Travel counseling (or advising) is not an occupation. It’s a lifestyle where you are wired into travel, tourism, customer service, current events, professional development, and both idea and revenue generation. You do this on a 25/8 basis.
In 2020, the old-school concept of 24/7 has been supplanted by the reality of 25/8, which delivers a message akin to Nike’s famous turnaround slogan that “Impossible is Nothing.” A 25/8 attitude imparts descriptions such as “dependability,” “problem-solving” and “positivity” — and it is part of the personal messaging that ties you to your clients. You’ve got their back and they know it.
And, travel advisors communicate their indispensability by acting on it. Like a good Bluetooth connection dependant on wireless communication, you send out the vibes and the client effortlessly picks up the tune! There are five meaningful ways to do this.
1. Pay attention and be aware of client needs.
Develop the skill of anticipating questions, reading body language, and detecting hesitations in emails or texts. By addressing potential concerns, you show that you are in charge of the sales process; you are capable of empathy; and that you seek to ensure that the client is totally pleased with the options being presented and considered. This leads to a natural close of the sale, where the client is anxious to lay down the deposit, knowing that his/her needs have been satisfied by an attentive travel advisor who knows how to listen.
Your travel expertise derives from your personal experiences: That smiling market vendor in Ubud; the helpful restaurant server in Merida; the hotel concierge who told you about a shortcut to the Malecon in Havana; that amazing izakaya in Fukuoka where you just know that your clients who don’t speak Japanese would have a blast; the best place to buy leather in Florence, and more. In addition, you have your travel secrets: How to painlessly go through an airport; how to comfortably fly short-range or long-range; how to chill out at a busy hotel or all-inclusive; how to transition from food-eater to foodie, etc.
Indispensable travel advisors share their experiences and their secrets. As an example, your personal “Top 10 Flying Tips,” posted on a website, market you to your clients as a well-traveled professional with a wealth of great information to share, all in the service of exceeding client expectations. This information is impressive and costs nothing to post on a website. Add keywords and hash tags, and this can be a lead generator; or you can simply reassure your current clients that you are the one-and-only travel advisor they need.
3. Act and interact.
Your watchwords for travel can include taste, try, act, do, throw a bit of caution to the wind, converse, research, see the destination with 360-degree vision, and connect and get to know the destination like the proverbial back of your hand.
Avoid statements such as, “I hear the zipline in Whistler is amazing. You should try it.” Instead, strive to say, “I did the zipline. It’s an amazing adrenaline rush with spectacular mountain scenery.” It’s one thing to tell your clients to experience a hands-on workshop, but a totally different dimension of enthusiasm to relate the excitement you felt when you participated in the Kabuki workshop in Tokyo, or actually rode a motorcycle through Dalat, or snorkeled to view Cancun’s Underwater Museum.
Likewise, you can hand your clients a list of annual festivals in the destination along with your dream of attending one or two in the future. Or you can make it a point to time your adventure to coincide with the Sahara Festival in Douz or Yukon Days in Dawson, or other defining events.
As an indispensable travel advisor, you’re not interested in second-hand information with vicarious thrills. You’re interested in getting involved and bragging about your experiences. It’s perfectly OK to post selfies of yourself in action: Walking on a glacier; sampling craft beers; eating a yak burger; or crossing the equator. Plus, it’s great fodder for your social media accounts.
4. Personalize your travels.
Personalize your travels with your client’s needs in mind. Carry a general list of their special interests and check them off as you discover what your clients might enjoy. For example, “Hi George. Just letting you know that I happened upon the Globe Museum here in Vienna. You told me that you love antique maps and globes, so I thought of you. This museum is amazing and I’d love to tell you more about it when I’m back in town next week.” This quick email, sent by cellphone with a photo of the museum, tells the client that he/she is someone special and that you’ve gone out of your way for them.
You know that your clients’ points of passion, i.e. their niche (special) interests, are often the subliminal reason (and oftentimes the overt reason) that they travel in the first place. I think of my own trip to Mendoza, Salta, and Cafayate in Argentina, that was wholly inspired by my need to learn more about my favorite wine (Malbec) by visiting wineries, sampling the different types, and bringing home a few bottles that were not available back home. Other niche reasons to travel could include collecting Hard Rock t-shirts, or dolls or spoons; photographing birds and monkeys; seeking out Samurai armour; attending book fairs or food markets. Your advance scouting, on behalf of your clients, moves you up the scale from travel agent to trusted travel advisor.
5. Offer revelations!
Somewhere along the way, while we were growing up, some of us were told to be humble and not “toot your own horn,” i.e., don’t brag about your accomplishments.
But the folly in this advice is that few people know about your strength of character; your ability to resolve problematic situations; the number of people who have praised you for saving their vacation or saving them a ton of money; or opening their eyes to new destinations, activities and opportunities.
Testimonials reveal not only how your clients feel about you, but they also make your clients feel confident that they have entrusted you with their travels. Know that it’s OK to ask a client for permission to post the nice words they sent you about their vacation and the upgrade you suggested, that allowed them a taste of luxury they never thought they could afford. And it’s OK to post the facts about the client who encountered an airline strike and had no way of getting home, until you contacted her (to her surprise and relief) and arranged transportation.
The word “indispensable,” meaning “absolutely necessary,” sometimes gets a bad rap. And I would be remiss in not mentioning the idiom that “no one is indispensable.” When an individual egotistically considers themselves to be indispensable, then they are often in for a rude shock when their services are no longer required.
However for clients who prioritize peace-of-mind escapes and cherish their moments away from home, indispensable travel services endear them to their Travel Advisor. Is this you in 2020?