Editor’s note: When a reader asked how to handle a request for a destination he’d never visited, we asked travel educator Steve Gillick to respond. Here’s the question (edited for clarity), followed by Gillick’s reply.
What do you do if a customer calls to book a trip to, say, Ban Ao Nang, Thailand, and they want to book something during the call? These are so difficult because the client has a head start on information for obscure destinations that appeal to them. – Robert
If a client asked me about Ban Ao Nang, I would react by complimenting the client on their thoroughness and creativity and then follow these guidelines.
1. Be transparent. Honesty and professionalism will trump lack of knowledge any time. Travel consultants just get themselves into hot water if they pretend to know more than they actually do. It’s not a sin to tell a client you’re not familiar with a destination. It’s all in the delivery.
2. Ask smart questions. The key is to ask qualifying questions, as you normally would. “Have you been to Ban Ao Nang before? How did you hear about it? Who are you traveling with? Are there specific activities that you want to do?”
All these questions are fair to ask. For instance, in this example, Ban Au Nang is a diving center that’s also close to several other diving spots. But it’s also known for climbing, beach resorts, boat trips as well as being a place to get away from it all.
3. Show them who you are. As when arranging travel to any destination you – the consummate travel professional – should work with the client to set the tone for their stay, including by establishing the type of accommodation they prefer, budget, preferred ambience (do they want to be near nightlife or do they want solitude). The answers to these qualifying questions become part of the clients’ travel profile. If you already have this CRM information on hand for the client, then you can review it with the client upfront.
4. Involve the client. It’s perfectly fine to go into your GDS or Google, turn the monitor around so the client can see it and review the available hotels and activities together. If you’re dealing with a client over the phone, do the same – open your GDS or Google or Trip Advisor to assist you in talking with the client.
Once the travel basics are established, you can say, “Now that we have an outline of what you’re looking for, let me do some fine-tuning by using my contacts (tourist board, suppliers you’ve dealt with before, your own research) to put together a holiday for you. Would you like me to include activities you haven’t mentioned for your consideration?”
5. Stay in control of the sale. Use your experience, as you usually would, to surpass the expectations of the customer. This sends a message that you’re interested in helping the customer and builds the relationship. Sure, they may contact three other travel agencies, but your care, details and obvious professional attitude will stand out – and they’ll wait for you to get back to them.
6. Don’t be intimidated. Even if you’re not a Thailand specialist, you are a travel specialist who knows how to interact with customers in order to understand, and then satisfy, their expectations and needs.
7. Welcome the opportunity to grow. Your attitude should be one of “dynamic positivity” and perpetual professional development.
“Ask me about any place you want and I’ll put together an amazing journey of discovery.” This is the value proposition you offer to all clients.
You might think about it this way: “I want a client to challenge me by asking about a place I know nothing about. Then I’ll learn about it – efficiently and thoroughly, based on what I’ve learned about the client’s wants and needs. I may even discover a new destination to suggest to clients who are looking for the ‘what else’ in their next travel experience.
Remember your credentials and expertise as a professional travel consultant and use them to service the needs of your clients in all circumstances.
How to Sell a Destination You’ve Never Visited
Travel educator Steve Gillick delivers sales, marketing and destination training to travel professionals via his consultancy Talking Travel. He served as president and COO of the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors from 2001 to 2012. Contact Steve at email@example.com.