My son is on a plane to Vancouver can you tell me if he arrived?"
Idress Cheriet has a star-struck client who asked, "How many famous people am I supposed to meet in St. Barth?"
Finally, at least for now, Carolyn Mysogland Dudgeon "had a guy come back from Mexico and complained because I didn't tell him they don't speak no English down there."
In addition to asking readers and agents to share some of the more ridiculous comments and questions made by their clients, I'd also like to know how do you respond? As I mentioned earlier, my unfortunate moment with the lovely lady cited in the story above ended easily and did not affect my business. But when a client asks or says something so stupid, how does that affect the means in which you do business with them? Is there incompetence or craziness worth your time? Does their absent-mindedness serve as a positive in that your expertise becomes more valuable?
Let us know your stories and how you responded, reacted and/or followed up. We want to hear from you. Post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page. Join the discussion thread at AgentNation.
By: Kirk Cassels
August 04, 2009
YTB Critics, Defenders Exchange Points Online
As YTB's annual convention kicked off last week, George Dooley interviewed one of the company's staunchest supporters, Doug Bauknight, to get a viewpoint from a defender of the company. To balance it out, Dooley followed by publishing an interview with YTB critic JohnFrenaye, who analyzed the company's financial figures. Needless to say, the comments are flowing in quickly.
YTB critics were the first to chime in on the matter.
Rosie seems to just plain hate the company, writing:
YTB is a blight on our industry. The worst thing from my perspective is not the MLM concept, which anyone familiar with it knows is nothing short of a Ponzi scheme..."join us, get others to join us and eventually you'll be rolling in the dough" only most everyone who does never really makes money, they lose it", the worst thing for me is fighting the perception that a YTB "travel agent" is comparable to myself or any other true professional in this industry. And I know they insist on claiming they are travel professionals...but I have to laugh when they do show up at industry functions...and without fail they attempt to RECRUIT myself and every other agent present into YTB...at the same time telling you they're also a teacher, a nurse, a real estate sales person, a singer....I've heard so many! If you're one of those you are not a travel professional...you can't do it all. When people ask me what the value of using an agent is after they've dealt with a know nothing YTB fraud...it'
JJ, meanwhile, sees potential in the company if it makes certain charges, stating:
I think John Frenaye wrote a very valid, balanced piece. I have also talked to those involved in YTB and don't get it either. They would make more money, get better training and respect if they left to join a host without the MLM component. If YTB wants to be a serious seller of travel they need to get rid of current management and/or sell to someone with Industry experience. The Tomers have burned too many bridges to be taken seriously.
Simon says he's sympathetic toward YTB members, commenting:
At first I was angry with YTB people trying to get all the perks with none of the work in the travel industry. Now I feel sad because there are quite a few YTB victims who really wanted to make a career in the travel industry and were duped, conned and scammed. I'm sure "Coach" sleeps well at night on his expensive mattress, you all paid for it.
Eventually, Robert Cooper, an admitted YTB agent, joined the discussion not to attack any commentary made about YTB but to state his personal case, which later received direct responses from other users. Cooper said:
Frenaye's numbers maybe correct and I respect his opinion but I have been a RTA with YTB for 7 months now and Its working for me. I own a home based business making a residual income, enjoy discounted travel, taking quality TA classes online all for 49.95 a month, not to forget about the great support team backing me. if theres a better agency for the buck please let me know and I'll check them out!
Responding to Robert's comment, DB said:
@Robert Cooper if you did ANY type of investigation into the TRAVEL business and not the RECRUITING business, you would know the others. If you read any TRAVEL trade press you would know. Your "training" is not free. It costs $149 for FCT and then you pay per installment of the Mancini stuff. The stuff you hear on your phone calls is nothing more than what legitimate travel professionals hear from their sales representatives when they visit their offices or call them on the phone PERSONALLY.
Loretta followed DB's lead, adding:
But Robert, are you earning any of that money actually SELLING TRAVEL? Or are you just recruiting "your competition and mine" to keep building your "residual income"? I'll grant you that income is income in these down economic times, but please don't think that actually validates YTB membership as a true seller of travel opportunity!
Meanwhile, Tom H. seems to be somewhere in the middle and looking for some fair, non-targeted criticism, saying:
Having read Mr. Frenaye's blog for the past couple of month's, I wouldn't exactly hold him up as an impartial source of information. While I can't dispute the numbers he uses in this article, it is obvious that his interest is doing all he can to kill off YTB as a company.
What he fails to point out when he states that"While the rest of the industry is being battered by the economy and seeing business being off anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent, YTB’s numbers are off 52 percent (travel commissions earned 08/09)." is that none of the other host agencies in the travel industry has been subjected to the attacks, constant and vitriolic that YTB has. I'm not trying to absolve YTB of any of any responsibility that they have in their current plight, but who could withstand the constant criticism on blogs like John's along the constant reference to the settled and/or thrown out lawsuits?
Agents and readers can continue the discussion at TravelAgentCentral by posting one comment after the other, or they can engage in dialogue in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all types of travel agents. Join in or sign up now.
By: Kirk Cassels
July 17, 2009
A Real, Live Trip Advisor
The advent of online travel sites has been a thorn in the side of home-based agents for some time now, but an experienced, well-traveled agent can turn the online invasion in their favor. For instance, have you ever had a client come to you with a specific hotel in mind that they read about on TripAdvisor? As most agents know—and as the Associated Press reported this week—TripAdvisor and other travel review sites can be victims of false reviews. These can either be negative reviews from a competitor or other third party with an ax to grind, or glowing reviews from someone inside the hotel.
To TripAdvisor’s credit, the site has been quietly but diligently flagging disclaimers that warn customers of hotels writing fake reviews to improve their popularity rankings or hurt competitors. Still, the mere presence of those disclaimers show that TripAdvisor has a problem with fake reviews. Other sites such as Yelp or Priceline can be subject to the same situation.
Agents should stress the importance of personal experience they can offer their clients—either firsthand knowledge of a property or referrals from other clients. Advise them that these sites can be a good preliminary guide, but in the end they should put their faith in a professional. It’s too easy these days for travelers to base an entire trip on relatively anonymous information from the Internet—and it can be a costly mistake. Remind your clients that they don’t want to be the ones writing the next negative post on TripAdvisor.
June 25, 2009
Is Youth Being Served?
For home-based travel agents looking for a niche to build on, you might want to listen to the words of travel and tourism consultant Doug Shifflet, who noted at a recent Travel Agent roundtable event that “A lot of younger people are using travel agents [today] because they don’t know where to go, how it all works, how to get a good deal.”
I thought about that during my meeting this week with Greg “Fish” Fischbein, president of Contiki Holidays. Contiki focuses on vacations for 18- to 35-year-olds—hardly the typical demographic of your clients, but one that you should be focusing on.
While boomers are cutting back and holding on to their money during this economic morass, this is the group that is least affected and perhaps most willing to pack up and travel. Fischbein notes that “the youth market served by Contiki has shown exceptional resilience throughout this historic economic downturn. No property, no portfolio, no pension—no problem!”
This is also a group that has traditionally not worked with travel agents. They’ve come of age in an era of Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and the like, so it’s up to agents to reach out to them and show what you can offer. “More agents are seeing the value—immediate and lifetime— of this demographic as the more ‘traditional’ clients stayed home this year,” Fischbein told me.
Many of you currently hold small events in your communities to promote your latest offerings—think about connecting to this segment through the local college or Starbucks or wherever the “millennials” gather in your area. And, of course, don’t forget the power of social networking with this group. (For more on that, be sure to register for Travel Agent’s upcoming webinar.)
June 15, 2009
What Do You Do When Things Go Wrong?
This week, Londoners were left stranded when employees of the Underground (or Tube) went on strike for 48 hours. The city seems to be back to normal, but there have been rumblings of another strike soon. (Keep checking in at TravelAgentCentral.com for more information.)
The strike got me thinking: What do you do when something beyond your control affects your clients’ trip? If your clients were in London when the trains shut down, what steps would you take to make certain that their vacation or business trip wasn’t ruined by the sudden lack of public transportation? Do you rent a car for them, or ask their hotel to provide a car and driver?
Visit AgentNation and share your ideas!
By: Jena Tesse Fox
June 12, 2009
Travel Insurance: An Agent's Perspective
In response to my column on the benefits of offering travel insurance to your clients, I received the following note from Julia Aliseo, a home-based agent with Cruise Planners, American Express. Hopefully her enthusiasm and optimism can be an inspiration for all of you out there:
Julia Aliseo, Cruise Planners
Good morning Michael!
All is good and business is fabulous this year! It is amazing! With twenty-five years in the travel business, I thought if I were to be challenged selling travel, it would certainly be during the past nine months.
Michael, I created a plan to utilize the extensive sales training that I invested in over many years, to overcome the obstacles due to the economy that the travel industry warned us about. I did not wait for calls to come in. I did my best to encourage clients that NOW was the best time to plan a vacation, even if it was a year out. Offering insurance was a key factor in the bookings I have made and I am receiving many thank-you notes from clients that have opted to make plans because they have the need to have something to look forward to!
I think if agents are disappointed in their sales this year, they need to revisit all of the seminar information and training details from classes that they attended and think about implementing the great tools that were offered at those classes.
I want you know that I regularly visit Travel Agent Central and I think the insurance article you wrote can be so helpful to many agents. I suggest to use insurance to give prospective clients "peace of mind" when they hesitate to book a vacation due to the economy and their job security! If clients hesitate and wait to book too close to their vacation date, they will end up paying much higher fares, especially for cruises that are close to capacity, unless there are special offers where the sailings have availability. I strongly suggest that agents offer clients with these concerns the best fares available with a deposit and with specific travel protection that covers loss of employment, etc.
"Peace of Mind" when spending any amount of money today on "any" purchase is an offer that is hard to refuse!
Thanks again for the valuable information always offered at the Travel Agent Central site!
May 29, 2009
Sorting Out the Deals
As we head into summer—always the biggest travel season—many agents are probably struggling with a data base of reluctant travelers. Thanks to the economy, a large percentage of your clients are either eliminating or downgrading their travel plans.
But don’t give up hope. This may be the richest season for deals in a long time, if not ever. It’s time to be proactive and seek out the right ones for your clients and reach out to them. It may be hard for them to refuse those free extra nights, included meals, spa credits or any of the many other perks being offered—and all at ridiculously affordable rates.
So be sure to check out our Deals section often for all the latest offerings from the biggest and best in the business. (Also be sure to read our upcoming June 8 Deals issue of Travel Agent magazine.) We’re sure you can find an offer your clients can’t refuse.
April 24, 2009
Your Message in Social Media
Okay, after last week’s Twitter overkill in the media, you may be hesitant to sign on and find out what it’s all about. That could be a mistake, however, especially for home-based travel agents who need every tool available to market their business—and where else can you market for free but online with tools such as Twitter and Facebook?
I had a conversation with travel agent Steve Cosgrove of Dynamic Travel in Fort Worth yesterday. Turns out Steve is a big booster of social networking media for marketing, and he has plunged in headfirst. He joined Facebook four or five months ago, and now has an extensive list of “friends” and contacts with whom he shares travel industry news and his own company’s deals.
“The thing to remember,” he told me, “is that these users are very sensitive to being ‘sold.’ You have to establish social connections. Comfort level is very important to Facebook users.”
There’s a learning curve to building that comfort level, as Steve found out firsthand. After posting several blatant marketing pitches, he would receive warnings from Facebook. “There are no clear guidelines,” he said, “but you don’t do out-and-out selling there. It’s a lot of trial and error, but my motto is, better to be forgiven than to ask permission.”
So if you haven’t yet, you may want to check out Facebook, Twitter, et. al. You might make a few mistakes along the way, and you probably won’t have as many Twitter followers as Oprah or Ashton Kutcher, but it’s a good entry to a whole new way of connecting to your clients and finding new ones.
March 20, 2009
Meetings: A Return Investment and Ideas
What if there was not a meeting of the founding fathers to write the constitution of the U.S.? What if IBM and Microsoft never had the meeting where IBM gave control of the operating systems to Bill Gates and Microsoft? What if Ray Kroc never met face to face with Dick and Mac McDonald? What if no one came to President Obama’s inauguration or no one heard Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech live?
It’s hard to imagine a world without face-to-face meetings and interactions. Meetings are about connections. Face-to-face human interaction is the spark that motivates all of us to build, renew and nurture business relationships. Meetings bring people together and bring out the best in creative thinking, innovation and imagination. Ideas are what move businesses, shape nations and create compelling new products and services. Ideas are the cornerstone of what meetings are all about. Without ideas, we are not inspired. At the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. we like to say meetings, conventions and trade shows generate not only a return on investment but a return on ideas.
In this current economic crisis, we tend to focus more on cost cutting opportunities rather than revenue enhancements. We cannot cost cut our way to future success and prosperity. We must build top line revenue. Meetings, conventions and trade shows are critical for businesses and individuals to grow their sales and marketing opportunities, enhance their individual performances and identify new ways of conducting business. Meetings are economic drivers. They foster strong and long term personal business relationships which cannot be duplicated by teleconference calls, webinars, or e-mail. Technology can enhance meetings but cannot substitute the power of face to face interaction.
The increased media sensationalism on meetings is one-sided. We agree that taxpayer dollars should be spent wisely. However, the political rhetoric has created an environment where corporate CEO’s are canceling meetings due to the possibility they may be vilified by the media. In fact, Las Vegas has been hit especially hard. The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority states in the last 90 days, the market has lost 340 meeting groups representing $131 million in lost revenue.
A recent study by Meetings & Conventions Magazine (91 percent of respondents worked for companies that were not receiving federal bailout funds) found that 20 percent of meeting planners had canceled their meeting solely due to the negative media pressure and political rhetoric. In addition, 52 percent said the “mass-media backlash against meetings” had been “extremely” or “moderately” influential. Business travel creates 2.4 million jobs in the U.S. Meetings and events are directly responsible for 1 million jobs in this country. Business travel accounts for $240 billion in spending and $39 billion in tax revenue at the federal, state, and local levels. Here in Orlando, total travel (leisure and business) is a $31 billion per year industry, directly or indirectly employing 1 in 4 Central Floridians.
Orlando is not immune to outside negative influences affecting the overall meetings industry. We are the second largest meetings destination in the county, serving 10 million business travelers and generating over 5,000 meetings, conventions and trade shows per year. We are booking conventions and trade shows into 2029 to secure economic stimulus just as we have for the past 25 years of the Orlando/Orange County CVB’s existence. We have more than $16 billion on the books in future business at the Orange County Convention Center alone.
We have seen cancellations within our own destination, especially in the financial sector. However, our investment in meetings infrastructure will continue because we believe in the future of meetings. Hilton Hotels Corporation and its owners alone are making close to a $1.0B investment with 3,000 new hotel rooms at the convention center and Bonnet Creek. The Peabody Hotel is investing more than $400 million. These investments create new jobs, generate incremental revenue and expand our offerings. Not to mention our current inventory of 112,000 guest rooms of which many are focused on the meetings market.
The US Travel Association has created a campaign Meetings Mean Business designed to:
• Urge the Department of the Treasury to swiftly enact clear and sensible meetings and events guidelines for companies receiving taxpayer assistance
• Defeat punitive legislation designed to unreasonably restrict corporate meetings and events
• Encourage members of Congress to tone down their criticism of meetings and events and embrace travel as a solution to America’s economic woes
• Inform the media about the benefits of meetings and events and the unintended victims of sensational and uninformed criticism.
The Orlando/Orange County CVB is in full support of these initiatives.
Orlando meetings mean business, Orlando meetings mean jobs, and Orlando meetings mean economic development. Meetings, conventions and trade shows are essential to our economic growth and overall economic health. As importantly, they provide a compelling platform for connecting people to opportunities. And don’t we all need more opportunities and new ideas in business.
February 17, 2009
May You Live In Interesting Times
This is a phrase we’ve all heard before and one that we are clearly living through. The events of the past few months from the election to the economy have been truly historic and have had an effect on everyone, both personally and professionally.
I did a quick online search for the origins of this phrase and found a few surprises. First, its origins are not easily traced or agreed upon, but many believe it came from an ancient Chinese curse wishing someone much upheaval and trouble in his or her life. There is also another Chinese interpretation that may have been its inspiration: “Hero’s (leaders) are made over turbulent times.” It’s interesting that one interpretation comes from cursing you to a life of challenges and the other encourages you to lead during those same difficult times. It’s all about perspective.
As we quickly become engrossed in this year’s day-to-day execution, it’s important to pause and reflect on both long and short term goals. Just as important, how will you, the travel agent, choose to tailor your method of reaching these goals and what is your perspective as you work toward these goals?
Times of great change present opportunity for those positioned to take it. While the overall market is down, it’s important to take an aggressive stance to solidify business by understanding your customers, providing what they need when they need it and utilizing resources to bring new prospects in the door. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but one that anyone is capable with the correct tools and perspective. Here are a few tools that I find helpful and may be worth adding to your collection.
Emphasize Value – If price is king, than value is queen. A low price point will only take you so far; remember to emphasize the expertise and value you provide to your customers. Encourage travelers to think about the importance of their experience. A customer can find a cheap vacation without a travel agent; your job is to help them find an unforgettable vacation at an unbelievable value. You can’t put a price on customer service, in-destination assistance and confidence in an agency or company. People feel that they’re working just as hard, if not harder, than ever before and have earned the right to travel!
Know Your Customer – First and foremost, know your existing customer base before expanding to new customers. Learn to anticipate their behaviors, needs and wants. Talk to people living in your market. What is really important to them right now? What can they live without? What are they willing to make sacrifices for? Respect that travelers want the most from every vacation dollar and tailor the shopping and booking experience to meet their needs and ease concerns or uncertainty. Know that they’re scrutinizing their purchase decision and inspire trust by providing them with a product that meets their demand.
Sell the Memory – Memories created while on vacation will last forever. Toys, clothes and gadgets go out of style, break or are simply forgotten in the back of a closet. Remind your customers that purchasing a vacation is an investment in their family, friends or loved one. This investment provides an immeasurable return that will last a lifetime.
You can help customers save money without compromising their experience. Look for added values offered by domestic and international hotels that help stretch every vacation dollar. Values like free nights, food or dining credits, free breakfast and the like can enhance an experience without increasing the cost. Travel agents should also encourage travelers to protect their vacation investment. Right now uncertainty is a fact of life and travel protection gives customers the peace of mind that they may cancel their vacation should the unexpected arise. Make sure you’re steering your customers in the right direction when it comes to choosing travel protection; provide them with protection they can trust and they’ll trust you.
It’s all about perspective. How will your perspective change the way you approach opportunities this year? As we look ahead towards the future I encourage you to stay positive and remember: “Hero’s (leaders) are made over turbulent times.
Mike Going, president, Funjet Vacations
Mike Going is the president of Funjet Vacations. He can be contacted at email@example.com
By: Mike Going