Travel Agent recently interviewed leading agents and suppliers to get their views on the current economic downturn, as well as their advice for ways that agents can capitalize on it. In this exclusive online series, we present the complete Q&As with these industry experts. First up is Sherry Laskin Kennedy, agent and owner of The Vacation Shoppe, Satellite Beach, FL.
TA: What are you doing now to take advantage of the downturn?
I am concentrating on keeping in touch with past clients and keeping the relationship on track. Now at the holiday season is really great time to have a reason to call your clients. Send greeting cards, birthday cards, anniversary cards.
TA: Are you focusing on using your down time to educate yourself?
Yes. A slow time is fabulous for finishing all the educational programs started earlier in the year, complete a CLIA level online, Princess and Cunard Academy, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, Marriott, France...all the more in-depth programs that take time and effort to complete.
TA: Are you using it to gain a competitive advantage while others are going into hibernation?
I'm using this downtime to keep ahead of the pack. Many of the educational programs offer travel benefits and fams once completed. Experiencing the product or destination is the best way to impress your clients and to gain their confidence. There is a lot of competition out there these days. You have to be the most knowledgeable and experienced travel agent that they could find.
TA: How do you market during a downturn?
Now is not the time to conserve your marketing dollars. This is the time to negotiate with your local advertisers or join forces with another venue (restaurant, wine store, health club etc) and get your name out there. People are still looking to travel; they just want to think that they are getting the bargain deal... not necessarily the best value. Invest the most dollars you have available into advertising now, before the storefront down the street beats you to it. Don't let these challenging times affect your marketing and promotion. It's the most important time to stay current and in your clients' face!
TA: How do you reach the customer who is receiving a barrage of deal offers?
Repeat and referral business will get you through to customers who have stacks and stacks of travel agency postcards piling up at their home and in their online mailbox. Ask for the business. Give a referral reward to past clients either in the form of cash now, or dollars off their next vacation.
TA: How do you cut through the fray?
easy. I'm investing in print ads right now that are eye-catching. My
ads focus on a particularly unique cruise/tour that is priced for these
tough economic times. Then, once they call me and want to book, I can
try to upsell them to a better cabin, a pre/post cruise or tour stay or
even a better travel insurance program.