Floored by a Client’s Special Request? Eight Tips That Will Help

by Steve Gillick
Steve Gillick

This is the first column for Travel Market Report from travel industry consultant Steve Gillick

You pride yourself on being a niche market specialist, a travel counsellor, an industry veteran. . . and then it happens. A client completely floors you with special requests for activities and you have no idea what he or she is talking about.

“I can’t return home without laying eyes on a blue-footed booby,” “I want to visit Jimmy Choo,” “I need to perfect my trifecta skills.”

You try to maintain your calm, cool appearance but you’re thinking “What the heck is this person talking about and how do I respond?”  

Travel professionals are not expected to know everything but here are eight suggestions that will help.

1.  Ask and understand.  Hmmm.  Never thought of that.  You mean I can just ask the client?  Yes.  Will they lose confidence in my abilities?  Depends how you handle this.

When my guide in Howth, Ireland referred to herself as a ‘blow in,’ I didn’t know what to think. But I simply said I wasn’t familiar with that term and she explained; it refers to someone who is not from the area and has ‘blown in’ from somewhere else.

Getting clarification from the client can work to your benefit. Just as you may be intimidated by the client’s knowledge, they may feel the same about your role as a tried and true professional. The act of asking can level the playing field, reinforce a comfort level and provide you with an immediate answer.

2.  The reader is the leader.  This is an old expression that has never lost its relevance.  Staying up-to-date with digital and print industry newsletters is tremendously valuable.

I may not read every article but when I see something that impacts what I do or relates to travel trends, I email it to myself and store it in an appropriate folder in my computer.  

An example: I was reading about the Dubai World Cup, known as the richest thoroughbred race in the world.  I discovered that betting is illegal in Dubai but if I wanted to perfect my “trifecta” skills (choosing the winners in exact order), I could do so online from another country.  My clients in the horse and horse racing niche might benefit from this information. Plus, now I know what a ‘trifecta’ is all about.

3.  If it isn’t on Google, it doesn’t exist.  This quote is a sign of the times.  Search engines can lead you to just about anything you want to know.

Type in Jimmy Choo and you’ll find shoes, bags and accessories from this popular retailer and you can then confirm whether there is an outlet at your clients’ destination.  

Can you do this while your client is sitting in front of you?  Absolutely. And you don’t have to be sneaky. Turn the monitor toward the client and look it up!  Involving the client makes them feel that they have your full attention.

4.  P.R.E is the preferred way to go. The acronym for Partner Relationship Engagement refers to the ‘gold’ you stockpile as you build your career.  These are the contacts that can work miracles for you—get you that ‘behind-the-scenes tour,’ that reservation at the Michelin-starred restaurant, and that place on a photo tour of the Galapagos.

As a travel consultant you actually gain more credibility from your clients when you refer to your network of experts.

5. The perks of professional development.  Conferences, webinars, specialist courses, and fam trips impart valuable knowledge but they must be approached with an action plan in mind.  Not everything will be valuable.  

Research first, write down what you need to get out of the event, and then make sure you ask the right questions and approach the right people to get what you need. Strive to get a return on each professional development investment.

6.  People who need people.  Don’t discount the value of networking. Meeting other seasoned professionals at industry events or educational programs can be invaluable.

This is where you relate that a client wants to visit car shows in Europe and you don’t even own a car. And this is where you will find out about the Wikipedia listing of all the world’s major car shows, or get a contact at a destination tourism office who knows the dates of major shows in their city or country. Business social media contacts can also fulfill these networking needs.

7.  Weird and wonderful clubs.  Pick any niche interest and chances are you will find a club of like-minded people.  For example?  How about the Ejection Tie Club where one has to have been ejected from a military plane seat in order to join-- and then you get to wear a special tie!  

But for you, the club is a source of knowledge—sometimes very specialized—that will quickly bring you up to speed about a topic.  You don’t need to join—just interview the president or an active member.  This will also help you to learn the ‘lingo’ or terminology used by those in the know.

8.  Attitude is everything.   When a client mentions a word or activity and you have no idea what they’re talking about, you could make a face as if they’re crazy or you could utter the Homer Simpson “Duh.”

But you can also make a mental note of the activity or word or idea, do some research, and then surpass the clients’ expectations by developing the idea with suggestions, available dates, activities, costs, and benefits.  

Instead of asking “Shall I see if this activity is do-able?” the more proactive approach is “I’ve prepared the activity with all the details for you.  Shall we include this on your trip?”

Steve Gillick is the Active Ingredient at Talking Travel, www.talkingtravel.ca, a consultancy in Toronto, Canada that specializes in writing and speaking about destinations, niche markets and travel trends. Contact Steve at: steve@talkingtravel.ca.

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