The travel industry is bursting at the seams with supplier partner programs for land, air, and sea that are designed to help travel advisors maximize their earnings. But not all advisors are reaping the benefits. Here are some thoughts to consider and help determine if you’re making full use of reaching loyalty status with your select preferred partners in order to grow your revenues and profits.
The magnet of incentives, bonus commissions
“Incentives are a factor in where we decide to book,” said Kristi Huss, travel advisor and owner of Travel Savvi, Inc. – and most experienced travel advisors would agree. “Typically, we look at the top places that offer benefits and compare to see which ones are the best options to offer our clients.” The advantage for the agency, is, “for example, when you make a few bookings where there is an additional five percent or more of commission, it adds up as if you are getting additional bookings.
“I view loyalty programs as a win-win. We, as agents, get the benefit of the extra commissions, incentives, and travel benefits to try things out. In turn, we go to them as one of our top choices to book others because of what we gain and have experienced firsthand. Suppliers get the benefit of us funneling more of our business their way, instead of spreading it out, and being able to build a better relationship with them.”
But be forewarned, not all loyalty programs are created equal. “It's easy to sign up for all loyalty programs, but many times less is best, both for tracking/managing and aligning with those that are really advantageous,” said Denise L. Wiggins, global executive advisor/CEO of Denise Wiggins Travel & Health Services. “Yes, money is money (no matter how it is delivered) but selling a product for lower-quality incentives is not wise, in my opinion. I assess all low-hanging fruit offers, but I'm not going to abort a brand that serves my clients just to grab a limited or one-off low incentive.
Wiggins offered this further caveat: “I will never compromise a client's trip for an incentive that does not serve or match the client's needs just to pad my pocket for extra rewards. I have known advisors who have lost time and money trying to fix their client’s trip when it went south for a less-than-quality trip that missed the mark because the advisor desired the incentive and was not putting their client’s needs first. If it's not right for the customer, it's not right for me. It's important that incentives are not the driver behind what I choose to quote/offer to my clients for the sole purpose of serving me. Yes, it's part of the equation, but not the driving force. But, being organized and knowing what agent incentives are on the table can allow me to benefit should there be an alignment.
“The ultimate key is a supplier brand recognizing the value of an advisor program because it confirms to me that they recognize the value I can bring in return - and being in business together is good for everyone, including our mutual clients.”
Better educated advisors sell more
As travel advisors participate in FAMs and Seminars-At-Sea, they experience the hotel, cruise line, or destination firsthand much like their clients will. They become the expert, better able to sell the experiences offered by select travel partners.
Steven Gould, CTC ECC, president/CEO of Goulds Travel, explained in more depth: “Travel advisors have the opportunity to decide how they would best like to work with their preferred suppliers. We can either book directly with the hotel or through a tour operator of our choice. By using a preferred tour operator, we have the ability to ‘double dip’ into the tour operator’s loyalty programs, as well as that of the individual hotel. By having access to tour operator and hotel loyalty programs, we can essentially build our complimentary nights and bonus commissions to experience the products or destinations we sell firsthand. I believe this really helps travel advisors become the expert to better sell the experience rather than reading off a fact sheet.”
Creates built-in marketers
Wiggins made an interesting point about how loyalty programs can help with marketing: “I have noticed when quality product brands (that I have had major success with through the years and with which my clients are always highly satisfied) offer loyalty benefits, my clients become built-in marketers for me. Clients receive a quality and memorable trip, share with others (sometimes even before they have left, due to their excitement), and my loyalty benefits grow exponentially because new sales comes through the door.
“Do I still sell these brands without the promo? Absolutely. Do I love the loyalty programs? Without a doubt. I love watching my agent promo benefits grow quickly … It's definitely an incentive to keep such brands on my radar.”
Wiggins noted that she also creates marketing around supplier incentive programs, which gives her exposure and is highly advantageous for her agency. She is empowered to extend great deals to her clients, and sometimes then uses the loyalty reward to put back into her business to grow it.
Better tracking tools for business forecasting
Partner programs also offer valuable business operations tools, as Gould explained: “As an agency owner, supplier loyalty programs really help me create a better perspective of how we’re selling a particular brand or product. Many loyalty programs track the number of sales, dollar amounts of each booking, and much more, so we can easily forecast our growth with our preferred suppliers.”
The enhanced sales tracking also helps advisors to identify and offer bonus booking incentives for clients based on overall volume; and to more easily identify appropriate offers that combine cruise and hotel, for instance.
“Clients typically do not know of the relationship between suppliers and advisors; however, through trackability of loyalty programs, travel advisors are also able to offer bonus booking incentives for clients based on our overall volume,” said Gould. “So, even though the client may not know about the individual loyalty programs, they do help make us look like Rockstars!”
Strengthens advisor-supplier relationships
Loyalty programs strengthen the relationships between advisors and suppliers. “Travel advisors like to work with brands/partners that work WITH us, not against us,” Gould said. “By creating loyalty programs, many hotels and cruise lines have created additional value for travel advisors to do business with them specifically, and it’s usually a small way to give back and say thanks for the partnership that we’ve created together.
“We’ve also noticed many suppliers doing things like VIPing a client at check-in, offering a welcome amenity that they may not normally receive, or even an upgrade, solely based on the partnership we have with our preferred suppliers.”
Gould recommends that travel advisors meet with their BDMs and preferred suppliers at least once a quarter, if not more regularly, to discuss how they are trending based on their supplier loyalty programs. And, he said, “I know I’m personally guilty of it, but I’m sure we’ve all been told time and time again – REGISTER YOUR BOOKINGS! Remember, when you book directly with your preferred supplier partner, chances are the bookings will be registered automatically. However, if you’re double-dipping by using a third party, you could be leaving a lot of money or incentives on the table!”
The bottom line for most travel advisors regarding the relationships they have with travel suppliers is just how Wiggins described it: “Give me a quality brand that knows exactly what drives my business while providing robust programs (incentives/benefits/education) and we're in a partnership for the long-haul.”
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