When the pandemic hit, Angel Wilson had three years of experience as a travel advisor under her belt, selling mostly cruises. But then cruising was shut down, and Wilson, like so many others, was forced to redirect her sales efforts.
One thing that was a big help to her? Advisor-only Facebook groups.
“One of my pivots was to start selling Club Med,” said Wilson, owner of Dream Journeys, an Avoya member in Indianapolis. But Wilson had never sold Club Med before, so in addition to completing the supplier’s training and talking to a top producer, she joined a Facebook group for advisors who sell Club Med.
Within just two or three months, Wilson had booked $40,000 in Club Med vacations.
Wilson credits much of her success in selling Club Med and other all-inclusives to the advisor expertise and knowledge she gleaned from advisor Facebook groups.
“I couldn’t have done it if I had not been able to feed off of others’ information,” Wilson said.
Lifeline in tough times
Travel advisors have been turning to advisor-only Facebook groups in growing numbers for years. They use the private groups to answer each other’s questions, post photos and reviews from their travels, discuss supplier issues, share resources, tips and tricks, and, yes, to vent.
At the height of the pandemic, advisor Facebook groups became a lifeline for many advisors, whose posts took on a different flavor.
“During Covid, it turned into, ‘Hang in there, we’re going to make it. Keep plugging,’” Wilson said. “On those days when I thought, ‘I can’t cancel one more thing,’ it was especially nice to have comrades in arms.”
Wilson, who is active in about a dozen advisor Facebook groups, said the groups also help her find humor in difficult situations. “The post of a skeleton sitting on hold, or the post, ‘Hey, I just got a request for a $500 week-long vacation to Hawaii, including air’ – we keep each other laughing.”
These days, when getting through to suppliers can take hours, the groups provide another kind of help, Wilson said. “With hold times of two to three hours, while I’m on hold I can look up in the groups to see if anyone else has encountered the same situation and was it resolved. Is this something you can do yourself online, or do I need to stay on hold?”
One Facebook advisor group, Travel Agents Helping Each Other, saw its membership grow exponentially in the early days of the pandemic. That’s when it began streaming frequent Facebook Live and Zoom sessions on timely topics such as how to apply for PPP loans and unemployment benefits and supplier cancellation policies, as well as on business best practices and growth strategies.
“We pretty much tripled our numbers for the first three to four months of Covid, quickly reaching 5,000,” said travel advisor Roy Gal, the group’s founder and administrator and owner of Memories Forever Travel Group in Fairlawn, NJ.
Today Travel Agents Helping Each Other has 7,300 members, all of whom have been screened to ensure they are bona fide advisors. The group is still “really active,” Gal said, even though postings now focus on concerns more typical of pre-pandemic times, and Gal only hosts live sessions three times a month instead of three to four times a week.
In normal times, Wilson said she finds advisor Facebook groups focused on specific destinations and suppliers to be most helpful. “We can’t be everywhere, so if I don’t know the answer to something, or maybe I’m looking for a special restaurant on an island I’m less familiar with, I go to my handy dandy group.”
Participants tend to be generous with their knowledge and their time. Many advisors will let a group know when they’re traveling and offer to look into colleagues’ specific questions about a property or destination.
At a time when the quality at some properties has deteriorated due to pandemic-related issues, timely warnings from colleagues are especially valuable, Wilson said. “I’m moving a client right now. She was set to go in July, but because of everything I’m seeing, I’ve recommended that we move her to another resort.”
Even experienced advisors hop onto advisor Facebook groups to colleagues’ firsthand information or advice. “If I’m looking for a specific resort or information on a destination, the search function [within Facebook groups] is my first go-to,” said Michele Cartwright, owner since 2013 of Destinations by Design in White Rock, S.C.
Facebook groups for advisors, some of which are founded and moderated by suppliers, “really have become a high-level resource,” said Cartwright, who moderates several advisor-run Facebook groups.
Great for new entrants
The groups are especially helpful to newer advisors. “It’s so amazing, when you’re not physically going into an office, to feel like you have a support group to turn to,” Wilson said. “When you’re new, that’s so important, because this business can be very discouraging.”
Cartwright, who these days spends most of her time in the groups answering questions, called such groups “almost a requirement for the new to the industry.”
“To come into the profession, brand new, working out of your home and not having anyone to collaborate with, the Facebook groups really bring not just camaraderie – they are a source of education and training.”
Business practices too
That goes beyond product and destination training and information. Wilson said the groups helped her figure out her systems and her approach to client interactions. When Cartwright was starting out, she participated in a helpful Facebook group on best practices.
The business benefits are not just of value to new entrants. “It opens up some doors and ideas we otherwise wouldn’t have. It freshens up our own business models,” Cartwright said.
Cartwright recalled a CRM Facebook group that spawned an offline community of advisors who shared ideas for maximizing their use of the platform. On another advisor's Facebook group, someone proposed creating mastermind groups. Cartwright ended up participating in a mastermind group with six other advisors who met regularly for two years to discuss best practices for just about every aspect of the business.
Not all rosy
There are potential downsides to advisor Facebook groups, including bad advice, inaccurate information and negativity.
“The biggest pitfall is misinformation or poor advice. That really comes from people who are trying to be helpful but who don’t know what they don’t know, or who don’t stay up to date,” Cartwright said.
New entrants may find themselves stung by harsh comments if they ask uninformed questions. “When they ask really basic questions, sometimes you get angry people saying, ‘You need to do the work, you need to do the research,” said Gal of Travel Agents Helping Each Other.
It’s a good reminder, he said, that “Facebook groups will be part of your training and tools, but you can’t learn everything from them.”
Griping, lack of professionalism, and even political diatribes can be a problem too. Fortunately, moderators usually delete inappropriate content, Cartwright said. “Most groups have filters and general rules – play nice in the sandbox.”