Three Must-Have Tips on Running Your Travel Agency

It is important to remember that position descriptions and interview questions should focus on necessary position requirements.
It is important to remember that position descriptions and interview questions should focus on necessary position requirements.

As an agency owner and manager, you not only have to keep looking for ways to drive business, but also ensure that your hiring practices and record keeping are up to snuff. Here are a few tips we’ve gathered to help you keep your office running smoothly — and profitably.

HR Pitfalls to Avoid

It’s hard enough to keep your business operating profitably without worrying about HR issues and regulations. FrankCrum, a national Professional Employer Organization, offers these tips to help ease the pain and avoid some common HR “land mines.”

“Often small and mid-sized business owners and managers don’t really know what they don’t know — and may unwittingly make mistakes in overtime, wage and hour regulations, discipline and discriminatory practices,” said Christine Pahl, human resources client consultant at FrankCrum. “Unfortunately, these mistakes can be costly as well as create distractions that keep the company from performing at its best.”

Following are some of the most common errors Pahl cites:

* Improperly classifying employees as exempt: This may result in non-exempt employees not receiving overtime pay they are entitled to. Paying someone a “salary” does not automatically mean they are exempt and a misclassification can violate laws regarding recordkeeping, minimum wage and overtime. Any of these violations may result in a lawsuit, with employers frequently unable to justify the reasons for their actions, which leaves them without a defense to the lawsuit.

* FMLA: Many employers are not aware they are a covered employer under the Family Medical Leave Act or what their obligations are to the employees who qualify for protection under this law.

* Hiring practices: Although most employers know not to ask an applicant’s age, other questions to avoid include those about medical history, prior workers’ compensation injuries, criminal record, marital status, sexual orientation, and political or religious affiliations. It’s important to remember that position descriptions and interview questions should focus on necessary position requirements.

* Discriminatory practices: Review all aspects of employment, including hiring, promotion, pay, discipline, termination, training opportunities and more. It’s not enough to focus on intentional or obvious discriminatory practices. A proactive review of trends in these areas and the impact on employees may reveal unintentional practices that should be corrected. In addition, employers should post an EEO statement and distribute a written anti-discrimination policy to be signed by employees and management, outlining the policy as well as redress and complaint procedures.

* Corrective actions: FrankCrum uses the term “corrective action” rather than “progressive discipline,” because it keeps the focus on resolving problems and maintaining a successful relationship with the employee. The earlier issues are dealt with and documented, the less likely it is that confusion about performance and expectations will lead to a claim.

“Business owners and managers need not become HR specialists,” says Pahl. “But they should have knowledgeable advisors who can help them avoid HR problems.”

Driving Agency Business

Gary Davis, co-president of Acendas, has a keen interest in new innovations that will drive the business forward, and he shared a “case in point” in a recent issue of Travel Agent’s sister publication Luxury Travel Advisor. Earlier this year, Acendas revamped its websites and social networking pages at a significant cost so it could track how customers were navigating its pages. Using Salesforce and Act-On, a marketing automation software platform, consumers are scored by their behavior. For example, if someone clicks on offers on the Acendas Facebook page, travels to the Acendas vacation website and downloads a white paper on vacation travel and their Act-On score hits 20, they’re deemed to be a serious customer. As a result, they’re turned into a sales lead and a travel advisor contacts them.

Davis told that, “With social media, you often don’t know who it is that’s touching you. You might get an e-mail address if you’re lucky. Our goal is to keep putting things out there on Pinterest and Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter. But we need tools to measure the people that are touching us, to see if they opened our e-mail, looked at our pin, or went to our website.”

Although such leads are generated in a new, unique way, Davis says once they’re in the travel advisor’s hands, it’s all about creating that traditional human relationship with the customer.

The Next Wave of Travelers

Make sure your agents are social media savvy, especially when dealing with Millennials. MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers shows that traditional travel agents have been making significant gains in recent years in attracting this vital demographic. MMGY’s Vice Chairman Peter Yesawich says Millennials are confident in an agent’s planning abilities and also value their time so much that they would rather delegate the research and booking stages of a vacation to a travel expert. MMGY Global data also shows that Millennials overwhelmingly have been more influenced by traditional travel agents than their older counterparts when booking cruises as well as other supplier products and services.

During a panel discussion on “Next Wave of  Travelers” at Questex Travel Group’s first Travel Industry Exchange in Orlando last month, Cindy D’Aoust, acting CEO for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), had this to say: “We try to put [Millennials] in a box, but there is no box to put them in. They want a personalized trip. You need to understand who your customer is regardless of age. They will come back to you because they are loyalists.”

Millennials’ Perception/Use of Traditional Travel Agents     2013       2014       2015

Most Convenient Way to Book Travel Services                        5%          9%          13%

Generally Get the Best Prices for Travel Services                    4%          6%          11%

Generally Book Travel Services With Them                                n/a         8%          13%

SOURCE: MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers