When the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) revealed its latest consumer travel survey this spring, president and CEO Zane Kerby urged agents to understand that they can influence traveler purchases and increase sales by learning how to time sales efforts along what many retail industries call the consumer’s “path to purchase.”
Instead of seeing travel information available on the internet as a threat, Kerby advised, agents need to recognize how they can help consumers pick through the plethora of options. And who better to do that than a proactive, knowledgeable travel agent.
“Agents need to find a way to insert themselves into that research process,” Kerby said. “So if I owned a travel agency, I’d say you have to snuggle up to your customers. Get a good CRM [customer relationship management system]. It’s really, really important.”
Technology affords agents the ability to determine where consumers are on the path to purchase, though that technology isn’t always available to unaffiliated, independent agents.
Host agencies like Avoya Travel have been investing in software that helps track traveler internet search habits, and they are trying to marry that data with customer profiles to help agents target customers with more information.
“Consumers love planning their own vacations,” said Avoya Travel executive vice president Jeff Anderson, echoing sentiments Kerby shared at a press conference in early May unveiling the ASTA survey findings.
“We don’t want to take that away from them. We want to come along side it. The question really comes down to, ‘What vacation do you really want to take?’ When your client is dreaming, ‘I think I want to go somewhere warm,’ we should jump into that occasion and say, ‘I think you’re going to love Cabo instead of Cancun, Hawaii versus Jamaica.’ Help them make that decision in the dream state.”
Embracing this change will allow agents to accelerate the evolution from travel reservations specialist, to a true seller of travel.
“This is part of the joy of technology. A lot of people have a fear, that technology will get in the way of making a sale. What we need to do is make technology less invasive. First, let’s get everything, from the customer profile, to their travel search history, to all of the supplier options, in one place, where an agent can access it and use it. Once we have that, there are really cool things you can do.”
Avoya Travel vice president of sales development Ashley Hunter remarked about how for consumers looking for special deals, the path to purchase can be delayed if travelers feel confused about which promotions apply to which cruise lines, which sailings or cabin class, etc.
When you overlay exclusive offerings from networks like Avoya, the path can be longer, and the travel agent needs to know how to consult with their client effectively, Hunter said, to get them to purchase.
“Clients need agents to decipher all of the options. With this new tool, the agent and the client are closer to purchase. They aren’t starting the conversation at the beginning of client’s intent to travel.”