Richard Turen
Richard Turen

Over the years, I have found that a fairly large number of agency owners have a challenging time trying to describe their company and exactly what it does.

Mine is not a full-service travel agency, but I do sell travel. I don't sell all kinds of travel, just the upscale vacation kind. But what is that process all about? How can we explain to both laymen and suppliers what we actually do for a living?

For me, imagining something that does not literally exist helps me envision the steps involved in the agency process. I think about it in architectural terms.

Imagine that our agency is a four-story office building. All glass, minimalist furniture, bright and open. In walks the client, right through the door on the first floor, the lobby. This is where clients determine where they wish to go before moving up to the next floor.

I find that clients spend very little time in this space. The vast majority of our clients know where they want to go. There are counselors on this floor for the ones who don't. Then it is quickly upstairs.

The second floor is the most important floor in the building and the least understood. Here, we take clients who know where they want to go and try to determine how they wish to travel. The "where" is easy. This is the "how" floor.

Will they cruise to ports in France or take a fully escorted land tour? Will they bicycle France or hike? Would they like to travel by high-speed rail or hot air balloon into chateau courtyards? How about a river cruise on the Seine? Would they really love some French barging?

But wait, suppose they don't want any of those things that appear in online brochures. Suppose they want to be truly "independent." Suppose they are seeking the essence of luxury, personalized exclusivity.

Many suppliers have never ventured up to this floor. They never get past the lobby. Yes, clients know where they want to go, but they need someone to discuss all of the myriad ways they can do France or any other place on Earth. This is where the heavy lifting consulting is done. It is the floor without order takers. This is where the travel psychiatrists work.

The third floor is operations. Clients rarely take the elevator up. It is a place of quiet planning. Spa music plays in the background. Every once in a while the folks who work on the third floor consult with the folks down below. But once the dates and travel methodology are selected, the third-floor experts know what to do.

On the fourth floor we find the endgame of the travel planning process. This is where final paperwork and billing are prepared. Despite technology, we still send out invoices, and we still calculate profit in the same way we always did.

We all work in the same four-story building, but if you want to know what really separates the great vacation planning firms from the travel pretenders, go up to the second floor to see where the true travel magic is manufactured each and every day.

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