For a travel industry that’s finally starting to pick up steam after more than two years of simply surviving, it only makes sense to kick off a travel conference right on the heels of the summer solstice.
“Yesterday was the longest day of the year. The sun is shining and our industry is shining,” said Travel Market Report publisher Anne Marie Moebes, welcoming the more than 200 attendees to this year’s Travel Market Place East conference, which kicked off Tuesday morning in Toronto.
The two-day conference provides attendees, mostly travel agency owners, employees and independent contractors, a packed schedule of general sessions, TED-style talks, panel discussions, a full trade show floor and more.
The sunny-days theme was picked up by Mike Drever, founder of Branch Up, and founder and former CEO of CruiseShipCenters.
“I’m talking today about the future of the travel agent and the forecast is bright and sunny, as it always has been,” he said. “Travel agents are absolutely required. Every supplier needs you. Every single one. And they will forever, as long as there is a complex travel product for sale.”
It’s a given, he said, that people will book air, hotels and car rentals online because they’re easy to understand.
“But they’re not booking an African safari online and most people are not booking a cruise online. They may research it online, but they want to speak to a person.”
But, he cautioned, in order to remain relevant, travel advisors need to get in front of consumers to let them know what their travel options are, why they’re complicated, and how they, as an advisor, can help.
And the best way to do that, he suggested, is to build a database of potential customers and then work that database.
Drever called it finding your “first first.” In other words, it’s the first thing travel advisors need to be thinking about in order to stay relevant and make booking with them a no-brainer for consumers.
By having and working a database, advisors can establish and build rapport with customers. They can prove their expertise and stay front of mind. All with the end goal of getting them to book with you.
In other words, marketing.
“To get sales, you have to do marketing,” he said simply, adding that advisors shouldn’t be afraid to stay in front of their clients. Don’t worry about “bothering” them.
“Frequency is good. It’s what builds your relationship… don’t be afraid to keep in touch with your customers and use as many mediums as possible,” he said.
Agency Leaders Echo Engagement
Following Drever’s talk, a panel of travel agency consortia, franchises and host executives took to the stage to talk about some of the best practices they see among their own members. Engagement with clients was a top talking point.
“You need to stay connected from a marketing perspective,” said Una O’Leary, general manager, Canada for Virtuoso Travel, who added that clients you market to will spend up to 40% more when they book with you.
Mike Foster, president of Nexion Travel Group, Canada, also emphasized staying in front of clients. He talked about Nexion advisors who took time during the pandemic to do videos of their own travels during the shutdown and then share them with their clients. They’re the ones whose business picked back up quickly once travel became easier, he said because “they kept the thought of travel alive,” for their clients.
Zeina Gedeon, CEO of Travello, also cited staying connected as a best practice but added that finding a niche is a tactic that drives a lot of success. It’s something that Lindsay Pearlman, senior vice president, international leisure of Travel Leaders Network, agreed with.
“As a travel agent, decided what you want to do with your business… you can’t be a generalist anymore. You can’t case a wide net.”
Pick what “bucket” you want to work in, whether that’s a type of travel, the size of your agency or something else and then “pickle it,” he added.