With Wave Season and planning for the busy summer travel months behind us, travel advisors traditionally look forward to the calmer second half of the year. Historically it’s a time for taking some fam trips and training courses, building new business, and doing some marketing for the year ahead.
Travel agents are doing all those things — but also some unique new ones. First, though, many note that in 2019, June and July have been among the busiest months ever.
“Business has not slowed down for me or for my agents,” says Valerie Gossett of Premier Resources Travel Group. “It seems as if Wave Season never ended.” Tammi Ruffini agreed that it’s the “busiest summer I think I have had yet.” And Michal Barszap, CEO & president of I.T.S. Tours, Meetings & Incentives, said, “My busiest time starts now,” as he is organizing several group tours for the fall and winter. Added Linda de Sosa, “My clients are still booking ... for next week. I booked 71 trips so far this year, including 29 cruises.”
Two new and interesting trends among experienced agents this year are sharing their expertise with the newcomers in the industry, and trying new financial models under the Virtuoso Wanderlist program.
Teri Hurley, for example, is “working on upcoming fams for my agent education group.” And Lorraine Simpson is building a whole Mastermind program that combines coaching in how to sell luxury travel with intimate fam trips to high-end destinations, including overwater bungalows in the Maldives, Xcaret and Karisma hotels, and a trip to meet wind-and-food suppliers in Italy. Perhaps the biggest coup, she said, is a trip that includes three nights at the SeaDream Yacht Club, a night at the Manfredi in Rome, three nights in Venice and one in a Relais and Chateaux villa, plus six educational coaching sessions.
Perhaps the most exciting new trend, though, is Virtuoso’s Wanderlist program, whose first class graduated in June. The idea is to offer a long-term planning tool, where the travel advisor meets with clients to develop a three-to-five year travel plan for a yearly fee, said Beth Johnson, owner of newly renamed Orenda Travel. “I’m planning to sell the program to customers for $1,500 for the first year and then we’ll see how it goes for the second,” she said.
Partnering on groups
As always, many travel professionals will be focusing on building groups. Faith Sproule is planning "big joint venture groups where we control the price point, revenue and client list” for 2020 and 2021, including a full charter with AmaWaterways that she sold out in two weeks. She is partnering with Canadian musician Alan Doyle, for example, who is using his database and social media to promote a cruise for his fans; in the end, the partnership brought “100 or more luxury clients” into her business.
Brenda Ajay is “in Italy right now studying locations and experiences so I can better prepare for some proposed group trips in the works for next year. When I get back, I plan on focusing a strategy for myself and my associate agents to increase group bookings for 2020.”
Nicole Montean-Yaworsky is working on growing her group business through a new niche; “I see an opportunity in a focus on golf packages, as there are no agents in my city that specialize in this,” she says. “As a golfer myself, it's something I am passionate about, so I am networking with golf courses in the city and putting more time into my Instagram account.”
Customer appreciation and growth
At the heart of every travel agency, of course, is the relationship with customers — and many advisors are taking some time to touch base with existing customers and to find new ones.
Rhonda Meyer Day is planning to invite about 200 people to her Customer Appreciation Night, which will feature an around-the-world theme, food, drinks, and a DJ.
Veronica Wold is “focusing on loyalty and retention for the second half of the year” by implementing a system to “touch” each client at least five times per year.
Vicki Winters is building a meetup group for seniors who want to learn about river cruising; Dillon Guyer, who sees summer as “my advertising time,” will put on public events including movie nights in the park, backpack giveaways, pizza parties for Teen Nights at the community center, and National Night Out that “regularly brings out about 5,000 people.”
Bulking up behind the scenes
Many travel advisors are taking on outside help as their book of business grows beyond what they can handle alone. Sharon Emerson, for example, has an assistant who “does all my SEO and social media stuff” and handles the postings to her seven websites and more than 150 blogs.
Pam Martin Gay is utilizing a Professional TA Assistance Service to help her manage business projects and a new IT system as she travels to Mykonos, Rome, Amalfi, London, and Tahiti.
Kimberly Mossner, meanwhile, is tweaking the way she responds to her Avoya leads as she closes in on a million dollars in sales in this, her second year in business. On weekends, while many agents are out taking advantage of the summer sun, Mossner is sitting by the phone. “The real travel shoppers are out in force on Saturdays,” she says. Then she concentrates on the customers looking to interact by phone, so she can quickly build a relationship. “I know once I get them on the phone, they are going to book with me,” she says. “I greet them and introduce myself, verify their phone number, ask if they have sailed before or have anyone in their party over the age of 55. I emphasize that I am an independent agent and not a call center, and I am always going to be there to speak to them.”
After attending several conferences this year, Heather Howard DiPietro is following a suggestion she heard and streamlining the processes she uses. “I am determined to learn more about ways to use my CRM to my advantage, making my job easier and providing better service to my clients without spending as much time doing it,” she says.
Barbara Khan is planning to volunteer to speak at the local Women Wednesday group in Tallahassee “to talk about my career as a travel advisor and potentially get some new clients. I want to also get into a better habit of following up on clients who have traveled, checking in throughout the year seeking out new business, and just updating client profiles.”
Traveling for fams and fun
Many travel professionals are hitting the road themselves in the coming months, on fam trips and to the host of educational conferences planned for the fall.
“The second half is always the most travel intense.,” says Cate Caruso at True Places Travels, who is headed to the Virtuoso conference in Vegas, and to Australia and Spain. “When any small lull occurs, I'm working on this year's plan — to automate and delegate.”
Diane DeWitt Frisch says she is “BURIED in work right now!” but still will attend a Nexion marketing class next week, a luxury travel seminar in the fall, plus CoNexion in September. “I am trying to take a step back and think about where I want my business to head in the future and set up my marketing to help me head in that direction,” she says.
Melissa Stolz is headed to St. Lucia and Grenada to build her expertise in honeymoons; Susan Collins-Peavey has booked the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cancun and Cuba. While one group to the DR has canceled, “My sales are actually up to the DR; I have a destination wedding arriving on July 31 and I was able to have my group contract repriced so I saved them some money and no one canceled,” she said.