With 2023 winding down, it is time, once again, to reflect on the past year and look towards the fresh start of the new year. Most travel industry experts agree that the 2024 travel season will be a boom year. Even with all of the unrest in the world, people are eager to travel. They need an outlet from life’s unrelenting daily stresses, and what fits the bill better than an invigorating travel adventure (the destination wisely chosen, of course, with the help of their trusted travel advisor)?
Now with the upcoming holidays just around the corner, we all want to enjoy the festivities of the season with family and friends, but this is no time to rest on one’s laurels. Be sure to carve out some time in the coming weeks to review your travel agency’s performance in 2023 and plan for 2024. Here are the action items that every travel advisor should do to set themselves up for their best success in the new year.
1. Assess performance and set goals
“At the end of each calendar year, we take the time to meet with each advisor one-on-one before Wave Season starts. During this time, we assess past productivity and trends with their clients,” says Jennifer Wooten, owner, of Magnolia Travel Group.
“This is a great time to brainstorm and be one step ahead to suggest a new destination that their clients may be best suited to travel to in the upcoming year. We love giving our clients new ideas of travel destinations that they might not have thought of before … We are dedicated to ensuring that our advisors are trained, experienced, and knowledgeable, not only in the destinations they are selling, but on any updates in the travel industry.”
2. Review and plan your workload
“To prepare for the new travel season, I review my current workload and that of my staff, explains Samantha Hammond, owner, Jus Adventures. “Between myself and my two inside agents, we are always juggling multiple itinerary requests, making bookings, and following up with clients daily, so I make sure that not only are we on task with our current workload, but that we are not overextended, so that we know ahead of time if we can take on additional work at the beginning of the year (our peak season). This works well for us because sometimes we find that we don't have the bandwidth to take on more clients or we may have to move things around a bit to accommodate additional clients.”
3. Catch up on training
In addition, Hammond focuses on training. “My team and I specialize in destination weddings and honeymoons. We usually have a little bit of downtime between November and the start of December (right before wedding season starts), so during that time, we make sure that we are up to date with all of the wedding training from our preferred suppliers. We check to make sure that we know what their packages entail (because pricing and availability can change from year to year), and to see if there are any special sales or promotions that they are offering. We take a lot of webinars and training right before the new year begins.”
Wooten also has her agents attend various travel conferences during the year. “This helps to keep our agents ahead of the curve and continues to allow them to develop personal relationships with our vendors, which is vitally important in the travel industry. These actions, along with others we follow as a cutting-edge agency, keep us ahead of the curve as new training and travel might need to be put in place.”
4. Refresh your knowledge
Mario M. Lopez, president, of Destination Weddings Expert, LLC, said “the new year brings so many opportunities for us as travel advisors to take a deep dive into the new inventory that is available in the market; new packages that our hotel partners are offering; and, of course, as my husband Will would say, to set your intentions. When I'm not reviewing my systems or planning with some of our amazing couples, I use this time to make it to as many destinations as I can to refresh my knowledge.
“With events such as Ascend (ALG Vacations), WOW (AIC/Hard Rock), Love Mexico (IADWP) and so many more, there are endless opportunities to expand your knowledge of the industry and familiarize yourself with all of the tools available to you to make you as efficient as possible in this new travel season!”
4. Start marketing now
Hammond starts marketing before the new year begins “by sending out a weekly newsletter to our current clients. I also shoot a lot of YouTube videos during this time, as a way to inspire potential clients to start thinking about their 2024 vacations now. This works great because we sometimes even drum up last-minute bookings because of this.”
5. Strengthen BDM relationships
“Building and maintaining relationships with our Business Development Managers is key to a successful year at our agency,” explained Wooten. “We really rely on our BDMs to keep us in the know of sales, promotions, and new training. We meet at least once or twice a year in person with our BDMs and have several virtual trainings with them, as well. Working with our preferred suppliers keeps our agency on top, and makes our agents the ones that our community wants to book their travel with … We value the resources that are provided to us so that we can look like rockstars to our clients!”
6. Check in with clients
“Travel season, and for those destination weddings experts such as myself, engagement season, is the Olympics of our year! Like any marathon, it's important we keep our tools as sharp as possible as we near it. It's this time of year that you'll find your friendly travel advisor buried in their computer, checking all of our ‘sexy’ systems to ensure that we can support the groups that are about to entrust us with one of the most special days of their lives. I, personally, take this time to check all of the emails that I send out to help nurture our groups who are getting ready for travel. Do you still need that form in Mexico? What are the travel restrictions in the Dominican Republic? We love our guests to be as informed as possible as they get ready to embark.”
7. Be active in Facebook groups
Lopez also stays active in Facebook groups during this time. “It's so important to stay connected with the community and hear what the trends and challenges are out there from couples who may not be working with us. What challenges are they experiencing with properties? What are they experiencing with their guests? Where do they want to go and what do they want it to look like? The conversations are out there, how are you contributing to them?”
8. Step out of your comfort zone
Another idea is to try something new and take on a task that is a bit out of your comfort zone. An example from Lopez’s playbook: “Ashley Morris and I host a podcast called ‘Flights,’ which we publish weekly, that speaks to everything from sexy systems to all of the good, bad, and ugly of the destination wedding and group segment of the travel industry. Each week, we dive into the most exciting (and sometimes controversial!) topics facing today’s modern travel advisor. You can expect encouragement, honesty, and a dash of tough love now and then, but it will always be served with a side of kindness and laughter. Warning: We keep it real, so this podcast may not always be suitable for little ears!”
Here’s to 2024
As for trends and upcoming opportunities in the new year, Hammond said: “Our European business has been booming. It's been our fastest-growing area over the past two years, and we don't expect it to slow down any time soon … Regarding 2024, we are already on track to surpass this year's sales number, so we are expecting another great year next year.
Lopez predicts: “Travel in 2024 is going to see some amazing new trends, and also some carry-over from 2023. Starting with Mexico, we're seeing a big shift in the coasts. Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Playa del Carmen will forever hold our hearts and offer amazing and exciting destinations for our couples to choose from. However, we're seeing a big shift to the West Coast, as destinations such as Los Cabos are quickly growing into luxury destinations for couples who are looking to have a different (yet stunning) backdrop to accompany their destination wedding. The Dominican Republic's Tourism Board has invested a great deal of time and resources into the continued growth of tourism throughout the country. If you haven't taken the time to get to know areas such as Cap Cana, Costa Bavaro, and La Romana, I would start to set your eyes there. Step outside of Mexico and the Caribbean. And I know we'll continue to see the surge to Europe grow as destinations -- such as Italy, Greece, and Spain -- prove time and time again that there's nothing like the classics to spark that romance.”
Wooten is also all in regarding Europe. “We have seen a significant increase in travelers wanting to take the big leap and travel internationally, in general, but specifically on European vacations. If Covid taught us anything, it is not to take life for granted, and get out and see the world. We booked so many domestic vacations during and after COVID-19. National parks and theme park vacations were extremely popular in 2020, 2021, and even part of 2022. Thankfully, travelers are now ready to expand their horizons and see the world! Italy, Croatia, and Greece are the top destinations we are finding that our clients are visiting in 2024. Additionally, the 2024 Summer Olympics are in Paris, so that is adding to the desire to head to Europe and explore the world. We are also seeing a great increase in ocean cruises. Cruising is just such a great way to unpack once and see multiple destinations.”
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