What Not to Do

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!

Ruthanne Terrero, CTC EDITORIAL DIRECTOR rterrero@questex.com

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