New York—Some countries may be put off by the tough talk of the new President of the United States. But Trump’s friendship with Vladimir Putin, and the stream of news that accompanies it, are pushing a renewed interest in a new and huge destination most Americans have yet to visit.
In the spanking-new offices that just opened on Park Avenue, Trafalgar’s CEO Gavin Tollman said “Britain is through the roof” so far in 2017, and Scandinavia, Iceland and Ireland “also have continued their upward trend.” But the hottest and perhaps most surprising new destination is the Soviet Union.
“Americans are fascinated to go see Russia,” Tollman told TMR on our first official visit to the new office, the company’s first on the East Coast. “Our sales to Russia are up just under 60% and we are fighting to get more capacity.”
Farther East, Japan also is “an unbelievably robust destination; we are in Year 4 there, and sales have doubled almost every year.”
Here on the East Side of Manhattan, meanwhile, Trafalgar is putting the finishing touches on its commitment to the United States and the core of travel agents who made its success possible, Tollman said.
From left Guy Young, Brett Tollman, Gavin Tollman.
Citing a “commitment to put in place an infrastructure that will ensure our opportunity for future success through the trade in the United States,” Trafalgar last week officially opened the office and welcomed the staff that will fill it—including new regional head of sales for the East Coast Lisa Nolte, who joined from Avis.
Only two positions remain unfilled, one in Texas and one in Washington DC—where Trafalgar is looking for candidates. “Anyone who is dynamic, interesting, and loves to do things differently should apply,” Tollman said.
Overall, Tollman said, 2017 is looking like a great time to be a travel agent—or a travel supplier. He credits three principles with helping push Trafalgar sales to their highest growth since 2013: “Travel agents’ belief in us and commitment to us; our brand position; and clearly, the positive economic times. There’s an exuberance in the market, and we are sitting today in a very positive position. At a time when people are asking where will agents be in five years, we see our agent partners adding value to the buy cycle, and having an ever-increasing relevance ,” he said.
What makes a successful travel agent
Still, he noted, there are travel agents and there are travel agents. “We are starting to see the enormity of the divergence between effective and non-effective travel agents. The agents who really get it, who use the three core principles of sales and service, are thriving.”
The three key criteria that make an agent effective comprise, first and foremost, a genuine love of travel and a desire to be part of this industry. Second, effective agents appreciate how vital they are in the customer’s decision-making process, and have a real understanding of the fact that even customers who have done research on the Internet are looking for advice and guidance. “They ask open-ended questions, like why do you want to travel, what inspires you, what do you want to get out of this trip?” And third, they provide great service.
For his own staff, Tollman said, he looks for people who are “driven to succeed, who enjoy being a little different, who understand the dynamism of our industry.” Once a year he takes his 20 top salespeople on an incentive trip; last year they went to Kyoto before the annual sales meeting in Hiroshima. Past incentives have had the team diving with sharks, mountain biking in Moab, lunching with the prime minister of Hungary, hot air ballooning in Capadaccio (Turkey).
“At a time when there is uncertainty in the world, it’s not about the words, it’s about the execution,” Tollman says. “We made the commitment to the trade and the trade is working with us to fulfill that commitment. That’s what partnerships are about.”