There is only one way to deal with this situation, which, from what I hear, is getting more prevalent every day. At the very first interaction you have with your customer, you need to say this, without the fear that you’re breaking that “feel good” vibe you’ve just established:
“Now that we are working together, you might get offers from some of the companies we are dealing with. What may not be clear from their communications is that with me, you are getting a tremendous value. Because of my relationships, you are getting added amenities that you cannot get by booking directly. You are a VIP in the eyes of the travel company we’re working with because my name is also on the reservation and I have great status with them. And, you know that if anything goes amiss on this trip, I will be right here to fix things. And that is priceless.”
We’re not done communicating with your client: In an email that they can refer back to, spell out all of the value-added amenities you’re giving them, along with the cost savings. If it’s daily breakfast in Paris, that’s likely close to $100 a day. The free transfer, room upgrade or credit toward the spa? List these all comprehensively with the dollar amount, add them all up and circle the sum figure. Write next to that figure, “Free add-ons from working with your travel advisor.”
This must be a part of every travel advisor’s business practice, whether you’re dealing with a new client or the same person for the past 20 years. There are too many temptations out there for customers to book directly. I cannot believe that I am still hearing travel advisors bemoan the fact that they are losing clients to the Internet because they have been lax in voicing the business value they are bringing to the table.
As for suppliers contacting your customers directly, there are some who will never do this because they are completely dedicated to you as a distribution channel. However, you might have a terrific relationship with a travel industry sales manager who works for a huge travel company that has people in the home office focusing 24/7 on data and earnings and marketing. In this case, promotions may be generated to everyone in their database. The best thing you can do is to forewarn your client and to keep in close touch with your sales rep so you can protect your bookings.
What else do you need to tell your client right up front? That no trip is too small, they should never feel guilty contacting you and that you can make all of their vacations special by adding on amenities and TLC. Then be sure to deliver.
Take a look at your business; if you’ve recently had perfectly intelligent customers asking you what the difference is between booking online and working with you, you clearly haven’t had the right conversations with them. It’s not too late though — you can start having them today.