Today’s travel agent must compete not only with other travel agencies in the area and in another state, but also with the big booking engines on the Internet. The question becomes: How do you, the travel agent, distinguish your services and build client loyalty?
I believe the key is to provide travel experiences that are tailored to the individual lifestyle and travel preferences of your client – such as places to stay and things to see and do that are not typically provided by your competition. Anybody can sell a room in a big hotel or an all-inclusive resort. It’s the attention to detail, to client advocacy and to the unique travel options that only you can provide that sets you apart from all the other travel providers online or next door. With that in mind, here are three ways for you to set yourself apart and provide personalized vacations for your current and future clients:
Select accommodations that are unique and authentic to the destination: Only you can provide accommodations that would be hard to discover from an Internet search. You've got the pulse of the destinations. You know where to find a charming boutique hotel, perfectly located, that your clients will love. If you haven't personally been to the destination, there’s a tour operator who can pinpoint the exact hotel to ensure your clients' happiness -- a pre-screened property of high quality that offers a special charm and authentic flavour.
For example, you can offer your clients a conveniently located luxury Irish manor house with abundant gardens and individually decorated rooms, a four-star hotel with a full kitchen, a restored French farmhouse that offers cooking lessons and choice wines from its vineyard, a spacious apartment in London or Paris with a fully equipped kitchen, a villa or bungalow on the beach in Costa Rica, or a stay in a historic estancia (ranch) just a short drive from Buenos Aires. These accommodations will prove to your clients and their friends that you are uniquely qualified to provide the best vacation at the best value.
If you have experienced travellers as clients or potential clients, you may want to add a bit more spice to their travel arrangements. Many of the more rural accommodations in or near towns and villages can provide fascinating options that set the stage for a very personalized vacation.
These include taking a hike, train or boat through Cinque Terre. Your clients can explore this magical region of Italy in three different ways all with easy access from a comfortable and inviting hotel. They can discover the unique landscape by hiking, taking the train or a ferry from village to village clinging to the seaside cliffs found through this National Park and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Send you clients to the Mendoza wineries in Argentina. Accommodations in the city of Mendoza can provide your clients with the opportunity to visit exceptional wineries, as well as understand the history and culture of this region. Mendoza is known as the “land of sun and good wine,” and booking a vacation here will really give you the opportunity to shine in your clients' eyes.
Book your clients in a villa, chateau or country home in Italy, France or Britain. These accommodations give you a wide variety of options to offer your clients -- with the same commission structures as hotels in the major cities. Since they are often locally owned and operated, they give your clients much more personalized service and opportunities for cooking classes, spa treatments, winery visits, historic village tours, market tours and farm fresh dining. Many of your semi-travelled and well-travelled clients will really appreciate getting off the beaten path and experiencing local cultures. These types of accommodations serve as great extensions from the major cities and give you the ability to differentiate your services and expertise.
When considering accommodations for your client’s vacation, keep in mind that if the itinerary is focused only on the standard hotel chains in the major cities, your competitor down the street or on the Internet can easily book the same thing. Many of these hotels will have Internet specials that may be difficult to beat as well. Make your clients’ vacations unique enough to be incomparable.
Provide your personal touch before and after your client’s vacation: Plan to send a personal communication via email or a hand-written note the same day your client has booked with you. Provide them with any feedback you have received from your other clients. Mention some of the highlights that they might enjoy, such as museums, street markets, restaurants and special events. One or two travel tips will go a long way. Just before your clients leave, send a note wishing them a good trip and give them any contact information they may need while travelling, just in case they run into any difficulties. After they return, send a personal note welcoming them back. If they booked a big vacation, or if they are one of your top clients, send them a “welcome home” gift, such as a travel book or bouquet of flowers.
Book select sightseeing and cultural tours in advance of their departure: Since you have been communicating with your client throughout the planning stage, you will probably have a good idea about the kinds of activities they will enjoy at each destination. Advance booking of things to do can include such activities as a memorable private helicopter tour over Iguassu Falls, a fun-filled tango class in Buenos Aires, a London theatrical performance with a pub dinner nearby, or a private Vatican tour in Rome. You don’t need to give away sales to a hotel concierge when you are in the best position to know the best timing of tours and extensions. You know your client better than anyone else and you should get the financial reward.
In all these ways you can demonstrate that you are going above and beyond on behalf of your clients. You also can establish a trust relationship that pays future dividends, regardless of the competition and economic shifts we all face in today’s market.