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What Not to Do

December 18, 2006 By: Ruthanne Terrero Travel Agent

Priscilla Alexander, president of Protravel, delivered an excellent speech at Luxury Travel Expo recently. What I liked most about it is that she gave several tips to the travel agent audience on "what not to do." I've always felt that, when faced with a number of options, knowing what you don't want to do is a good way to edit the list. While I'll save Priscilla's sage words for a future issue (we'll be writing a comprehensive show wrap for our January 1, 2007, issue), I thought I'd share my thoughts on "what not to do" when it comes to selling travel.

Don't think with your own pocketbook. Bill Fischer
tells a good story of a client who switched to Fischer Travel because her
previous agent always booked her just a car and a hotel. She didn't want just a
car and a hotel, she wanted a fabulous hotel suite and a premium car rental,
but the agent assumed that she wanted to save money. Instead of making her
wishes known, the client switched agents.

Thinking with your own pocketbook can lose you money in
other ways. Suppose you happen to be sitting at your desk one day when you get
a call from a client who wants to know the cost of renting a private jet to fly
down to Mexico.
Your eyebrows go up, you start to breathe heavily. Pretty extravagant! You make
the call to a provider of private jet services and the cost is over the top.
Just unthinkable. More than the down payment on your house. In fact, you're just
too embarrassed to call the client back because he is never going to go for it
so you put it on the back burner. He waits to hear from you, doesn't, and calls
another agent. The end of the story? He flies down to Los Cabos with six of his
buddies, who have all chipped in for the flight. Better yet, the agent they did
book with also secured a villa for them on the ocean and has dibs on two of the
group members' honeymoons, which are coming up next year.

The point is that clients are not always seeking to save
money if they feel there is value in the product and services you are
delivering to them. Consumers tend to value their travel experiences
differently, but I can assure you that many do like to wear their trips as a
badge of honor. They want to come home, go immediately to a neighborhood
cocktail party and dish it out. While their boastful verbiage usually starts
off with "Guess where we just went?," why not let that potential
boast be "Guess what our travel agent just did for us?" Everyone
wants bragging rights these days, and you are in the ideal position to provide
the experience that they'll be flaunting at the country club next time around.

Another "don't": Don't try to think for the
client who you don't really know.
By this I mean you shouldn't assume a new
client is going to want to participate in the same activities that you or your
other clients enjoy when you travel. You may have a new customer who is very
much into highly adventurous activities. This means, if you are sending a
honeymoon couple to Hawaii,
you should inquire as to whether they want to hike through a rainforest, take a
hot-air balloon ride over the islands, or travel up the side of a volcano to
see the sunrise. Just because that's not your idea of a relaxing Hawaiian
vacation doesn't mean the couple won't jump at the chance to try something new.
While you're at it, see if you can add in a cocktail catamaran ride the first
evening they arrive, as this is usually a soothing, soft adventure option for
those who may have jet lag and need to ease their way into a new destination.

As always, it's best to interview any new clients who come
your way. You don't need to interrogate them as if they were about to wed your
first born, but you should act as if you're about to sell them a new house or a
new car. Delve deeply into what they want to get out of their travel and get
them to spill their guts about what their expectations are. If they are going
on a safari, are they expecting non-stop action as they careen through tall
grass in a Range Rover? Or are you able to paint for them a more realistic
image of what their African adventure will consist of?

Sometimes I think being a travel agent must be incredibly
challenging. You have the entire world at your fingertips to sell, so how do
you ever make the decision as to what to offer your clients? In many ways, you
have to edit the world down and create a portfolio of goods that will appeal to
your wildly diverse customer base. But, after speaking to many of you
throughout my travels this year, I've learned that you not only consider this a
challenge, you find it to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of your role.

I'll leave you with a few "do's": Do have a
fabulous holiday season and do rest up so that you can jump right into 2007
with a list of exciting itineraries to offer to your customers. And while
you're at it, do be sure to arrange some fabulous trips for yourselves so you
can increase your first-hand knowledge of the world!

[email protected]

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