The 2019 Travel Weekly Travel Industry Survey is, by nature, quantitative. It looks at dollars and years, percentages and sums, averages and medians.
Products are ranked, proportions calculated. We learn that 84% of independent home-based advisors with gross sales of $100,000 to $500,000 focus on cruise sales; that 44% of traditional agencies selling between $3 million and $10 million believe security issues have impacted their sales; and that air sales represent 33% of revenue for traditional agencies with more than $10 million in gross annual sales, but only 9% for home-based agents with under $100,000 in sales.
Why are those air sales so much higher among larger agencies? Even if we knew very little about travel retailing, it's not hard to connect the dots. We'd also notice that large agencies sell a higher percentage of corporate business, an environment in which clients might be mandated to use an agency to book all aspects of a trip, including air, and are more likely to book premium air.
The data is useful for both agents and suppliers to measure and profile what successful agents and agencies are booking. Cruise lines, noting that their products top the list of agency revenue sources, must be happy to see that their investments in agency channels are paying dividends for advisors and themselves. Likewise, the jump from sixth place to fourth on that same chart must be encouraging for river cruise lines.
And predictions about what advisors expect to sell more of next year can help both agencies and suppliers as they enter budget season.
Despite all the utility in this data, I'd maintain that while it's crucial to understanding what advisors have booked, are booking and are likely to book, it doesn't measure what advisors are selling.
They're selling trust.
I recently spoke with Gavin Tollman, CEO of Trafalgar, and he said this has been a particular focus of his in recent conversations with agents. Open-ended questions, active listening and the ability to "leave your own travel desires at the door" are requirements to building trust with a client. He suggested eschewing the objective in favor of the emotional: "Rather than, 'Where do you want to go?' 'For how long?' and 'How much do you want to spend?' ask what they enjoyed most about their last trip and what did they want more of," he suggested. "If you focus on price and rational considerations, you're replaceable."
What do travel advisors sell? (It's not what you think.)
Building trust is a complex and a multifaceted endeavor. It can be reinforced by affiliating with a trusted organization or by raising your profile as an expert in your area of specialization, but none of that creates a bond as strong as when an advisor simply listens carefully to a client and does everything possible to ensure a trip's success.
Some of the greatest contemporary artists colored outside the lines when they were young. The data we've gathered for you in the Travel Weekly Travel Industry Survey can provide important intelligence to strengthen your business.
But please, to build trust, don't be afraid to book outside the trend lines.