Are you hitting all the key touchpoints?
In today’s ever-competitive world, it’s crucial that travel agents position themselves as true travel counselors—advisors who are willing and able to guide clients through every step of the travel process, from start to finish.
From helping clients create their dream vacation vision to implementing all the pieces to bring that vision to life, travel agents have an opportunity to prove their value and build ongoing relationships. And a true end-to-end experience doesn’t stop when clients pay their bill, but continues during the vacation and afterwards with personalized follow-up.
“Agents need to build a client base and keep them engaged,” says Shawn Gulyas, vice president of Human Resources for The Mark Travel Corporation. Gulyas, who recently led a workshop for travel agents on creating end-to-end experiences at TMTC’s Summit 2017, points out that “Everyone knows that, but they can get lost in running a business every day.”
To help agents focus, in the workshop, he asked agents to think about: “What are my touchpoints? Where am I successful and where are improvements that need to be made?” Gulyas stresses that agents need to “create touchpoints in all parts of the cycle so that customers say: ‘I’m never going anywhere else.’ They need to feel that care, that attention, that focus, which is what drives clients to return.”
Make It Personal
For both new and existing customers, the end-to-end experience begins with setting the scene to help build excitement and desire for travel. Samarah Meil, owner of Amarillo Travel Network in Amarillo, Texas, recently had three prospects reach out to her for more information—just from seeing her social media posts from a recent a trip. “I was using social media to post about some of the resorts and what I was doing the whole time,” says Meil, “You need to remind people what you do and that you are relevant.”
Donna Alkarmi, president of Lone Star Travel in McKinney, Texas, says she also builds excitement through Facebook posts. But that’s only the beginning. Once a connection is made, she emphasizes the importance of interacting with clients to help them feel that “they are the most important customer to you.” Especially for new clients, she adds that it all begins with “putting a personality and a face, a real person, behind the phone line.”
To that end, Alkarmi uses those communications not just to plan the tactical aspects of a trip, but to continue to build excitement. “When you talk to people about the product, the longer you stay on the phone, the more they will care,” she says. “Be personable and make that connection.”
Highlight Your Expertise
A key component of creating the end-to-end experience is assuring clients that you are the expert, the person who has the knowledge and expertise to help them create a dream vacation from start to finish. “You have to set yourself apart from what the internet can do or what people think they can do on their own,” says Meil.
One way to do that is to highlight a specialization. For Sarah Kline, CRC, president of Time for Travel, Ltd., in Davidsonville, Md., the decision to specialize in the destination wedding market was made because she was looking to offer that true end-to-end experience. Kline encourages other agents to find “what interests you and specialize in that.” She adds: “If you’re not personally involved, than you are not going to be as high touch.”
If prospects have contacted Alkarmi via email through her website, she includes her photograph on the bottom of her email so they know she’s a real person. “ ‘I am a Dream Maker, NOT an Order Taker,’ “ she says, noting that she has been using that tagline on her website and other communications for 15 years so that clients understand that “I’m not just sitting behind a computer at something-dot-com and taking orders.”
Create an Experience
Once the connection is made, Meil says a key part of the sales process is making sure every travel component is taken care of, including the basic package, air, frequent flyer numbers, hotel upgrades, special requests for hotels and helping with any other special arrangements. “We are creating memories and every component is equally important,” she says.
For bookings that are made several months in advance, Meil stresses that it’s important to “keep the excitement going. Even during the mundane, like making payments on a trip, you need to keep them excited and continuing to plan along the way.”
To that end, Meil suggests agents “offer activities or excursions and added components to help fill in any gaps and to make the experience easier and seamless once clients are there.” She adds that the extra details also bring in more revenue. “They make the trip better and boost sales,” she says. “Agents just doing the bare bones are leaving money and experiences on the table. Most of the time, clients are going to do them anyway so I might as well be the one to guide them.”
Once on the trip, communication shouldn’t end. Alkarmi sends an email to clients 24 hours after they arrive at a destination, checking in to see how everything is going. “If there is an issue or problem, I need to know immediately to fix things. Checking in on them means so much to the clients,” she says.
Meil says her company is available 24/7. “When traveling and there is an issue or an emergency, you have a real person you are calling,” she says. “This is not a transactional thing. It is a real relational thing.”
Get Repeat Business and Referrals
One or two days after a client comes home from a trip, Alkarmi sends a welcome home email. She asks about the trip and the specific property. She thanks clients for allowing her to plan their vacation.
In Alkarmi’s welcome home email, she also includes a request for a Google review and even provides a link. “They can write a review right then and there and that’s how I find new clients,” she says. Some 25 to 30 percent of Alkarmi’s new business comes from Google reviews. The rest are repeat business or referrals.
Kline notes that during the process of helping clients plan their weddings, “We actually become friends because there is so much time spent in the planning.” That investment pays off not only in the creation of the initial experience, but in ongoing business. “Since I am part of a life experience, I get to know the family and guests to cultivate future business,” she says. “I want to be a travel agent for life.”
The majority of Meil’s business comes from referrals, which she credits to the end-to-end process. “We try and create an intimate experience,” she says. “If we didn’t follow through with people, then they would not want to refer us.”
She encourages agents not to be afraid to ask for that referral once clients are home. “We tell our clients that a referral is the highest compliment we can get.”