By Kelly Monaghan
As you may have guessed, it’s a trick question. The obvious answer is that travel agents sell travel or, to be more precise, travel products like cruises, tours, hotels and so forth. True enough, but let’s look a little deeper.
Some people, who recognize the nature of this “trick” question will say that a travel agent sells herself (or himself, as the case may be). That answer, too, is true enough, but it can be misleading.
Some people think that if folks like you then you will be successful in sales. (Remember Willy Loman from “Death of A Salesman”?) But just because you are a wonderful person with a great personality and ready quip for every occasion does not necessarily translate into travel sales.
So what is the answer to this trick question?
What clients and potential clients are looking for in a travel agent is expertise: solid knowledge about the products they represent. That – and not a sparkling personality – is what makes a travel agent a trusted advisor and wins repeat business. That’s what you’re selling
So if we are going to say that travel agents sell themselves we are really saying that they are selling their expertise. Of course, being a nice person doesn’t hurt. It helps, in fact. But your expertise in your chosen profession is where the rubber meets the road.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind about expertise: How to acquire it and how to protect it.
Gaining expertise in travel can be fun – think of fam trips. But it can also be hard work – think of fam trips again. I have written before about fam trips as work, so I won’t repeat myself here. But fam trips work best for people who derive satisfaction and enjoyment from making an effort to learn more about things they love.
The sheer volume of travel products means that there’s no way you can know everything. You should however know what you don’t know and know how to get the information you need to fill the gaps when you need to. This is one reason so many travel agents specialize.
Once you have built up your expertise, you should protect it. This can be a tricky proposition, but to put it simply, you are not in the business of dispensing free travel advice.
Do you remember the furor that was created last Christmas when Amazon encouraged people to go into bookstores and shop for books they liked then order them online? Something similar happens in the travel business.
People will meet a travel agent at a social gathering and start pumping them for information. What’s your favorite hotel in Capri? When’s the best time to get a good deal on an Alaska cruise? Then they take their new-found information and head straight to the Internet.
It can be tricky to deal with this kind of situation, but your goal should be to turn casual questioners into clients by steering them to a more formal meeting. One tactic is to answer questions with questions. If someone asks what your favorite hotel in Capri is, you might say, “I try not to send people to my favorite hotel. My job is to find the hotel that’s right for them. Why are you interested in going to Capri?” As the conversation progresses, you can suggest that you’ll be better able to serve them if you have a meeting the next day at a convenient coffee shop.
One way to protect your expertise, is the plan to go fee which I discuss in the Home-Based Travel Agent Success Course. That has proven to be an excellent way to separate the tirekickers from the kind of travelers who will appreciate the value-added benefits only a travel agent can provide.