Are You a Social Scientist?

WHEN I INTERVIEWED IAN SCHRAGER FOR THE COVER STORY OF THIS ISSUE, THE WORDS "SOCIAL SCIENTIST" CAME UP IN TWO INSTANCES. The first was when he referred to himself, describing how he builds his product based on the way the people are currently socializing. Then it came up toward the end of our conversation, when we were speaking about travel agents. Schrager is high on the power of a good travel agent (you can read his comments on page 91), and he encourages those who may be discouraged by the competition brought on by the Internet "to hang in there," since other industries have seen their fair share of transitions.  Editorial Director Ruthanne Terrero on location at Club Med Yucatan in Cancun

"The record business is undergoing change and the automobile industry is undergoing change. When something undergoes change, you have to figure out—like a social scientist—how your expertise stays relevant," Schrager told me.

Is your expertise still relevant to the way people are traveling? You may know more about travel than anyone in your community, but do you know the type of travel your clients are interested in enjoying? For example, are you recommending to your Gen-Y clients that they visit the same resort area that everyone else in the neighborhood is going to? They may have different tastes and they may have a fatter wallet. But even more importantly, are you servicing what this clientele truly values in a vacation? It might be access to the top table at a bar in a Las Vegas resort or the VIP seat at a Mykonos nightclub. And perhaps you've been wise enough to reserve a private car and driver to take your clients around a city during the day to visit the cultural attractions, but have you done the same thing for them for the evenings, when they'll want to go out on the town and not have to worry about driving or tracking down a cab?

Pay Attention

It's not all about reserving the higher-end amenities, either. Paying attention to the way a client socializes might reveal that they wants to take a simple trip to reconnect with a loved one. Has a client indicated that she's worried about her 16-year-old daughter, whom she doesn't get to see anymore because she's so busy with her friends? How about suggesting a girlfriend getaway for the mother, the daughter and one of the daughter's friends? If you're shy about proposing it, show off some of the many articles that have been written about this trend, which is growing steadily.

You should similarly apply your social scientist skills to examining how people are sharing their travel experiences. Social networking online has moved past its nascent phase, but there's still time for you to have an impact on this new wave. Invite your clients to share their trip stories and photos easily on a section on your website, and ask them to tell their friends to visit often. Ensemble Travel Group has already created this capability for its members, a clear sign that the consortium is implementing practical approaches to consumer behavior.

Creating dreams is not just about the trip itself; it's about engaging the traveler before, during and after. Remain relevant by examining closely how your potential clientele sees itself, then use that perception to create a journey for them.