In today’s retail space, where technology often overshadows the human touch, the role of a hands-on travel advisor has become that much more desirable for many consumers. That being said, travel advisors looking to compete for business must always be at the top of their game, a big part of which is aligning themselves with the best partners.
A wise man once said, “You’re only as successful as the team you surround yourself with,” and travel advisors seem to agree with this notion across the board. Travel Market Report decided to find out which qualities matter most to travel advisors when they are deciding which suppliers to call their allies. Here were the results:
Whether its availability to make a booking, answer a question, or solve a problem, suppliers must be supportive. Second to being there, they must be knowledgeable, and according to the agents we spoke with, it’s preferable that their reservation staff is geared just towards the trade. “I don’t need a rep who has to stop in my office to bring me donuts, I just need one that I can get a hold of quickly and that responds to me quickly,” emphasized Jean Gagnon, president of Plaza Travel Center in Latham, NY. “I also prefer to talk to a staff person who works with just agents. I’m working and I don’t have time to wait on hold and answer the same questions a consumer would.”
Support is also about precision, added Kim Wilbanks, a Cruise Planners franchise owner from Atlanta, Georgia. “My clients are relying on me. I depend on accurate information from my travel suppliers that needs to be passed along. A well-trained rep on the other end of the phone is priceless.”
Accessibility to agent booking portals can also prevent adding hours of useless time to your day, said advisors. The more that can be accomplished in terms of managing a reservation online for a client, the better. “You should be able to change and massage information (like allergies and room configurations) as you go along, it’s just more efficient,” said Lynn McCormick, owner of Luna Travel, a member of the Avoya Travel Network, in Manhattan Beach, California.
Furthermore, the agents we spoke to realize that sometimes the news from suppliers isn’t always good, but they’d still rather be informed than left in the dark. “Good news is always welcome, but we need to know about situations that affect our clients. Travel is a very fluid industry and it requires us all to be somewhat flexible.”
When it comes to loyalty, the universal opinion was actions speak louder than words. Retaining relationships with clients is crucial to an advisor’s success, which means choosing supplier partners who also value that relationship is key. “You don’t need the supplier undercutting you in some way, whether in price or communication,” said McCormick. “And if there is a change in a trip, I want to be the one to tell my client. They are going to have questions and I want to prove my value to them.” She added that even when issues sometimes arise with clients and they are unhappy, it’s crucial that if the client contacts the supplier directly, they are sent back to the advisor. “That added support is really what I’m looking for in a supplier. To know with confidence that they are not going to go behind my back on anything.”
Wilbanks agreed, noting that some are more loyal than others. “Travel advisors know when vendors are speaking out of both sides of their mouth, and it’s not good for their business!”
On the flip side, these same advisors also praised those suppliers who honor commission to the booking agent, even after a client has chosen to go to them directly for subsequent bookings, as well as those who provide travel agent incentive programs with override opportunities and credits to be used towards personal travel.
Standards allow for the measurement of anything that is of the same kind and choosing suppliers who strive for a standard of excellence makes all the difference. Quality comes down to many things but most of all, advisors told TMR it’s about offering value for the dollar and having an excellent reputation in the market.
“I could cut my own hair, but I’m not a professional. I drive a lot, but I don’t change my own oil,” remarked Gagnon, noting that there are so many options in the market, but the consumer is relying on their travel advisor to point them in the direction of the right one for them. “Sure, there are tour companies that reach out to consumers with cheap prices but then I look at the itinerary and I won’t sell it to them. Trips come down to time and money and you want to work with operators who will put your clients in a hotel in the heart of the city and not host their dinners in the banquet room of the property.”
Printed documents were another hot topic of conversation, with a split decision by advisors over their worth, depending on the age group being targeted. While some advisors said their clients couldn’t live without them, others said they prefer the ease of e-docs, especially when working with Millennials.
Above all else, the return satisfaction rate is a clear indicator of quality. “I feel extremely responsible for my client’s travel experience and the trust they put in me,” said Wilbanks. “Great experiences from my past travelers with a wonderful travel vendor certainly has an impact on whether I send anyone else their way. I stick closely with my agency’s approved and preferred vendors who have been vetted and with whom there is a track record. It is vital to an amazing travel experience for my people.”
Ease & Efficiency
From webinar training accessed right from their desks and simplified travel insurance policies to Facebook group pages monitored by suppliers and BDMs (Business Development Managers) who handle group presentations, a supplier who is easy to work with can be worth its weight in gold. There are so many ways in which suppliers can choose to make an advisor’s life less complicated. For McCormick, who travels the world more often than not, having the support of her BDM is critical to her success. “I could be on any given continent at any given time and I’ll shoot him an email and within minutes, I have a response. That makes my life so much easier.”
Advisors are also praising those suppliers who have gone the extra mile by creating online chats, allowing them to pose a question and get an almost immediate response from either another advisor or the supplier themselves. “There are a ton of these group pages out there, but the ones set up by suppliers are much more professional and informative. It’s just another way to reach out quickly and save myself time.”
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