What value do you, as a travel agent, bring to your client? Is the value you offer, the value the client wants? What we mean by this is that some clients want you to provide them with the absolute best pricing available - that's their definition of value. Others want true value - the best experience that their budget will allow.
You've heard the saying, "work smarter, not harder". With regard to value and pricing - this is a very important concept. When you work with clients who want the lowest price, and pricing is their first and only consideration - you will find that you work harder and harder and that you're always trying to beat the competition. (Hey - who is your competition anyway)? Once you establish a precedent that your time and expertise is of no value - that you are just a booking machine, this is how you will always be known - the travel agent with the cheapest prices.
For many travel agents - volume, based on cheapest pricing, is how they make their money - but they put in long hours and work so much harder than other agents to make the same amount of money (and sometimes less!). You will find yourself spending many hours price-matching against online travel agencies (OTA's such as Expedia, Orbitz, Cheap Caribbean and more) and if you are able to successfully price-match, you will take a lower commission from the supplier that you will eventually book with. A word of caution about working with clients who are only interested in price: even if you make them happy with the price of this booking, they will likely never be loyal to YOU as a repeat customer because the first time they see a trip that is cheaper than what you offered, they will "jump ship" and book where they can get it cheapest.
I've heard many agents say that "making something is better than nothing" and they are happy working on a routine booking to make a $100 commission. The agent generally provides the same level of service to the price-happy client as they do to a quality client who relies on the agent to provide them with expertise and customized, hand-curated travel experiences. Who is the winner here? Nobody. Yes, the client received a cheap deal, but they learned nothing about the value of their agent, nor did they learn the value of a value-packed travel experience! And the agent? You worked pretty darned hard for a small bit of change and even less satisfaction.
So then, what do we mean by value? Let's focus on two main ways in which travel agents provide value to our clients.
First, as a travel agent, you manage every detail of the client's travel so that it is unique, memorable and completely stress-free. As client advocates, you are "with them" from the moment you begin working with them until they return home. They won't be waiting on line to change their flights when they are cancelled, they will love their accommodations, and if they run into any logistical nightmares along the way - they will speak to a live person (YOU) who will handle everything for them.
These are just a few of the values that travel agents provide to make their client's travel experience memorable and its your job to make sure your clients know it:
When I work with clients, I explain to them from the very first contact, that I cannot guarantee that I will find them the cheapest price, but that I can guarantee the absolute best value for their hard-earned travel dollars and the most memorable, incredible vacation they've ever had for those dollars. I emphasize that I don't book "trips" but that I design "experiences". I stress what I bring to the table and I am very clear about the fact that these are not values they will find on the internet with OTAs. I sometimes share the story about a couple who contacted me for a vacation in Costa Rica. I worked very hard on proposals for them and they advised me that they were ready to book immediately but then I never heard back from them nor did they return my phone calls. I explain that one week prior to their departure date, they wrote me an urgent email saying that they booked the trip on their own with an OTA and instead of flying into the Liberia airport for the resort in Guanacaste, the OTA had them booked on flights through San Jose. They wanted me to fix it for them so that they didn't have to pay $500 to get to their resort because the OTA was not helping them.
The second way in which you provide value to your clients is through customizing their travel experiences. You have to know your clients to do this - you have to "get intimate with them" and let them know that you actually care about their experience. What makes them tick? What excites them?
I can't tell you how many times I have spoken to clients who actually have no clue about what they really want. It's your job to help them discover it - and once they discover it, you have to design it for them. Once you design an irresistible, incredible opportunity (which might include multiple tweaks along the way), its hard for clients to say no. And once your client books, you've just provided the best value there is for both of you - making client dreams come true and a far more satisfying career for you!
Be sure to leave your comments and let us know your thoughts!
Stacey Ray is the CEO of Groupit Travel Host Agency and Groupit Travel. She has a strict "No Price Matching" policy in place for her clients. She loves to mentor new agents and hopes you will feel free to contact her at 919-578-9028, ext. 120 or by email.