Kimberly Wilson Wetty, owner and co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel first joined the agency -- founded by her mother, the agency's namesake -- in 1995. She still vividly remembers that week: It was the one in which airlines began capping, then cutting, agency commissions.
"We went from what we thought was an incredibly viable business making significant revenue from airline commissions, to Delta, United, all of them following suit, going to zero," she said to an audience at CruiseWorld on Wednesday.
But from what was initially a crisis situation emerged a reinvented travel agency industry.
"We shifted from agent to advisor," Wilson Wetty said. "We shifted to, it's OK to get paid for our services. We are experts."
It's a lesson that should be applied to the coronavirus crisis, she said: "More so than ever, this is going to show the world the value of an advisor."
Wilson Wetty spoke with TravelAge West senior editor Emma Weissmann as part of a new series at CruiseWorld: Critical Conversations. The sessions, also being held on Thursday, are designed to give advisors a place to share ideas and questions around important topics. Wilson Wetty and Weissmann tackled confident selling in a pandemic.
To build her own confidence, Wilson Wetty said first and foremost she is honest with herself. It's important to understand and accept that some days will be good and some will be bad.
"You can't be so hard on yourself," she said.
Wilson Wetty regularly practices meditation, and her practice has only increased in the past nine months. Taking a moment to meditate helps her refocus her thoughts.
"And," she added, "really believe whatever is in front of us, we're going to get through it."
Weissmann asked what the biggest mistakes Wilson Wetty is seeing agents make.
The first came early on in the pandemic, Wilson Wetty said: Promising clients they would quickly get refunds from canceled trips.
Generally, most people also thought cruising would come back much faster, she said.
Today, many conversations amongst agents and their clients surround health and safety. It's not something advisors should ever promise, Wilson Wetty said. They can encourage clients by sharing the best practices suppliers are using with regard to sanitization and health safety protocols, but never make any guarantees.
Several advisors participating in the session encouraged their peers to pick up the phone and call their clients to stay in touch and have conversations with them.
As one advisor in the chat said, "an email or text is a monologue, a phone call is dialogue."
Another suggested handwritten notecards.
At Valerie Wilson Travel, there is an initiative called four-by-twelve in place, Wilson Wetty said. Advisors are encouraged to call four of their clients by noon each day to stay in touch.
While not all clients are ready to travel, advisors should nurture the relationships they've cultivated with them over the years and check in on them, she said. And, as her mother taught her, always answer the phone with a smile -- clients can hear it through the phone.