The Secrets of a True Travel Pro

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 travel.

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 work?"

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 Alexander.

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 insightful.

"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.