Sell the 'Experience' Factor

Another way to look at the business of selling dreams

By: M.J. Smith

Travel professionals often say they sell dreams. They aren’t the only ones, of course. Think about your personal trainer, hairstylist or even the nursery salespeople who got you to take home the lovely rose bush that’s now dying in your yard.

But you rarely hear a concise description of just how powerfully the image of selling dreams could shape the travel industry’s future and your own.

Dan Sullivan, creator of an entrepreneurial development program, The Strategic Coach, recently presented just such a scenario during his keynote address at Virtuoso’s TravelMart.

And, appropriately for an early morning session, the Canadian trainer used coffee to do it.

Sullivan’s message: The more clients see travel as an experience and the less they see it as a commodity, the more profit potential you’ll have as their agent.

Using information from “The Experience Economy” by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, Sullivan traced the value of the coffee beans used for one cup from the plantation (2 cents), through processing (25 cents), to the corner luncheonette (50 cents to $1).

But, he pointed out, the experience factor is what boosts the price at a high-end coffeehouse like Starbucks or the Coffee Bean. There, customers pay $2 to $5 for a similarly sized beverage.

Sure, some of the additional cost may pay for a better quality coffee bean, but the rest of the ingredients and the shop’s overhead costs aren’t all that much more. People are paying for the experience, the feeling they get while walking into a Starbucks and ordering a coffee.

Sullivan suggested that listeners overlay that picture on their agency business. For those who treat travel and their clients like commodities the equivalent of two-hour-old coffee in a chipped mug that’s the kind of sales they’ll make.

But for those who understand the experiential aspects, who take the time to clean the pots and play soft jazz while it’s brewing, the effort can be well worthwhile.