Ongoing skills development is critical to success in any profession. But what if your career selling leisure travel is in its infancy? Where should you focus your business and professional development?
We put the question to eight of the most powerful and successful women in retail travel. If we were guilty of looking for a simplistic answer, they didn’t take the bait. As their responses suggest, no single skill or even set of skills is enough to create success in this multifaceted and demanding profession.
“Being a leisure travel advisor is a complex career. But it is a career that can be incredibly rewarding, as long as you are very organized and detail-oriented, an effective written and verbal communicator, a strong people-person with enthusiasm, the desire to provide service, an interest in travel and a desire to constantly learn about new places, destinations and product,” said Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel in New York.
Here’s some more advice from top female travel executives on how to build success as a leisure travel consultant.
1. Master the basics.
“The most basic skill is communication. I’ve always said, ‘She who calls a client back on time or responds to an email with clear information generally wins.’ Get to the point, be clear, remain professional, keep it personal, under-promise and over-deliver. Create your own system of organization so you stay on top of client projects. If you develop this early on, you will reap productivity gains as you grow your business. Never ignore your clients. Follow up on all the details and never assume something will get done for your customer unless you have it in writing. Get everything in writing.”
– Andi Mysza, president, MTravel, Montrose, CA
2. Learn to make connections.
“Networking skills are a valuable tool in any business. Be approachable. Get your name out there and network with as many people as possible to grow your database. Get involved in local Chamber of Commerce programs; network at the local country club. Network while being very sales-focused and very service-oriented.”
– Kathryn Mazza-Burney, executive vice president, global sales, TRAVELSAVERS and The Affluent Traveler; president, NEST, Oyster Bay, NY
3. Focus on a specialty.
“When you first start out, you need to focus as much as possible. Select a product that you can study and become an expert. By specializing in a product you differentiate yourself from the competition. Most importantly, experience the product you are selling. Take advantage of travel agent rates, fam trips and more. The best way to sell a product is to experience it firsthand and share those experiences with your customers. They will recognize and appreciate your authentic passion for the product.”
– Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president, CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., Wilmington, MA
4. Take advantage of training opportunities.
“Get training and coaching early in your career. Attend programs like the Travel Institute Travel Academy; many TMCs have training programs as well. It is a great way to get acclimated, learn product and sales tools, plus build a professional network for yourself.”
– Kimberly Wilson Wetty, Valerie Wilson Travel
5. Get customers talking about what matters.
“Really knowing your sales skills is key. It’s building a relationship and being able to converse. It’s probing about their needs and wants by asking open-ended questions and getting them focused. If you’re waiting for them to ask questions, you’ll lose them. Have them describe their last vacation, have them say what they liked and didn’t like so the picture is created and they’re doing the talking.”
– Elaine San Juan, director western region, leisure, Worldview Travel, Santa Ana, CA
6. Make the right match.
“It is not enough to just learn about your client’s wants and needs. You have to ensure that you apply what you’ve learned and make the right vacation recommendations. Remember you are in the relationship business and your clients are your greatest asset. Do not treat a booking as a transaction. It is the opportunity to build an ongoing relationship that results in future bookings and referrals.”
– Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion, Southlake, TX
7. Develop your brand identity.
“Create your own personal brand so people in your community start recognizing you as the go-to person for booking vacations. Determine what your value proposition is—why is someone going to book with you over someone else?—and communicate that to your customer base. The best way to do so is by becoming involved in your community.'
– Debbie Fiorino, Senior Vice President of CruiseOne/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., Wilmington, MA
8. Use technology creatively.
“One of the most important skills a successful agent must possess is the ability to creatively adapt to new technologies without losing the personal touch. There are creative ways to use technology that will still feel high touch and personalized to your clients.”
– Claire Bennett, executive vice president, American Express Travel, New York
Next time: Powerful women in travel share advice on how to grow leisure sales.