With the countless websites, apps, and other booking options now available to travelers, generating repeat business depends more than ever on maintaining a clear line of communication with clients—ideally with a personal touch.
“I grew up in the business during a time when one could hang a sign on the door that said, ‘Travel,’ and they would come. But boy, how times have changed,” said Scott Kertes, president of Vacations by Design @ Hartford Holidays, an Ensemble agency based in Garden City, NY. “Today’s customer service experience starts long before any booking gets made, continues throughout the time spanning from trip deposit to travel date, and continues even more so after the trip ends.”
One of the biggest factors in the change is surely the overload of options and offers with which travelers are bombarded, said Nolan Burris, former travel agent and consultant, and current owner and chief visioneer at Vancouver-based Future Travel Solutions.
The average person takes a trip that involves a travel consultant only about once every 18 months, Burris said—so communication is a critical connection to keeping the agent top-of-mind for the long months in between.
If you are only in touch when the client wants to travel, you are competing with “18 months of marketing by websites, pop-ups, mobile apps, promos and, of course, other travel agencies,” he said.
Know your customer
Clients are people, of course, and like all people they differ in terms of personality and preferences. Where one may value privacy and personal time and not want to be bothered, another may require a more hands-on approach and lots of communication between trips. Essentially, it’s the agent’s job to tailor a strategy to meet the needs of each individual client.
Colleen Gilette, president of New Paltz Travel Center, Inc., in New Paltz, NY, stays in touch by telephone and by email during the trip-planning stage. Then she calls when the customer returns to welcome them home and ask how the trip went.
By then, “we are usually discussing ideas for their next trip, even if it is a year away,” she said.
For Kertes, it’s that period of excitement leading up to the trip that offers agents the most opportunity to strengthen their relationship with clients.
A recent study concluded that the most exciting time during the vacation process is not the vacation itself, but the time leading up to the vacation, he noted. “That’s when good travel agents can prove their weight in gold to their clients, and build great relationships.”
Kertes also noted that all the vehicles of communication available today—emails, social media, websites, etc.—are valuable tools. The key is to determine the best combination to use with each client based on their individual demographics, as well as things like the agent’s proximity and business model.
Gilette notes that details like a client’s age also influence how to best communicate with them. While her preference is to communicate by email, that’s often not the preferred method for older customers.
Set the right tone
Along with choosing the most appropriate vehicle, it’s equally important to find the right tone. Remember that the goal is not “marketing,” but building a personal relationship that will make customers want to do business with you.
“There is a big difference between staying in touch and selling at people,” Burris said. “If every communication is about trying to get a client to buy something, you risk being seen as just another annoying source of spam.”
So in between marketing yourself, send a news story or an article that may be of interest to them.
“Be human. Your humanity is your biggest advantage over all the electronic options out there, so use it,” Burris said.
In the end, it’s that one-on-one connection that keeps them coming back. “You don’t sell travel. You sell YOU.”