A year can make all the difference. It can serve as the benchmark for what to do and not to do in the months that lie ahead. As travel advisors embark on 2019 with business plans in hand, January is the perfect month to take time to pause, reflect and implement change.
When asked what are their top five sales strategies for 2019, travel advisors gave Travel Market Report their insights — along with what they won’t be continuing to do in the coming year.
1. Boost social media approach
From hiring social media marketing experts to just having a larger presence overall across all mediums, travel advisors are revving up their social media engines. The news is no surprise after a recent Social Media Outlook Study, conducted by Travel Market Report, found nearly 90 percent of travel advisors who responded to the survey said that social media was “very or somewhat important” to their marketing plans in 2018.
The survey, however, also found that 35 percent of respondents said they don’t or can’t track sales from social media efforts — a finding that should kickstart a need for more travel professionals to start doing so. In fact, LuAnn Lisell, owner of Lisell Travel in Plano, Texas, said her agency implemented a number of social media practices this past year, one of which included tailoring her agency’s future posts to insights they gained through social media feedback. “We also added live video to our Facebook business page, started posting more on the business page, and sharing to our personal Facebook page,” Lisell said. She expects all of these practices will contribute to the first item on her sales and marketing plan for 2019: “Focus on increased social media branding.”
2. Go after groups
If it’s good for one, it’s usually good for all. And in the case of group bookings, that mantra not only rings true, but also translates to increased commissions. In addition to making good financial sense, group business provides travel advisors with a proactive way to generate more clients, instead of waiting for individual business to walk through the door. Group business also tends to lead to more group business, as it not only makes for referrals but also fuels other travelers to move from exploring one fantastic destination to another.
Diane Manson, owner of Mountain City Travel, takes a different approach to group travel, but one that has proved successful. First, she has cultivated what she calls an “amazing Pied Piper,” who has a large sphere of influence and is sincere and passionate about travel. “Her role is clearly defined: First and foremost, to ensure the group is sold out.”
The difference in Mountain City’s approach lies in the size of the group, averaging just 12-16 travelers. “This is part of the appeal for our group travelers, and it creates more of an urgency based on supply and demand, thus the group sells out quickly.” Citing examples of private charters to the Galapagos and 16-night South African safaris, Manson’s formula is simply: “Fewer number of travelers + higher ticket price = working smarter for increased revenue.”
3. Host more targeted events
Scheduling targeted consumer travel events was at the top of the list for most travel advisors we spoke with. Many suggested partnering up with another business and sharing databases. These forums provide the perfect opportunity to gain and cultivate new prospects while building on existing relationships.
Paula Killion, president of the Travel Center and an agency member of the Tzell network for 19 years, recently hosted her very own first local travel show, with 22 vendors at a local golf course. The result? Over 250 people attended (including 60 percent who were new clients); considerable bookings were generated; and her agency’s next show is already in the works.
The show, aptly named “Fall into Winter” was promoted heavily to local surrounding areas in the suburbs of Boston near her agency, via email and social media. “When the fall comes, people start dreading winter, and we thought it was the perfect time to get them thinking about travel. We had lots of prizes, a steel drum band — and everyone had a great time! Now we’re working on our “Spring into Summer” show.
It’s been said over and over again, but it’s always worth repeating. At the end of the day, focusing on a niche or establishing yourself as a specialist helps you define the products that have the best chance of making a profit.
Is it destination weddings? What about river cruises, private luxury FITs or wellness? Whatever you choose to zone in on, commit to it and learn all you can about it. Research is critical to finding the perfect niche match. For example, if you think your community could benefit from someone who can put together sporting event itineraries for families, but you hate everything to do with sports, you might want to pick another path. And when you do, be sure you’re better versed than your clients. Once you have your specialization down, start marketing yourself as an expert in that field.
Honing in on specific market destinations beats shooting from the hip any day. Strategizing not only helps you determine an optimal plan, but it also allows a travel advisor or agency to influence the behavior of its clients — in other words, once again boiling down to being proactive, rather than reactive, in the sales process.
5. Charge more service fees
Know that your value is the first and foremost reason for charging more fees in 2019. Despite a growing trend to charge for service, there are still those in the agency community who have not yet taken up the practice.
“The more free information you give, the less clients you get, because they will go online and book. We need to raise the bar higher,” said Killion, who provides the first quote to referrals that come from an existing client on a complimentary basis. “After the first quote, I charge a service fee that will be removed from the balance if they book.” Killion compares the practice of charging fees to going to the dentist. “If you make an appointment with the dentist for a pain in your tooth and the ache is gone once you get there, you still have to pay for the visit, right? I’m not going to put together an African safari itinerary and then have someone tell me they spent the weekend researching it themselves and they don’t need my help anymore.”
Business practices to let go of in 2019
When it comes to what practices travel advisors intend to abandon in 2019, most are determined not to diminish their value in the market. From implementing more service fees and more targeted marketing to bypassing the clients who are purely price-driven, travel advisors are aiming to be more selective in the new year with who they spend their time with. “We are really focusing on the value of travel professionals for 2019,” said Killion.
And, one thing’s also for sure for Killion: She won’t be waking up worrying about posting to social media. Why? Because she hired a social media company to handle that for her in 2019.
Kate Leas-Clisson, owner of Escape the Ordinary Travel, said she’s going to spend more time on sales and marketing forums rather than conferences that focus on product knowledge. “After being in the business for over 10 years, product education is still key for keeping up with trends and new offerings, but most of this refresher and update training can be done online.”
Here’s to new beginnings!