Sixty-one percent of consumers in a recent travel study consider themselves “Wishful Thinkers,” namely people who (prior to COVID-19) want to travel but don’t do it nearly enough. While some of these respondents pull the trigger now and again, the majority of them just aren’t taking the trips they dream about.
The results, which come from a study recently commissioned by a veteran tour operator who wanted to gain some insight on today’s travelers, prompted the staff at Travel Market Report to find out how travel advisors can convert these dreamers to doers?
In our interviews with advisors, the advice was never ending. And yet there was a common theme that echoed in each response: personal.
Whether referring to the personal attention an advisor provides, the personal experience someone has in-destination or the personal connection someone makes to a social media post that gets them excited about traveling, the word “personal” was paramount when asked how travel advisors can best win over this group.
Hands-on Service Wins Every Time
It’s no industry secret that personal attention from a travel advisor can make all the difference. A tried-and-true method, Susan Mirabito, executive vice president of operations for the Travel Network/Vacation Central in Anglewood Cliff, New Jersey, said it’s the one refrain she consistently uses in motivating her team of advisors. “I always remind them it’s about human contact, going back to sending a physical snail mail card and saying thank you for your business. It’s about asking the client what their interests are and what their level of comfort is and being able to provide all of what they need.”
Mirabito teased that travel is the only industry where you can ask how and where your clients’ sleep … and not get slapped. “Do a husband and wife want one bed or twins? Do they want separate rooms? If you’re not asking these questions, you’re not serving your client properly.”
She went on to point out that the millennial demographic is using travel advisors more than any other demographic (with Gen Xers close behind). Why? “Because they are looking for authentic experiences and they want a flawless vacation. They want their interests and needs met.”
“Personal interaction is the tipping point,” agreed Jeff Leach, owner of Dream Vacations in Omaha, Nebraska, who noted that his agency is not investing money in marketing right now, but rather spending its dollars on personal interaction opportunities where he and his wife (and agency partner) can tell their travel stories. Leach’s agency relies heavily on face-to-face marketing at expos, through sponsoring golf events and presenting at weekly referral groups, which all provide the opportunity to talk freely with people without making a hard sell. “I was anxious about my first trip to Europe, worried about the food and the flying, so when I share my own story with people, it makes them feel more comfortable. When someone is on the fence about traveling, it’s nice when they can talk with someone who can relate to what they’re feeling.”
Social Media Bridges the Gap
Although some might argue that social media is anything but personal, many advisors we spoke with said the opposite claiming that platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram serve as a private window to their personal travels, thus giving viewers an intimate look at the experience. Unlike traditional resort brand photography that seems to go unnoticed or fall flat with users, personal photos and experiences captured on video are providing the push many wishful thinkers need to seal the deal on a vacation.
“Today, social media is the access point to our customers. We have to leverage that as best we can,” said James Berglie, president of Be All Inclusive in Fallston, Maryland. “The best way to show the client experience is for advisors to travel and do fam trips.”
Leach concurred with Berglie, adding that prior to COVID-19, social media was one of the best avenues they’ve ever employed because it showed “how much fun we were having in our personal travels. We would post one photo and when we got back we were flooded with calls.”
Groups Help Extend the Personal Experience
A few of the advisors we interviewed rely heavily on groups, whether it be for a destination wedding or otherwise. By their accounts, group business is the best path towards repeat business, as it provides “new” travelers with an experience they might have otherwise not taken, as well as a go-to person they can contact for future vacations.
Most of Sarah Kline’s business consists of brides and grooms and their groups. Thanks to her niche, she has the opportunity to deal with a wide range of people, who in many cases find group travel and the assistance of an on-site group leader more comforting than going it alone. “I love dealing with the first experience people but the truth is, they wouldn’t ever go if it wasn’t for their friends and families going.”
Kline, president of Time For Travel, Ltd., based in Davidsonville, Maryland, points out that these wishful thinkers typically take the plunge after they have been invited to either a destination wedding or some type of milestone group trip and it’s all they needed to catch the travel bug. When that happens, she inherits a whole new set of clients.
A Promise of Security Goes A Long Way
Although potential travelers cannot always be escorted personally to a destination, there is a certain level of security that feels personal when you know an advisor is just a phone call or text message away.
“Everybody wants to travel but there is a fear of security,” said Mirabito. “Some people have this misnomer that nothing is going to go wrong. But things go wrong and you have to have the security of knowing there is someone you can call. By using an advisor or tour operator, especially one who has a great in-destination company, there is someone there to look out for you. The security of having an advisor can make people travel.”
Kline added that whatever their fears, serving as a second set of eyes for her clients is the confirmation they need to go, not to mention providing them with insurance coverage and not sending a client someplace she has never been. “I won’t send anybody anywhere I wouldn’t go or wouldn’t take my family to.”
While “personal” undoubtedly topped the list of advice handed out by advisors, there were some additional takeaways worth noting. For example, the ability to stagger payments for a trip and have it automatically deducted from your account can sometimes ease a client’s concerns over budgeting for a vacation. Also, rather than having your client develop a bucket list, why not consider a “Save for Later” list that speaks less to their immortality and more to the future vacations that are within their reach both economically and geographically?
The best news from this study? Knowing there is a large group of untapped travelers just waiting for the right advisor with the tools to change their minds.
FROM THE SPONSOR: ALG Vacations
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