Efficiency is a huge topic for travel advisors. You might even call improving efficiency the holy grail of retail travel.
To wit, when Virtuoso polled its travel advisors last year about their top strategic objectives for the next 12 to 18 months, “improve advisor efficiency” ranked first, surpassing longstanding concerns around developing and finding talent.
Most agency groups, Avoya Travel among them, invest heavily in technologies designed to automate work processes and reduce inefficiencies for advisors. Doing so “creates value for everybody in the equation,” Avoya Co-President Jeff Anderson said recently. “The more efficient we can make everybody, life blossoms from that point on.”
It’s obvious why efficiency – the ability to get things done with the least amount of time and effort – is a big issue in travel. Advisors have tons of diverse tasks to accomplish in any given day, not to mention dealing with travel emergencies; responding to incoming phone calls, emails and texts; and staying current on product and destination news.
Getting all that done swiftly frees up time to sell, and sales paves the way to profits. “The more efficient a travel advisor is, not only with research and booking but also with follow-up, payments, documents and other details, the more they will maximize their return on work time,” said Connie Corbett, CTC, president of Ambassador Travel, in Evansville, Illinois.
Catching up on tech
There are a growing number of technology tools to help, but that can pose a challenge for veteran advisors. There’s an historical reason for that. “For years, there was very little innovation in making advisors more efficient,” said Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel Advisors, in Garden Grove, California.
“I don’t know many industries that rely on decades-old technology as their primary source to conduct sales, which is the case with travel advisors that rely on GDS platforms that were created back in the ’70s and remained virtually unchanged until just a few years ago.”
Then, almost overnight, advisors were faced with “a deluge” of new tech tools that could boost their efficiency. “From itinerary-building software, such as AXUS and Unmapped, to GDSs finally catching up to the 21st century, it literally happened all at the same time,” he said.
It’s especially urgent for travel advisors who cater to Millennials and Gen Xers to stay on top of such new tools, he said. “Sending a supplier-generated Word document to a Millennial is not going to cut it. They expect their information to be downloaded onto their phone and updated with real-time information, such as airline schedule changes and so on.”
Make time for learning
The best thing travel advisors can do to boost their efficiency, Johnson and Corbett agreed, is to schedule time every week for learning. “It could be as simple as watching YouTube videos on the best use of Office 365 or learning about the new tools that ClientBase has come out with over the past few years,” Johnson said.
Of course, with so much to do, it can be tough to set time aside for learning, but the investment will pay off. “You’ll be able to complete more work in less time, stay in touch with customers, follow up, complete bookings and minimize mistakes,” Corbett said.
“While a webinar on products, destinations, or tools will take time away from booking travel, the efficiencies gained from the learning investment will realize ongoing returns of increased bookings, more repeat and referral business, and fewer costly errors.”
Management can, and should, help
For their part, agency owners and managers should schedule regular group learning sessions on technology tools, both to provide initial training and information and to provide a forum for advisors to share tips and best practices with one another, Corbett and Johnson said.
Someone in management should be assigned to learn about new technology tools, Johnson suggested. “At least once a month, they need to sit down with senior management and discuss what they’ve learned and how they can use these tools to improve efficiency in the workplace.”
Johnson has gone so far as to hire someone whose sole job is to research new tools, learn how to use them, and teach Coastline Travel’s advisors how to use them.
Tap available resources
Travel advisors who work for smaller agencies that do not have the resources for such efforts should reach out to their consortium for information on new technologies, Johnson advised.
For independents, “it’s vitally important to align themselves with a forward-thinking host agency – one that offers the tools and, more importantly, training to support all the new tools that are coming into the marketplace,” he added.
Taking advantage of workshop and networking opportunities is critical for home-based advisors, since they do not benefit from informal sharing of tips and best practices with workplace colleagues.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series … Efficiency 101: Work smart and make the most of tools you use every day.