One agency's idea: Have a 'concierge' qualify clients

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concierge desk [credit: BlurryMe/Shutterstock.com]
The concierge team to hold the initial consultation with clients before passing them along to a travel advisor. Photo Credit: BlurryMe/Shutterstock.com

Bon Voyage World Travel Experts is in the process of building a new three-person team; it recently added the second member. But these new hires are not travel advisors. Kari Mullikin, who owns the Wisconsin-based agency, is assembling what she is calling a Vacation Concierge Team.

With about $5 million in sales before the pandemic hit, Mullikin already was thinking of a starting a separate team to hold the initial consultation with clients before passing them along to a travel advisor. But as the restrictions around travel grew during the pandemic, as well as the paperwork, and as sales declined to about $1.5 million, Mullikin decided the time was right to get the ball rolling. 

The idea behind the Vacation Concierge Team is for all clients to have two travel professionals working on their behalf. The concierge will "interview the client, assess what they are interested in, make sure we're a good fit and explain our service and then schedule an appointment for the travel advisor," she said. "Once the trip is planned, the travel advisor will give the file back to them to do all the travel documentation and research the protocols and then meet with the client to do a final delivery."

Concierge team members will not replace existing staff. "These are new positions, because sales are growing again," said Mullikin, who noted that no advisors were laid off during the pandemic, though some did retire.

A team of two

T1122KARIMULLIKEN_C [Credit: Kari Mulliken]
Kari Mullikin

"Travel advisors are spread way too thin these days; they need the time to do what they do best," Mullikin said. "You need a vast amount of knowledge when you are sending someone abroad, and this way they don't need to be 100% current on all the protocols. They can be confident they get the absolute correct information."

The newest concierge candidate, already hired and ready to onboard, approached Mullikin rather than the other way around. Looking for an opportunity to learn the travel business, she scoped out local travel agencies that had good social media and positive comments from customers and asked for a job. 

She had a passion for travel and a background in sales, along with "incredibly good attention to detail and excellent customer service skills." 

Like all potential hires at Bon Voyage, she followed a multistep process that included shadowing existing advisors. While some agency owners are concerned that that gives away too much inside information on their business, Mullikin feels it's a small risk compared with the opportunity to watch candidates interact with existing staff, and vice versa, before hiring them.

"I think our Vacation Concierge Team is unique in the industry," she said. "Other agencies have support roles, but we've developed this into a branded way of doing business."

Generally speaking, because they are not trained in travel, concierge team members will earn less than advisors, but Mullikin does see it as a career path to becoming an advisor for those who want to do that.

Still, she said, "Some have no desire to be a travel advisor; they love to just educate clients. But for those who do, that growth opportunity is available, maybe two years down the line." 

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