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The Secrets of a True Travel Pro

January 1, 2007 By: Ruthanne Terrero Travel Agent

Priscilla Alexander's dos and don'ts of selling travel

Travel agents attending Luxury Travel Expo in December
benefited from hearing from one of the best in the business during one of the
event's general sessions. Priscilla Alexander, president of Protravel
International, delivered an extremely instructive address on what agents should
do—and should not do—when they are selling travel.

Priscilla Alexander of Protravel addressing the Luxury Travel Expo audience

For those of you who are not familiar with Protravel, it is
an agency that is in its 22nd year of operation, earning in excess of $350
million in sales annually. Although it is Manhattan-based with approximately
175 agents working from those offices, it also has another 300 agents
throughout the country in offices and in home-based locations.

Bringing the knowledge that comes with the oversight of this
vast empire, Alexander was able to rivet the attention of the agents in
attendance with a sage list of dos and don'ts when it comes to the art of selling

Here are some excerpts from her presentation.

What Not To Do

Alexander advised the audience first and foremost that
agents should be accessible to their clients. "Don't put heavy
restrictions on when you can be reached," says Alexander. "Can you
imagine a realtor who can't meet with a client on the weekend and after

Another key tip was advising that agents "do it
all" for their clients. In other words, she instructed not to put a limit
on the travel services they will provide.

"Don't put restrictions on what you will do; it turns
people off," says Alexander.

Additionally, travel agents should utilize their expertise
to match a supplier with their clients' needs rather than giving them a vast
array of options.

"Don't be a brochure distributor. You are a qualifier
of experiences; choose the one good operator for your client," says

Another wise "don't"?

"Don't discount," says Alexander. "You are
only commoditizing yourself. Instead, put to use the promotions offered by
suppliers and find opportunities, such as early-booking discounts offered by
the cruise lines to attract clients."

Alexander also suggests that agents should not go it alone,
instead joining up with an industry group that will deliver them buying power
and other benefits. "If you are not part of a consortium that can bring
you value- added opportunities, you are missing out," she says.

Alexander's final "don't" was one she felt would
be controversial to some audience members, because it counters the advice given
by some other industry players.

"Don't be a specialist," she says. "Tour
operators and [destination] on-sites should be specialists. In today's world
you have to know everything. That is part of being a good travel agent."

What To Do

The "do" side of the equation was equally

"Do look at people's travel with a sense of
urgency," says Alexander, who says that when she secures a new client, she'll
often ask what their experience was with their previous travel agent. After
all, something spurred them to make a change. In many cases, she says, the new
client will say that the previous agent either did not call them back or did
not get back to them quickly enough after a request was made.

Presenting oneself as a confident expert who knows what is
best for one's client is another "do." "Don't be afraid to speak
in the first-person singular, i.e., 'I am putting you on the earlier flight so
that you'll be able to make your connection more easily' or 'I've confirmed you
in a junior suite because you'll enjoy the space more,'" says Alexander,
who notes that choosing this type of verbiage defines an agent as being an
active versus a passive seller.

In the same manner, a travel agent should take ownership of
their customers' travel, in the same manner a deft financial advisor would take
a strong lead in managing a client's finances.

"Think of a good stockbroker who calls you to say,
'Let's review your portfolio,'" says Alexander. "As a travel agent,
you can say, 'I just read about this' or, 'I went to Africa
and I thought of you. Let's plan your next four years of travel.'"

Choosing not to take such a stance could have unfortunate
results. "If you don't own that client, there is always someone else
waiting to grab them," warns Alexander, who also suggests that agents keep
a profile on their customers "the way a doctor does. For example, if a
customer is a foodie, give them research on restaurants," she advises.

Another "do"?

"Sell up," says Alexander. "Even if it's
costing a bit more, sell up and show them they are getting value." She
cites as an example, booking clients into a concierge-level room. While it may
cost just a bit more than a standard-level room, the additional perks this
upgrade can provide represent a very strong cost-saving measure.

"Being on a concierge-level floor is not just about
exclusivity. It's great for kids, who can have all the sodas they want
throughout the day," says Alexander.

The last tip falls right in line with the "don't be a
specialist" credo.

"Be a generalist—you have to do it all. What if you are
in a little town and your specialty is Morocco? How many times will people
come back to you for a trip to Morocco?,"
laughs Alexander.

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