You don’t miss what you don’t have, so as Thanksgiving approaches, Travel Market Report asked the agency community what they are thankful that they did have this year. For some, dodging the impact of the hurricanes was a huge relief, while others were unfortunately not so lucky. But all in all, travel agents seem to be grateful for the success of the industry at large, and of course, their faithful clients.
Loyal client base and referrals
It is the bread and butter of any travel agent business. The go-to list of leisure and business clients who must travel to either earn a living or maintain their lifestyle and sanity. Agents are more than grateful for client referrals to friends, family members and particularly positive posts shared on social media and travel review websites.
Suppliers took the opportunity in 2017 to boost commission percentages or incentives, giving travel agents more motivation to sell their products, while simultaneously enhancing their bottom line. In September, Riviera Cruises began offering travel agents lifetime commissions; while Carnival Cruise Lines launched its “AMP Up Commission Challenge,” which gave travel agents the opportunity to increase their commission percentage from 10 to 15 percent, to name just a few.
Industry support in times of crisis
This year unfortunately was marked by an overwhelming number of natural disasters and their subsequent disruption to travel overall. On the upside, crisis upon crisis further emphasized the importance of using a travel agent – making its way to the forefront of travelers’ minds. “I think this year really allowed travel professionals to shine in tough situations and I am very thankful to the travel media for shining the light on how travel professionals can truly assist our clients during times of trouble, the hurricanes in particular,” said Jennifer Doncsecz, CTIE, president of VIP Vacations, Inc. in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Preferred relationships can be as comforting to a travel agent in crisis as the ear of a trusted friend on a bad day. “I am thankful for the relationships I have with Business Development Managers (BDMs) of some of my preferred suppliers,” said Colleen Gillette of New Paltz Travel in New Paltz, N.Y. “That helped with the disasters. I hope to keep the relationships going and cultivate more of them.”
Travel, travel, and oh yeah … travel
While today’s travel professionals are less likely than decades ago to join the profession solely for the travel perks, “without question,” as one agent put it, travel remains high on the list of perks agents are thankful for this year.
Today’s travel agent is a savvy business person. Gone are the days of order takers, as more travel professionals arm themselves with the sales and marketing tools vital to running a successful agency. “As someone who has been in the business for 46 years, I see that, as a group, travel agents are a lot less naïve and a lot more business-like. We are a bunch of survivors. We have so much more competition, and we have to know the world and how to get the information our client needs,” said Tony Fragapane, owner of Voyages Concierge Deluxe Travel in Montreal.
It is a resource no one can ever take away from you and it is quickly catapulting travel agents into the next millennium. Suppliers did not waste any time this year bolstering their certification programs, and travel agents took notice by signing up for webinars, seminars and any kind of educational resource they could find. It is no secret that studies have found wealth and income are strongly linked with education.
Vacations tend to be first on the chopping block when the economy takes a hit, but fortunately 2017 saw a healthy return for the travel industry community. And the trend to spend discretionary income on vacationing is not expected to slow anytime soon. Employment in North America is on the rise, which history has told us translates to more travel in general.
“I’m thankful for the fact that a lot more people have more money,” said Fragapane. “The U.S. economy is incredible and the more people who have more money, the more they will travel.” According to recent research from the WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) along with Oxford Economics, the outlook for the travel and tourism sector in 2017 “remains robust and will continue to be at the forefront of wealth and employment creation in the global economy.”
The people on the other end of the suppliers' phones or emails can be an agent’s lifeline of support, and they have not been overlooked on this year’s list. “I am grateful to all those countless frontline people from airlines, tour operators, cruise lines, airport personnel and many more whose advice, assistance, sense of humor and willingness to go above and beyond make it happen for my clientele,” said Norman Payne from Custom Travel Solutions in New York, N.Y.
Coming in early, leaving early. Starting later in the day and being available to your clients in the evening. The travel agent advantage of flexible hours is equally beneficial to their clients, who in some cases can access their advisors round-the-clock. If not, they are free to choose from a plethora of travel agents whose schedule aligns best with their own.
Support from Coworkers
“I’m thankful for my coworkers. We’re constantly collaborating. If there’s an issue, if we need help, we always have advice from others or an answer,” said Courtney Kearly, an agent with Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Toronto.