When it comes to cementing long-term client relationships, nothing succeeds like the personal touch. The human factor may be more important than ever in an era where consumers are increasingly barraged with automated mass marketing messages.
That’s the word from travel agency consortium leaders who were asked by Travel Market Report to advise travel sellers on where to focus their energies in 2012.
Their other top pointers for agents included these. Make the most of consortium marketing programs and training. Focus on multigenerational travel. Concentrate on higher-yielding products and packaging. Develop expertise, and take a proactive – not reactive – approach to business.
Keep Communication One-on-One
“I would do things to differentiate myself with my existing and prospective customers, making sure they know that I’ve got their best interests in mind. Do simple things like write handwritten notes about new products, new destinations or new itineraries. Send handwritten thank you cards. Do special little things that they’re not going to expect while they’re on the trip – and not just the same old stuff like a bottle of champagne or flowers. In today’s world of everybody being hit with communication from every angle, the things that stand out are the one-on-one conversations that service providers have with customers.” – Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne/Cruises Inc.
“Stay focused on the customer and their needs, the kind of experience they want – in the way you reach out to them, the way you communicate, your marketing strategies, and how you touch the customer. From a business perspective, it’s marketing. On a personal level, it’s one-to-one communication.” – John Werner, president and COO, MAST Vacation Partners
Understand Client Lifestyles
“I’d absolutely focus on developing my personal relationship with my clients, making sure I was integral to their process and understood their lifestyle, and not just in the collection of data. I’d make house calls. I would set up a 10-year plan with my clients to ensure that everything that I sent them was in fact viable to them. So the marketing would be personalized, and the calls would be based on what they had identified as their interests. And I would want to have the right tools to help me reach that client.” – Kristi Jones, president, Virtuoso
Focus on Higher-Yielding Products & Packaging
“Definitely focus on higher-yielding product and packaging; that is where there is more revenue for travel agents. I’d be working with my key preferred suppliers where I can maximize my commission levels. And I’d work on different packaging, offering those ancillary services and bundling all that together for my clients, and then touting my services.” – Nicole Mazza, chief marketing officer, TRAVELSAVERS
“Focus on education. You can’t smoke your way through this anymore. You’ve got to get online, and at the minimum you have to do the online courses of whatever you want to sell. It’s a benefit if you visit the destination or have been on the product; that’s a huge advantage. You have to speak with a level of authority that is honest. You really need to be an expert.” – Brad Anderson, co-president, Avoya Travel/American
Target Multigenerational, Celebratory Travel
“Focus on multigenerational, celebratory travel. This is huge right now in the U.S. – travel built around milestone birthdays, wedding anniversaries. Also, destination weddings are huge. I was recently in Cancun and saw one wedding after another on the beach.” – Michelle Morgan, president and CEO, Signature Travel Network
Make the Most of Your Consortium
“You join (a consortium) because we have great marketing programs, we have training, we have technology. Well, you’ve got to participate in them. The most successful agents figure out how to use all the tools, because it saves time and money.” – Michelle Fee, CEO, Cruise Planners/American Express
Go After the Customer for Life
“Once customers return from a trip, stay in touch with them. Look for opportunities to remember those important milestones and occasions in their lives. Get to know them as people. Go after the customer for life, not just the transaction. And make sure the customer knows the agent played a big role in making the vacation a success. Customers don’t always understand this.” – Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion
Sell Exceptional Value
“Focus on selling exceptional value and experiences. The consumer is demanding high value and new experiences. The travel agent needs to be able to communicate how they are delivering added value in order to close the sale.” – John Lovell, president, Vacation.com
“Keep enhancing your value to your customers with your knowledge, expertise and service.” – Bill Sutherland, vice president-travel services, AAA, Inc.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
“If I had to give one piece of advice, I’d say be proactive, not reactive. People tend to put an ad someplace and wait for a phone to ring. You can’t in today’s market. Be really proactive and go get your business.” – Michelle Fee