CAN YOU THINK OF SOMETHING YOU CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT THAT YOU DIDN'T EVEN KNOW EXISTED A FEW YEARS AGO? For example, it may be the iPhone or BlackBerry that you must carry with you and check on every waking moment. Perhaps you recently realized you couldn't possibly watch the Super Bowl on anything but a 50-inch plasma-screen television—even though you already own three other TVs whose only fault is that they do not have flat screens. It's also possible that these days you wouldn't think of renting a car without a GPS that tells you in that alluring voice to turn left and then right when you're driving around a strange city.
The point is, while consumers are quite good at selecting from the options made available to them, they're not all that innovative in determining what new devices would make their lives easier. Do we totally need to be plugged into an iPod during our daily commute? Yes. Did we know that we needed to be? No.
Those decisions are left to the technology companies that are constantly taking the risk of pushing new products to us that they are not sure we'll embrace, simply because we don't know we need them yet.
Ali Kasikci, the managing director of Montage Beverly Hills, who just visited Travel Agent's Manhattan offices, says he is using exactly that philosophy as he develops the service mantra for his new hotel, which will open this fall. "We will be pushing services to the client that they didn't know they couldn't live without," says Kasikci, who is the quintessential hotelier when it comes to luxury service delivery.
Making Dreams Come True
Along those same lines, you as a travel agent should be considering services for your clients that they don't know exist yet. The service could be something wildly different and exotic, or it could be something incredibly mundane that doesn't currently fit into your business model. If you think about it, travel is more than just an airline ticket and a hotel; it's about lifestyle. Are there ways you can serve your clients' lifestyles that you've never considered? It may be as simple as arranging for them to get to the airport on the outbound leg of their journey. If they're like me, this is the last thing they think of before they take off on a trip, but it's a rather vital link to starting the journey. I'd gladly pay a fee to someone who already had access to my traveling preferences and credit card data if they'd only say to me, "Don't worry, I've arranged for the town car to be in your driveway tomorrow at 7:30 a.m."
What else can you push to your clients that they don't know they need? Is it the rental of an international cellular phone? On a broader service scale, it could be arranging a private chef's dinner for the clients who are flying to Rome to meet up with their long-lost cousins.
Bob Malmberg, president of the Malmberg Travel Companies, recently arranged for his local Four Seasons hotel to prepare a picnic lunch for a client who was not traveling out of town at all; she had simply forgotten that she'd promised the kids a special treat after school. Malmberg charged a fee for the service, and the client was delighted.
None of the ideas I've suggested above require that you and your staff take on extra training. In fact, if you think about it, they're only calling on the skills that you have already fully developed, which include being the conduit between a person who needs a service and a person who can fulfill a service. Who knew there were new ways to make dreams come true?
Have you developed a unique way to deliver innovative, revenue-generating services to your clients? If so, e-mail me at [email protected] so I can share them with our readers.
RUTHANNE TERRERO, CTC EDITORIAL DIRECTOR