TUCSON, Ariz. — "Why should I use a travel agent?"
It's a question every agent has heard. And it's at the heart of the challenge travel advisers face in communicating their value to prospective clients.
Geoff Millar, owner of Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel in Gilbert, Ariz., described how his agency tackles the issue during a lunchtime brainstorming session at Travel Weekly and TravelAge West's inaugural Global Travel Marketplace (GTM) West, held here last week at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa.
"We get a lot of people who call and ask us why they should use a travel agent, so we came up with a campaign," Millar said.
Ultimate All-Inclusive's website lists all the ways consumers benefit from booking through an agent, and Millar said the agency also developed "a short elevator speech addressing the same question for call-ins."
Randy Mohr, vice president of sales for Wild China, added, "Go back to your agents and ask them as a group to come up with a consistent, 30-second elevator message on why someone should use a travel agent. That's a very simple fix. And every day they should tell at last one person what they do for a living."
Donna Alkarmi, owner of Lone Star Travel in McKinney, Texas, plays the specialist card with a dash of humor. For example, the last time Alkarmi was getting her hair done and she heard the "Why should I use you?" question, she responded, "Well, do you recommend that people cut their own hair just because they have a pair of scissors?"
Judy Wheeler, owner of Elegant Dream Journeys/DBA RiverDiscounts.com, emphasizes the power of having an unbiased consultant in your camp when she gets hit with the question.
"I tell them, You aren't going to pay any more with us, but we have firsthand knowledge, and we are totally unbiased — it doesn't matter to us who you book with,'" Wheeler said. "I tell them, 'We can make your dream happen because we are going to match you with the best cruise for you.'"
The brainstorming session occurred during lunch on the final day of GTM West, an event designed by Northstar Travel Media, parent company of Travel Weekly and TravelAge West. It connected 76 top-selling, fully hosted travel agents with 77 global travel suppliers for three days of boardroom presentations; brief, one-on-one appointments at which the suppliers came to the agents; and a variety of functions designed for networking and fun.
Resurgence in progress
Linda May-Dinsmore, owner of Deluxe Travel & Cruises in South Surrey, British Columbia, was one of many agents at GTM West who said she was seeing a resurgence of consumer interest in travel agents.
"I think people are turning back to agents for complex trips," she said. "So many agents think the Internet is competition, but people get overwhelmed by the Internet. I get clients who call and say, 'I've been searching online for three days, and now I'm more confused than when I started.' I can ask them a few questions, do a little research and find something perfect and have them on their way in one hour."
Mary DeGroat, manager of Rennert Travel/CTP Travel in San Antonio, Texas, has also noted a reversal of the consumer migration to online booking channels that began about a decade ago.
"It's come back around," DeGroat said. "People are realizing that they need a travel agent because they need a specialist, someone who has been there and has experience."
Paul Farha of Reflection Travel in Wichita, Kansas, an agent for more than 20 years, has observed the same shift. "People who used to book with me who went online are coming back now," he said.
The return to travel agents is a pattern that Scott Caddow, owner of Legendary World in Tucson, describes as "a resurgence; a renaissance."
"I have clients referring other people to me and those people are asking if I will take them on," he said. "People are starting to look at agents differently, as professionals. I have another 25 years that I'm going to be doing this, so that's hopeful."