Relationships are at the core of successful sales transactions. // © 2014 Thinkstock
At a time when travel agents are competing with each other, the Internet and even their own suppliers to generate more sales, the successful agent is the one who looks for new ways to grow her business.
Certainly group travel can prove to be a lucrative new market. In addition to increased commissions for travel planners, group travel provides numerous benefits for clients, including more customized itinerary options, cost savings and the ability to travel with like-minded people.
What’s more, travel agents don’t have to be a group sales expert to start selling groups. If you are looking to sell more group travel, here are a few tips for success.
Fine Tune Your Value Statement
This 15-second description of your job, often called an elevator pitch, is an out-loud way of quickly and comfortably telling people what you do. While brevity is good, travel planners should always be sure to emphasize the value they provide.
Introducing yourself as a travel agent can lead to the response, “I didn’t know you guys even existed anymore,” and in return you will spend most of your introduction defending your entire industry. Instead, try something like, “You know how when you’re planning a vacation and you look at so many travel sites that you feel overwhelmed? I work with people to sort through all that data and help them build their perfect getaway.”
One tip: When crafting your value statement, resist the urge to focus on how you offer low, lower or the lowest prices — there will always be another flash sale just waiting to make a liar out of you. And if your client is only worried about traveling on the cheap, you are setting yourself up to be dumped before making the sale in the first place. Focus on the value you offer and leave the low-price challenge to someone else.
Define Your Market
It can be helpful to pick a specific type of group on which to focus. While the idea of being all things to all people can be appealing, today’s travelers demand a level of authenticity that means you might be better served by specializing.
What’s more, if you mostly sell Mexico all-inclusive vacations, is it really worth the effort to learn the entire history of World War II and navigate working with unfamiliar suppliers, just to organize one veteran’s reunion trip?
While the most obvious types of groups are destination weddings, family reunions, military tours, girlfriend getaways and sports team travel, CIE Tours, a tour operator that creates luxury travel packages to Ireland and Britain, suggests that travel consultants get creative when identifying potential group business.
CIE’s groups department has created programs for people tracing their ancestry, and has also curated literature and history tours. And by organizing groups, the company can customize itineraries to order, including such elements as castle stays, garden visits or even extended pub crawls.
Market Where Your Clients Spend Time
When searching the Honeymoon forum at TheKnot.com, a popular online wedding planning community, most of the posts have a common theme. With posts such as “Ireland, Looking for Tips,” “We Are Going to Rome, Any Advice,” “We Can’t Decide Where to Go, Still” and “Need Honeymoon Ideas,” you just have to wonder why these users are not already working with a travel professional.
But this also leads to the question, why aren’t more travel agents monitoring these boards, in search of potential leads? If you’re not convinced online users are interested in working with a travel agent, think again. A response to a user asking about a Tahiti vacation included the advice, “Check out TahitiTourism.com and you can also search for a certified Tahiti Specialist there …”
While TheKnot.com does have strict rules about agents posting just to promote their services, there are still plenty of ways to use the tool within its parameters. Providing thoughtful responses, while including a signature line with your value statement and your URL, can provide subtle promotion for your business.
When growing your group business, consider building partnerships with other like-minded, but non-competitive, partners. If you’re tapping into girlfriend getaways, consider contacting a local limousine company to do a cross promotion. Or, if you are targeting the destination weddings market, perhaps reach out to local photographers, printers and bakers.
Some studies suggest that 80 percent of all sales only get made on the fifth contact. While this research covers all types of sales and not just travel, it should emphasize the importance of following up at least once or twice with potential clients.
After all, even if a prospective client told you that they aren’t interested in your services, how will you know if they start to feel overwhelmed and need your help after attempting it on their own? There’s only one way to know for sure, and that’s with a good old-fashioned follow-up phone call or email.
Yes, this is almost too obvious to be mentioned, and yet so many people get caught up in conducting business, they forget to smile and have a positive attitude when working with their clients.
At its core, sales is a relationship game. So remember when reaching out to potential new clients that you have to take steps to ensure that they will want to have a relationship with you.