Top Tips From the Trenches

Ruthanne Terrero

While I was at the Nexion conference in Miami earlier this month, I co-moderated a think tank with independent travel agents in attendance. I was delighted to hear some sage advice, both general and entrepreneurial, that they gave one another.

Here is some of the wisdom they shared.

Be a friend to a client, don’t come on like a used-car salesman. Become their friend, so they will return to you.

Lock client trip quotes into a PDF. An agent reported that he sent a client a Word document outlining costs for a trip. The client went to the Internet, found a similar trip for a lower price and changed the price on the document. He e-mailed it back to the agent saying, “Here is the quote you sent me.” The agent fired him as a client.

Before committing to do trip research for a prospective client, get their full contact information. Several agents had great dialogues going on with people they didn’t know, via e-mail, only to have them drop out of sight forever, after a lot of work had been done. “I should have realized when she wouldn’t give me her phone number or the names of her traveling companions that she was just fishing around,” an agent lamented. “You reach a point where you know in your gut this is going nowhere.”

Before you do fire that difficult client, consider their value to you. An agent noted there was a woman on her roster who always gave her a tough time, yet provided her with a lot of referrals. “So in those cases I just have to let it go,” she said.

If you don’t hear back from a client, don’t take it personally. An agent didn’t hear back for weeks from a new client after she’d crafted two trip quotes for her. Even though she’d written her off, the agent decided to e-mail her an article on Hawaii, saying something along the lines of, “I was just thinking of you.” The client, who hadn’t had time to think about the trip, ended up booking her vacation to Oahu with the agent. “Don’t get mad at people, because the next time they might come back to you or refer someone to you,” the agent advised.

Tread carefully at bridal shows. One savvy travel agent noted engaged women are often bombarded by vendors at bridal events. Stand out by being the one person who doesn’t jump out at them. Ask them how they’re holding up, admire their ring, give them your card, she advised. “I’ve been told several times they called me to book the honeymoon because I didn’t pester them,” she said.

Pay for referrals. One agent has a program where she pays $25 for each piece of new business she receives. It’s a flat-out fee. Promote this to your honeymoon clients, since they usually have several friends who are also getting married the same year. One man has sent her 10 clients a year for the past six years through the program.

Consider your potential pied pipers: An agent said her doctor’s nurse went on a trip with her and she now refers all of his clients to her. Another made her husband sign up to be a soccer coach, so she now has access to all of the families on the team.

Use as a marketing vehicle; it’s a service that lets you send greeting cards with a personal message. One agent used a photo from a website where a client had posted her vacation photos. She created a card with the photo and said, “Remember you went here last year? Where’s this year’s adventure?”

I love all of these ideas; they represent great business savvy. Sometimes it’s great to hear how travel agents are really selling and surviving. I, for one, was inspired.

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