The ability to add value for clients will be a crucial skill for business travel sellers in 2015. The best way to accomplish that is to understand, analyze and anticipate client needs.
That’s the advice from Pedro Paredes, vice president, global business consulting for American Express Global Business.
Travel Market Report spoke with Paredes about industry trends, sales tips and the latest traveler preference survey released by American Express Global Business Travel (GBT).
What are some trends your most experienced travel counselors are reporting?
Paredes: It’s always so interesting to survey front-line sellers. One thing we’re finding is that it’s more important than ever for agents to demonstrate their expertise. With online adoption increasing, they need to add value in helping the business traveler. They can’t just issue a ticket.
Give some examples of how agents can add value.
Paredes: One thing that came through in the survey is the importance of understanding travel requests. Clients are calling agents when something gets tricky. That is, they want to do a multi-city trip or they want to bring along a spouse. Clients especially need agent help in those types of cases, which are more complex.
What about bringing pets along? Is that a trend now in business travel?
Paredes: Yes. Pets make sense. It’s very easy to do, though not on every trip. Anything that puts the business traveler at ease, we support at the highest level. On almost every flight these days, you’ll see a small dog. It’s an emotional boost. Remember that even though they’re business travelers, they still need to be taken care of.
How can agents deal with clients that constantly change their travel policies?
Paredes: Part of the job is to educate travelers about their company’s policies. So it’s very important for agents to keep up with and understand corporate cultures and travel policies. Be a true travel counselor. Let the traveler know what fees are involved, what the company rules are. Walk them through the whole dynamic.
What else should agents keep in mind when selling to the business traveler?
Paredes: Domestic flights are painful. Our survey found that 95% of travelers prefer aisle seats. If that’s true, there are lots of disappointed travelers on every flight. You only have so many aisle seats. Add to this the fact that business travelers are already stressed out by sales quotas and other pressures. They also have to be away from home and family for long periods of time. It’s important to remember that.
How can travel agents stay ahead of the curve in the business travel world?
Paredes: We tell our own team that when a traveler calls, anticipate their needs. You have to know when pricing has changed in a popular market, in order to avoid big surprises. Keep current on trends in travel; know what’s going on with your particular client and the industry the client is in.
Any other tips for effective business travel selling?
Paredes: Speak to the individual preferences of the traveler. Let them know how far the airport is from their business meeting. Show clients you are knowledgeable and confident and will take care of them. It will reassure them that their company has made the right selection with you. The best compliment we can possibly receive is when they call us back with their leisure travel business.