You make sure to be as knowledgeable as you can about destinations: What hotel should your clients stay at? What are the best restaurants that serve local delicacies? What are areas they might want to avoid? Must-sees?
Online community sites are becoming a great way for agents to gain a wealth of information. Beyond that, it's also a winning strategy to forge online relationships with potential new customers to expand your clientele.
Sam Shank, CEO of California-based TravelPost.com, a leading online travel community site, says sites like his are allowing agents to throw away their electronic databases and guidebooks in favor of up-to-date feedback from travelers, who range from the price sensitive to extravagant. "One thing sites like ours can do is not just give you an anonymous travel review, but actually let you see who wrote the review," he says. "How a 65-year-old retired couple and a single young guy will see Vegas will be completely different."
Community sites not only reveal travelers' opinions, but also how best to market to them. You don't want to send that single guy on your Hoover Dam package when three nights at the Palms Hotel is more likely to be up his alley. Often, potential clients post their e-mail contact information.
But not all community sites are affording immediate benefits to agents. In fact, popular travel community site IgoUgo.com has taken down its agent area until it works out some of the logistics. "We'll launch it again when much more traffic will head that way," says Calvin Evanoff, IgoUgo.com's general manager. "We want the agents to be seen as experts and a place for our community to turn. One of the concerns the agents had was that users would use the information that was on the agent page and then book elsewhere. We want the agents' tips to turn into commissions for them." However, Evanoff sees many more opportunities to turn partnering with strong brands into cash for agents. "Early in the year we did a promotion with the show Live With Regis and Kelly, listing 100 trips to take in concert with tour operators and agents." —Eric Butterman