Travel agents survived a tumultuous 2016, with the Zika virus and terrorism disrupting travel patterns, hotels going direct to their frequent guest program members, and an economy that forced them to work harder to produce modest travel sales growth.
But travel professionals still thrived as everyone—from Millennials to Baby Boomers, from the consumer media to key travel suppliers—seemed to once again recognizing the value of travel agents.
Looking forward, they say, 2017 could be a breakout year.
Since this is the time of year many people make personal and professional resolutions to help them achieve goals, Travel Market Report reached out to agents and other industry representatives across North America to see what they are focused on for 2017.
The big picture
Norman Payne, an Ottawa travel agent, has resolved to advocate for a Canadian “Travellers Bill of Rights” in 2017.
“Throughout my career clients and agents have expressed disappointment with what airlines, tour operators, cruise lines and car rental companies have gotten away with” in how they treat consumers, Payne said.
Canadian Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau in November announced the Canadian government will introduce new guidelines and compensation rules regarding airline passenger complaints like lost or damaged luggage, and being bumped off flights. And while past efforts have failed to produce any kind of rules or legislation, Payne remains resolute. “I know from experience that if you have the right attitude you are guaranteed to reach the right altitude!” he said.
Get organized and get in touch with clients
Many agents told TMR they are tackling that perennial resolution favorite: getting organized.
Stephen Scott, director of cruise sales at First in Service Travel in New York said “one key thing I will be doing is to organize my key vendor contacts, and regularly communicate with them on the consumer outreach initiatives that I am working on.
“My goal is to ensure we are all seamlessly and consistently working together as a holistic unit to grow sales, build relationships and support the needs of our growing client list. Our supplier partners should not find out after the fact that we had an event, speaking engagement, or customer promotion.”
Scott is making a supplier list and checking it twice, to see which “are our most used, which suppliers are seeing strong growth, and which are showing the effort to work with us to grow sales activities, or become easier to do business with. Then I will set up an introductory meeting to talk about what to expect, and then schedule a regular communication for those key vendors. I'm confident that it will be a positive move for us all.”
Sandy Westerman at Sanders Travel Centre in Fort Worth, TX, is determined to meet with every client personally or by phone this year to try to help each one come up with a travel wish list. “I’m focused on keeping up with my client’s needs and trying to plan more in conjunction with them on future travel,” Westerman said. “I think it’s important to look at your client’s whole travel picture, not just the one vacation they may be inquiring about. Knowing their wish list is important; we can help our clients plan better and use their time, money and even points to their advantage.”
Jacob Marek, who launched IntroverTravels in 2016, said he is focused on growing his client list. “To me, this is the most important thing, because as I get my business going, being able to communicate with my contact list is how I will get people to know, like and trust me—and ultimately, book a trip through me. Rather than chasing sales, I'd like to beef up my list so that I can nurture authentic relationships with people, which I think will be a better long-term strategy (and help me keep my sanity).”
To that end, he said, “I'll continue blogging and guest-blogging frequently, creating content that my ideal clients will want to devour, as well as using social media and some Facebook ads to reach a wider audience.”
Pris Phillips, vacation specialist with Dream Vacations in Columbia, SC, is resolving to “plan to more consistently reach out to my clients following their trip, and with a more personal touch. Our CEO, Brad Tolkin, recently shared a story about one of our travel partners who sent a photo to him following their annual golf outing. If my clients post a photo during their trip on social media or share it with me, I will print out this photo and send it to them with my thank-you note. I think it's a great personal touch to show how much I appreciate their business.”
Entering new markets and staying up to date
Jack Fingerman, independent vacation specialist with Cruises Inc., Mount Laurel, NJ, said entering the luxury/river cruise market is his most important resolution for 2017. “This will not only increase our sales, but enable us to bring exotic destinations closer to our clients.”
His agency plans to visit wine/liquor shops, country clubs, high end restaurants and similar businesses to “develop a relationship with the owner/manager of the establishment. Once we have a rapport and relationship, we will suggest doing a co-op. We will advertise and publish news releases/articles with photos in the establishments' newsletter. I want to have a presence at golf outings and other events in the community. I also will suggest a luxury/river cruise to clients who have booked suites with us.”
Other agents, like Valarie Contrino, certified travel advisor at Contrino Travel, Inc., in Staten Island, NY, will be trying to keep up with the fast-paced change of travel. “With so many changes within the industry happening daily, it sometimes can be difficult to focus on these changes,” she said. “As travel professionals, we have to be 10 steps ahead of our clients. After all, they have access to the Internet and sometimes know more about a particular product than we do!”
Contrino is going to “take the time to read the daily ‘tickers’ that provide updates within the industry” and “to network with other travel professionals--great minds think alike!”