Even with the popularity of online travel booking websites that let consumers play travel agent, the number of actual real-life travel agents remains strong. The American Society of Travel Agents supports a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau report of 105,085 agents. A 2017 report by research firm IBISWorld boasted a larger number of 232,848 U.S. agents. This shows that when it comes to investing in vacations, a number of people prefer to leave the planning to professionals. Setting clear objectives will help you fulfill or exceed your clients' travel expectations and give them a reason to put their travel trust in you.
Pick a facet of travel that you personally have a lot of experience with and that plays to your staff's expertise and make that your specialty. The flood of online travel options may give consumers that DIY trip experience but that doesn't make them a specialist when planning a 20th Anniversary safari trip through Africa, a luxury honeymoon to the Mediterranean or a family friendly romp through Australia. Identify a few destinations or activities and resolve to become an expert in those areas. Aim to develop unique experiences and provide special access with regard to your niche to give clients more value and reasons to return.
Online travel websites and lodging marketplaces have the deals segment well in hand. Instead of fighting for position, beat them with your expertise. Adjust your business model and message to tout your personal experience, professional advice and personalized service. Consumers can handle the three-day weekend in San Diego and round trip ticket transaction to and from Dallas. However, serious travelers need that human element for complex trips, which take them to other countries for weeks at a time.
Take a cue from online travel companies and big-box agencies that have the ability to engage with customers after the vacation is booked and their bags are unpacked. Incorporating this strategy will enable you to maintain that personal, intimate connection you established with clients when your first met, spoke on the phone or exchanged emails. It will also give you an idea of a client's preferences so you can better tailor his future trips.
Aim to spend 50 percent of your time working with clients and 50 percent on marketing. Commit to specific marketing activities on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Don't rely on memory. Place these on your calendar and plan them out. For example: Post to your agency's Facebook page daily; send an electronic newsletter and update your blog weekly; record one or two videos and post on your YouTube channel and blog each month; send a snail mail letter to your best clients every quarter; and host a local charity event each year.
Despite the notion that Millennials live online, they crave unique and personalized travel experiences - characteristics that are right up a travel agency's alley. According to travel and hospitality marketing firm MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers report, the number of Millennial travelers who said they used traditional agents to book vacations increased from 9 percent in 2014 to 13 percent in 2015. A 2017 edition of that same report found that 9.5 million Millennial families intend to spend 19 percent more on vacations over the next year and travel 36 percent more than the previous year, both of which buck overall American traveler trends in those categories. Focusing on this demographic is an opportunity to create a repeat client by offering her the value-added and personalized service she seeks.
Consider a few ideas to strengthen your travel agency's visibility:
Have a comprehensive website that includes good design and compelling content and that's easy to maintain and update. If you don't have a developer, use one of the many website builders found on the Internet.
Good writing is a sales skill that helps build trust and relationship with clients. If your email writing needs help, take a class to improve it.
Pick up the phone and call your regular or your best clients, even if you're not actively working on a trip for them. Ask how he's doing and double check to make sure that his contact information is accurate. It's also a good time to plant the seed for a vacation idea: "I see you and your wife have an anniversary coming up in a few months. Were you thinking of heading anywhere to celebrate?"
Set up a YouTube channel for your agency, if you haven't already. Post videos of your personal trips, snippets of your tours, staff holidays, customer testimonials and destination reviews. Even a how-to-pack tutorial works. Anything that aligns with your mission and gives current and potential clients value is an engaging marketing tool.
Partner with another business owner who has an established clientele comprised of the same people you want to attract. Plan a wine tasting event with the French bistro across town, where you'll talk to attendees about traveling to Bordeaux and Provence. Or, offer to contribute an article to the neighboring realtor's newsletter each month or quarter.