The opportunities for travel advisors have never been greater. That was one of the key messages at the Travel Market Place West conference, which kicked off in Vancouver yesterday.
“This time has elevated the agency community,” said Anne Marie Moebes, executive vice president and publisher of Travel Market Report, speaking of the COVID-19 pandemic during a panel discussion of “How Organizations Are Leading the Way.”
Panelist Claire Newell, president of Travel Best Bets, agreed. “Travel agents are in very high demand right now. Over 1,000 agencies closed permanently in Canada because of the pandemic. There are so few of us and those that are still in business are very, very busy.”
“Times have changed,” added Christal Bauer, business leader, agency programs for Independent by Flight Centre. “We don’t have to convince people that they need to use a travel agency.”
The problem that remains, however, the panelists agreed, is that many travel advisors are still not owning their own value.
“The biggest message is to understand your value,” Bauer said. “You don’t have to convince anyone that we have value. We show it every day. We have to own it. Understand it. And charge accordingly.”
Booking Fee, Service Fee or Management Fee?
While all the executives on the panel agreed that travel advisors need to be charging their clients fees, they didn’t quite agree on what to call them.
Bauer recommended advisors move away from the term “service fee” and use “management fee.”
“As we’ve seen over the last how many years, not only are we recommending and we are advising and we are booking, we are now refunding and canceling and rebooking and rebooking. We’re now managing the whole experience.”
At the very least, she added, don’t call them booking fees. “I think that’s very far away from what we actually do.”
Cathie Lewis-Hardy, vice president of TRAVELSAVERS, said she prefers the term “professional fee,” adding you have to be confident when presenting them.
“You need to own it. You can’t say it with a wavery voice,” she said.
Newell, on the other hand, uses the term “booking management fee,” while an advisor in the audience told attendees she charges two fees, a research and engagement fee, and a management fee.
Newell also had advice for how to answer objections.
“Don’t be afraid. I know that some people might say, ‘Oh, but why? I can do it myself.’ You can do it yourself. If you want to wait on hold for five hours with an airline right now, go ahead.”
You can also talk to your clients about how much time it would take them to do it themselves. “Know the amount of time that it would take somebody to be doing that themselves… If they’ve never cruised before, trying to figure out which cabin is right or what inclusions they might want.”
Nexion Canada president Mike Foster said being prepared for the question helps.
“You want to anticipate those questions because you are going to get them, but I think it’s really important that you have a comfortable, good answer to that question.”
He recommended an elevator-speech style response, 30 seconds to a minute, that you’ve rehearsed and fits with your personality.
At the same time that panelists offered advice on answering objections, they also agreed advisors don’t have to justify their fees. Put them out there early in the process and then let potential clients disqualify themselves if they want.
“If you present service fees properly, at the right time, you’re going to make sure you’re not wasting time talking to people who aren’t going to buy travel from you,” Foster said. “It’s a time-saver and a moneymaker.”
Not all clients will object, Foster added.
“Not only are agents finally adopting service fees but also consumers expect to pay service fees,” he said.
TMR’s Moebes agreed.
“It’s understanding that time is money, as it is in any business and people understand that and are willing to pay for it.”
Promoting Your Value
Still not convinced your potential clients understand the value that you bring? A few panelists had suggestions for how to communicate the advantage of using a travel advisor.
“Your website platform should have information that speaks directly to the value of the travel agent,” said Lewis-Hardy. “Any newsletters you sent out, any blogs, everything should always include a short comment on the value of using a travel agent.”
Mike Foster, president of Nexion, suggested advisors look to content that other organizations have created and share that. For instance, the Travel Industry Council of Ontario offers a packet of content on the advantages of using a travel agent that advisors can use in their social media, on their website, or in their marketing pieces.
“So, it’s not us saying it. It’s another organization saying it on our behalf,” he added.
The first panel of this year’s Travel Market Place West conference wrapped up with some final advice from the panelists.
Unsurprisingly, fees were among the tips.
“Niche and service fees,” Foster said.
Lewis-Hardy agreed about niching down.
“I can’t stress that enough,” she said, adding that groups are a great niche to get into. “Your groups can not be shopped. They can’t be priced around and you’ll actually end up with even more people becoming clients.”
Bauer told advisors to get out there and “live the life.” Travel whenever possible and share your experiences online with your clients.
“Let them know you’re at Travel Market Place. Let them know you’re getting in front of suppliers and building those relationships,” she said.
Newell counseled advisors to prioritize education whenever possible.
“Knowledge is power. Whether its webinars or training, whatever it might be, give yourself that power. It gives you the confidence you need to be able to sell.”