It has been 10 years since Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, making smartphones ubiquitous. This may also mark the turning point for travel agents from endangered species to a segment that is fast becoming a popular career choice.
Both Millennials and older adults seeking a more satisfying second career are choosing to become travel agents in growing numbers. (More than 130 colleges and universities offer two-and-four year travel and tourism degrees.) I see more and more supplier executives and travel journalists becoming travel agents, not to mention lawyers, accountants, marketing managers and so forth.
The late founder of Apple has a lot to do with it.
Smartphones bring new possibilities
Today’s smartphones have enabled agents to cut the cord from their CRTs. Staring into dumb terminals with flickering green letters and numbers is history. Today’s leisure-focused agents have used the smartphone concept that Jobs introduced in 2007 to become travel counselors, advisors and designers––anything but order-takers.
I constantly see savvy agents posting pictures from their travels. In fact, they are simply doing what travel bloggers pioneered and are sometimes paid to do. The difference is that travel agents can build a following with clients who trust them, and with the friends of those clients who want to see where they are going and what they are doing.
This is a formula that doesn’t require a million likes or followers, just a circle of people with whom you have a relationship and who value your expertise as a travel professional. Since Google’s own research shows us that it takes 33 visits to 10 websites to book a simple airline ticket, the bar may be lower than you think.
Posting photos to drive new business
I’ve heard from a number of agents that when they post pictures, they get text messages back with booking requests. In other words, they generate more business when they are doing hotel inspections than when sitting behind a desk waiting for the phone to ring.
Doing a good job takes some effort. It means looking at different room categories and then taking decent photos of the rooms, including features such as oversized bathrooms or plunge pools and hammocks. These days you can take and edit professional-looking pictures pretty much on your own, although there are plenty of tutorials if you want to up your game.
You also need an Instagram and Facebook account for business. Both Facebook and Instagram enable you to send images via private messages to people you are connected with, so when you see something you think a particular client would like, getting their interest requires a mere tap of your screen.
You can do all this without missing a beat. Having smartphones enables you to keep up with client emails and texts even when you are on safari in Africa or inspecting new resorts in Bali.
Influencing your clients
In Travel Market Report’s upcoming Luxury Outlook, 80% of you told us that the personal recommendations you send to your clients via email determines their hotel choice.
Over a quarter of you (26%) said images you post on social media drive clients to select specific hotels. Think about it, Kim Kardashian gets $75,000 for an Instagram post. The hotel or cruise line gets free advertising and the recommendation of someone whom their followers trust––and often some bookings back as well. Only 18% of you said clients choose hotels based on bloggers they don’t know personally.
So back to iPhone’s 10th anniversary. Much of what you do now, much of what you will be able to do in the future, and the many more things you could do right now to generate business are all thanks to this gift from Steve Jobs. In my 30 years in this business, I’ve never seen a brighter future for the travel agent segment. Even better, your future is no longer based on the whims of airline executives. You hold your future right there in your hand, perhaps even as you are reading this.