It’s a sold-out show with many standing-room-only sessions in Toronto, as Canada’s travel professionals gathered for two days of education and networking at TMR’s third annual Travel Marketplace.
“This industry isn’t for the faint-hearted,” said ACTA’s newly hired president Wendy Paradis. But even as the industry embraces technology more and more, the theme of the first day seemed to be that customers really want a personal, human connection—and of course, that’s the real value a travel agent can add.
Emcee Ron Cates, international director of digital marketing education for Constant Contact, noted that a good online strategy involves 50% asking questions, using images, and getting likes and shares; 30% giving useful information that shows your expertise (and don’t be shy, use the word “expert”); and 20% promoting your business. Use Facebook Insights to track how you are doing and Hootsuite to schedule your postings. Show your personality. And remember that “digital forgiveness” is the norm. People want to connect with you on a personal level; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Fact of the Day: A Harvard study found customers will pay 69% more if they have a personal relationship with you. – Ron Cates
Christine Chilton, ACTA’s director of education, said the keys to success for travel agents are good product knowledge, caring for customers, a passion for travel, and ongoing training—like what is going on today at “the best conference there is in Canada.”
Her best advice: Share your personal stories. Wherever you go, share your experiences when you get back. And ask for referrals and testimonials.
The decision to specialize is a reflection of your business acumen, said Steve Gillick, president of consultancy Talking Travel in Toronto. So choose a specialty and then dig deep to uncover niches within it, and then niches within the niches. You don’t want to be known strictly as the Dark Chocolate Waterways Specialist—but you do want to be that Cruise Specialist who has intimate knowledge of the industry, a creative mind, a ton of connections to suppliers and local movers and shakers, and a growing customer base with testimonials and referrals.
Ian Johnson, president of Out Now, noted that the first-ever industry study of LGBT travelers, held in conjunction with TMR, found that the top six activities for Canadian LGBT travelers are dining, walking/hiking, museums, beaches, local history, and LGBT nightlife—so don’t make LGBT nightlife the sole focus of your selling. And remember that many LGBT travelers are nervous about sharing their status, and are less likely to use a travel agent than others. Open the door by saying, “Will you be traveling with a partner?”
Since so many LGBT-focused suppliers are small and new, it’s more important that customers have insurance, said Rick Hurlbut, president of Pride Enterprises. Even some of the biggest tour operators like Atlantis Events, sponsor of 6,000-passenger cruises, offers only limited shore excursions, so there is an opportunity to upsell.
To grow your business, a marketing plan is a must, said Scott Barker of Big Bark Graphics. "You’ve got to love your brand and promote it—Facebook it, Twitter it—and I guarantee all of Canada will know who you are." The best way to stand out to the consumer, he said, is to make it personal: "Get your passion across on that poster. I know it's hard, but that's what people connect with."