Passport Crisis Equals Marketing Opportunity

Passport crisis hype masks a real opportunity

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If you were in the business back in 2007, you probably remember the great “passport crisis,” the commotion caused by new rules that everyone leaving the US for Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean would need a passport to return home. Before that, the only documentation needed to visit these nearby destinations was a drivers license or birth certificate.

What ensued was a tsunami of first-time passport applications, producing predictable backlogs and long waits. Some 30 million new passports were issued within a two-year period.

The passport crisis of 2007 caused more than a few headaches to be sure. But look what was gained, for America and for the travel industry— 30 million (or more) people who could now easily visit Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia. Thirty million more opportunities to book a trip and earn a commission.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call that a passport crisis. How about “passport-a-palooza”?

passport crisis image(Source: US State Dept.)

Passport crisis, the sequel

Now there’s buzz in the industry about a new passport crisis. What’s up?

Well, you see, all those passports issued in 2007 will expire in 2017 and will need to be renewed.
And since good news is no news, coverage of this — let’s face it — obvious fact has been decked out with suitably apocalyptic rhetoric.

In mentioning the upcoming renewal period to an audience of ASTA travel agents (who should have known about it already), Brenda Sprague of the U.S. State Department said, “If I haven’t scared you to death, I haven’t accomplished my mission.”

“A Passport Crisis Is Coming” blared headlines in the trade press.

Yikes!

Passport crisis? Let’s take a deep breath

Before we get into the gory details of this looming “passport crisis,” let’s take a moment to consider how passports fit into a travel agent’s daily routine.

In the Home-Based Travel Agent Success Course, I stress the importance of collecting and filing your clients’ passport information.

Every professional home-based agent should be recording most, if not all of the following:

  • Full legal name as it appears in the passport.
  • Passport number.
  • Passport expiration date.
  • Date of birth.
  • Passport information for a client’s entire family, even those who have yet to travel out of the country.
  • Full legal names of children who do not yet have passports.

In addition, it is a good idea to have on file a photocopy of the identification page of the client’s passport, and those of his or her family. Some clients might be reluctant to provide this. However, you can point out that if you have this documentation, you will be able to assist them if, heaven forbid, they should lose their passport while overseas. This is usually sufficient to overcome any concern.

Recording the expiration date on a passport is all well and good, but how will you know which of your clients’ passports are expiring next year, or six months from now?

The answer is a “tickler file,” a list by date of expiring passports. Most paper-based tickler file solutions only span a single year. But your list of passports will span perhaps ten years.

For me, the solution is a calendar program on my computer. It’s easy to create a separate calendar to use just for passport expirations. If your built in program can’t do this, simply search the Internet for “free calendar programs.”

Passport crisis preparations and action steps

Now that we have some background on what the “passport crisis” is all about and some guidelines on how efficient travel agents deal with their clients’ passport information, let’s see how we can turn this looming event to our advantage.

Here, in no particular order, are some suggestions:

If you haven’t versed yourself in passport rules and regulations, this is probably a good time to do so. A good place to start is the US State Department page on passports.

Visit your local Post Office to see when they accept passport renewal applications (most do) and ask the clerk what the turnaround time usually is. You might collect several copies of the blank paperwork required.

Review your client files and start a tickler file on the passport data you have. If you find clients whose passport is expiring in the near future, act immediately. Passport renewals take time. Be aware that some clients may already have renewed, in which case collect their new information.

Just in case, identify some passport expediters who can (for a price) get a new passport in a matter of days. You may even be able to get a commission should any of your clients need this service.

Identify the clients for whom you have no passport information and start contacting them to collect that information. Be sure you have prepared a brief explanation of why you are doing this; in this age of identity theft, people are understandably suspicious of requests for personal information.

Let’s assume you have many clients who got their passports in 2007. Even though they won’t expire until 2017, it’s not too early to suggest that they renew now. As noted, renewals take time and there is every reason to believe that, as 2017 approaches, turnaround times will get longer and longer.

There’s Been A Revolution!

First the travel industry hated us. Now they all love us. Why?
Because home-based travel agents are the bright and shining stars
of the travel distribution channel! And all thanks to a bunch of
Kitchen Table Mabels‘.

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Passport crisis as marketing bonanza

You may have heard motivational speakers saying that the Chinese term for “crisis” is composed of two characters signifying “danger” and “opportunity.” That’s not quite true, but what the heck? It’s a good line.

In fact, the looming passport crisis contains a bona fide opportunity.

Just for starters, it offers an opportunity to contact every client in your files, even some who have not been active in a while.

It’s an opportunity to remind them of your existence and, by the very act of alerting them to the need to renew now and avoid the crush later, impress upon them the high level of customer service you provide.

Don’t be too surprised if contacting clients for this reason results in new bookings. In fact, you should use these calls to qualify clients for their upcoming vacation needs and remind them of any great deals that match their known travel preferences. (Note the word known. Don’t “spam” them with news about ski trips unless you know they’re avid skiers!)

Use the passport crisis as a way of introducing yourself to a wider audience. Why not write a column for your local newspaper about the looming “crisis” and what to do about it? You can mention that you keep records of all your clients’ passport information and make sure that no client ever misses a renewal deadline. Let them know that they should make sure their travel agent does the same.

As with any article you write for the local press, the goal is to provide solid information while avoiding blatant advertising. The mere fact that you are presenting yourself as a trusted source of information will be advertisement enough of your professional credentials.

Be sure to clarify with the newspaper that they will provide, at the bottom of the article, information on how you can be contacted.

Similarly, you can post passport crisis information on your website and then provide links to the article via Twitter, Facebook, and so forth.

So there you have it. Hopefully you are not “scared to death” but excited about the ways in which you can turn this passport crisis into new prospects and clients, stronger relationships with existing clients, and new bookings in the months to come.

Let me know how it goes.

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Passport Crisis Equals Marketing Opportunity was last modified: October 20th, 2015 by Kelly Monaghan