Its Like This Good ol' days and new realities By Charlie Funk / May 18, 2009 Share 1 -- Remember when travel agents were regarded with awe by clients because we were the repository and source of information available only to those who spoke that mysterious foreign language written in six-bit ALC? If you wanted an airline ticket, you had to call the airline or a travel agent, because only they knew the three-letter city codes and what that mysterious string of letters and numbers meant or how they somehow mysteriously became an airline ticket. We were courted by airline salespeople, invited on trips, upgraded to first class, and there were more boiled shrimp than we could ever eat. As the Welsh folksinger Mary Hopkin sang in 1968: "Those were the days, my friend; we thought they'd never end." But that was then. Back to reality. About three years ago, I was working on a large booking. The prospect had been looking online and already had a fare, which I was able to find and match. And out of the blue, he asked, "Why would I want to buy from you?" That got me thinking. Why does anyone pay someone else for a service? There could be several reasons: • They don't have the right equipment for the job. We're likely to pay someone to cut and haul away a 50-foot tree because we don't have the specialized equipment needed to take it down and get rid of it. • They don't know how to do the job. I suppose people could perform appendectomies on themselves, but most of us don't know how. We trust the skills and knowledge of a professional. • They value their time more than they value what it will cost to have another person performing the service. Some tasks are too menial or undesirable, so we farm them out. Retail agents of necessity must frequently review their business model and fine tune it to adapt to changing business realities if they are to remain healthy. For example, personal computers and Internet access today provide the equipment for anyone who wishes to search for travel or book trips. Lots of 12-year-olds are at least as computer literate as a lot of agents, so agents can kiss the "having the right equipment" edge goodbye. Many people believe they are fully capable of doing anything a travel agent can do. And if you don't believe that, just ask them. After all, they have a computer, they found the content and they can book the trip. In fact, however, agents still have an edge here. Having brushes and paint doesn't make someone an artist. The best agents possess not just skills but a passion for and knowledge of what they do. But our biggest remaining advantage is that, more and more, people value their time more than they value the cost of using a travel agent's time. I once made that observation at a seminar and watched as one of the participants became visibly upset. When I asked what prompted the reaction, the participant said, "I am a professional and deserve to be treated as one and respected, not treated as an underling." When I asked the agent how shirts were washed, starched and ironed at their home, the agent replied, "I send them out. My time is far too valuable to be doing laundry." Point proved, and I promise I didn't stage the response. So what are agents to do? Take advantage of these new realities. Someone thinks your time is worth less than theirs? Don't take offense, take advantage. You're in a service business to make a profit, and that reality is one that will make you the most money, done properly. And it gets better. Someone planning to spend $10,000 on a trip fits better into your new realities than someone who is only going to spend $1,000. Why? Because prospects considering a $10,000 vacation are either in a position where their time really is more valuable than yours or the sum is large enough to warrant seeking out the very best advice, if only to validate choices they have already made. Take advantage of the realities. Have you SWOTed your agency lately -- learned how to analyze strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? To learn more, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "SWOT" in the subject line. Charlie and Sherrie Funk own Just Cruisin' Plus in Nashville. They have written several books on travel agency operations and produce sales, marketing and operations seminars for agency owners and managers.