Should Travel Agents Be Market Experts, or Leave Experiences to Suppliers?

by Richard D'Ambrosio
Should Travel Agents Be Market Experts, or Leave Experiences to Suppliers?

The floating market in Ratchaburi, Thailand. Photo: Nattakorn_Maneerat/Shutterstock.com


Delivering the ultimate, authentic client experience requires that travel agents source and vet local travel services providers on their own; and leverage resources, from tour operators to destination management companies (DMC) to websites.

Some agents choose to own most of the vetting themselves, even opting to live in the destinations that they want to promote heavily to their clients. Others align with tour operators and DMCs, and outsource the vetting to them almost entirely.

“It really is a blend for me,” said Susan Farewell, owner of Farewell Travels in Westport, Connecticut. “For different destinations, I don’t trust a DMC. But for a country like Greece, I have enough local contacts.”

Farewell has one client who recently asked that for a very special milestone vacation in Italy, he wanted to book an evening with someone who is a “local celebrity,” someone not famous to the rest of the world.

“He asked for someone who would be an interesting dinner companion and make for great conversation about something his wife is interested in. We have a really good network in the region, so we can choose from a variety of interests, whether that be culinary, or wine, or someone with expertise in vintage cars.”

But for most agents, developing those authentic experiences that set you apart and create those referrals can be extremely difficult and time-consuming. Agents have to allocate time for meeting travel partners at industry conferences and trade shows, taking fam trips, and doing their own research.

“I struggle with making time for going to the trade shows. But I can’t sell if I don’t visit with contacts or travel to the destination,” Farewell said.

Know the in-country activities
“It’s incredibly hard,” said Bob Gilbert, head of North America sales for Rezdy, a website that sources and markets local activities to travel agents through their website. “You’ve got invoices, marketing, customer service. How much time do you have in your life? Do you have young kids? If delivering those types of experiences is core to your brand, how do you build a business so you can scale it?”

But, Gilbert said, the return on the investment can be worth it. “The key driver that made a particular traveler select a destination in the first place is what they want to do when they get there,” he said. Travel agents “are leaving money on the table if they aren’t actively sourcing and selling what their clients will do in-country.”

And for destinations just hitting the radar, the challenge can be extremely high. For example, National Geographic Travel recently chose Hara, Ethiopia, as its number one destination for readers to visit.

“Harar hasn’t even been on the radar, so it doesn’t necessarily have operators in the U.S. to help consumers and agents,” said National Geographic’s editor-in-chief George Stone.

Marketing should attract suppliers and clients
For some agents, projecting their brand in everything they do can help get them noticed and draw the right suppliers to them. Lila Fox Ermel, who operates her own SmartFlyer agency in New Orleans, was recently approached by a company that offers small-ship cruising in Bali, using traditional wooden pinisi boats.

“A woman from Emerging Destinations emailed me a couple of weeks ago, and said ‘hey we represent some cool properties and experiences around the world that I think would fit with what you do from what I know of what you do. I'm going to be in New Orleans. Can I take you out to lunch?’” Fox Ermel said.

“I Googled her/them, and was interested in a few things that I saw in their portfolio, so I said yes. We had lunch in the French Quarter, talked about Bali and Africa and Iceland ... and why fams should never have more than six of the right agents,” she said.

“I love finding these nuggets that can't easily be found, so that I can share them with a traveler who they’ll fit like a glove.”

Wendy Burk, CEO and founder of Cadence Travel in La Jolla, California, said: “We love the saying, ‘your vibe attracts your tribe.' It’s so mutually beneficial for a client and a supplier to find an agent who believes in the same things and craves the same experiences. What you promise the client and what they actually experience can be two different things, if you’re not working with trusted tour suppliers to pull it together.”

In the upcoming Part 2 of this series, Travel Market Report will offer ideas on how to outsource experiential travel product development to reliable third parties.

  4
  0
Tip of the Day

As travel advisors, we have to be curious. Curiosity leads to impactful connections that pave our road to success. - Jenn Lee, VP of Sales and Marketing, Travel Planners International

Daily Top List

Top Tips for Your Blog

1. focus on the big picture and long-term ROI.

2. Be consistent with your posts.

3. Get your team or ICs involved.

Source: TMR

TMR Recommendations
Top Stories
Who’s in Your Wallet? Credit Card Points Remain a Challenge for Travel Agents
Who’s in Your Wallet? Credit Card Points Remain a Challenge for Travel Agents

With more and more credit card holders earning points and redeeming them for travel, how and when an advisor supports these clients can be tricky.

Into the Home Stretch: Travel Agents Fill the Traditionally Slower Months
Into the Home Stretch: Travel Agents Fill the Traditionally Slower Months

Travel advisors across the country share their tips and strategies for bolstering their businesses during the second half of this year.

Offering Travel Insurance to Groups Can Boost an Agent’s Income
Offering Travel Insurance to Groups Can Boost an Agent’s Income

The law of numbers – more travelers on one trip means more commissionable sales – should work to an agent’s advantage. But offering insurance to group travelers isn’t so simple.

Singapore Airlines Once Again Ranked Best International Airline
Singapore Airlines Once Again Ranked Best International Airline

Travel + Leisure unveils readers’ picks for best international airlines for 2019.

BNI is Networking on Steroids
BNI is Networking on Steroids

Considered by many to be the pinnacle of networking groups, BNI could be a travel agent’s strongest source for sales referrals – as well as personal and professional growth.

California Bill That Could Eliminate Travel Agent ICs Passes Key Senate Committee
California Bill That Could Eliminate Travel Agent ICs Passes Key Senate Committee

The controversial law could reclassify independent travel advisors as full-time employees, which could force 41% of them to end their agent careers or leave the state.

News Briefs
TMR Report Cards & Outlooks