The single biggest challenge facing travel agents today is casting a wide enough net to gain new clients. “It starts with planting a seed,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International.
With watering can in hand, Freed expanded on the garden-your-way-to-success metaphor at the recent Travel Leaders Network International Conference in Orlando.
“Think about your business. What does your garden look like?” Freed asked, as images of different style gardens flashed across a screen behind her. Does it look like a Zen garden, attractive but sparse? Or like a garden of ferns and hostas, also attractive but lacking in diversity?
“We all strive to have lush beautiful diversified garden. Today I’d like to talk about how to grow your client base and keep it thriving,” said Freed, a longtime travel agent advocate. Here’s her advice:
Plant seeds with confidence.
Freed told the story of a brand new franchise owner who introduced herself to a couple seated next to her on a plane who were heading off on a cruise. Telling them of her new business venture, she impressed the couple enough that they decided to buy their future vacations through her.
The lesson? “This new franchise owner didn’t have the experience, but she had the confidence, the passion, the connection,” Freed said.
Tell your story.
One of the easiest ways for agents to spark conversations about travel is through visible branding, such as by wearing a shirt with an agency logo. Freed always wears a nametag, she said.
The cruise exec related the tale of an agent who was using a Royal Caribbean bag while shopping at Whole Foods. When a woman in line spotted the bag it triggered a conversation about cruises. The woman went on to become a client.
“The point is you’ve got to tell your story,” Freed said.
Cross-pollinate with local business.
Freed urged agents to gain visibility and “grow local vegetation” by partnering with other local businesses and charities. “Plant your seed in someone else’s garden,” she advised.
Ask for referrals.
Referrals plus reviews equal revenue––it’s called the R Equation, said Freed.
While many agents already ask for referrals, agents should rethink at what point in the selling process they do so. Rather than wait until clients get home, ask for referrals as you’re closing the sale.
Simply asking, “Is there anyone else you can think of that might want to travel with you on your vacation?” will yield one new customer for every four times you ask, said Freed, citing the experience of cruise line sales desks.
Ask for and post reviews.
“Reviews are a powerful way to get new clients,” Freed said.
Nurture your garden.
“Make sure you’re staying in touch with your clients in a very personal way. That’s what’s going to keep them from cheating on you,” said Freed. She Agents should use their client knowledge to reach out “beyond the bookings,” for instance around milestone events such as weddings and anniversaries.
But don’t rely on email, she admonished. “Email is a monologue––it is not a relationship builder. Use the phone.”
Plant a ‘garden of gratitude.’
Last, but not least, always remember to thank your clients for their business. “Let’s grow your garden together,” Freed concluded.