Have you ever asked yourself if you could do it all over again, would you?
For me, it would be a hell ya. I can’t imagine a career in any other field other than something travel-related. Even as we near the end of the most challenging period in this industry, I have zero regrets.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t have done a few things differently but never once have I second-guessed my decision to submit my first resume.
So I thought it might be fun to poll my colleagues to see what advice they would give someone just starting out in this industry – advice that maybe they wish they had received. And in doing so, WOW…did I ever get a lot of juicy pearls of wisdom. So many great tips that I thought…huh…this just may be a two-parter.
In no particular order, this is what was tossed at me by the best of the best.
#1 – It’s okay to fire your client 😳
In the beginning, our knee-jerk reaction is to eat shit. I don’t know where that comes from. Maybe it’s that this industry is made up of individuals who tend to be people pleasers. Many of us get into this field because we love helping others plan their trips. We love what we do, so even when a request is maybe a little out of the norm, our inclination is to move heaven and earth to get it done for our clients.
Some clients very much appreciate those efforts. Others…not so much. This “helpful” tendency can lead to some people feeling entitled to our generosity. Before you know it, we create monsters in some of our clients. And when that happens…
It’s okay to politely decline their business in the future.
When clients start taking advantage of your expertise; they are not worth having as clients. When they come to expect you to jump through hoops, it may just be time to Donald Trump them.
#2 – Pick a niche
You can’t be all things to all people. Unless you are some type of savant, it’s improbable that anyone can become an expert in all things. Many agents start as generalists. And that’s okay when you aren’t quite sure what you want your niche to be. But quick like bunny, find what area of the world or type of travel you want to specialize in, and double down.
Of course, you can still have a career in travel and be a Jane of all Trades, but if you want to be truly successful, you need to have expertise and get a reputation as an expert. Read Defining Your Niche to learn more. The best travel advisors have no problems attracting quality leads when they are “in demand” for their knowledge.
#3 – Travel is the best classroom
Many agents have admitted that while travel courses can be helpful, the best training they ever got was from just getting their feet dirty. Once you’ve nailed down your niche, the best advice successful agents give is to pack your bag and head for the airport. Learn everything possible within your sphere while in destination.
If you want to specialize in honeymoon resorts of the Caribbean, grab your flip flops – the ones with the cute kitten heels – and explore. Book as many hotel site inspections as you can. Meet all the general managers. Take in as many day excursions that you can fit into your timeline.
And when you are at the start of your career…it’s unlikely that you will get many discounts. You won’t have proven yourself yet, but never mind. Those will come later. Look at the trip as an investment in your future. And eeeeesh…talk about fun investments! So much more sexy than a 401K.
#4 – Tell anyone with ears that you are a travel agent
I might not lead with….” Hi, my name is Diane Molzan, and I’m a travel agent,” but I’d certainly find a way to work it into every conversation. And the travel profession is one place that business cards still have a home. Make sure you have some high-quality cards printed, and don’t be afraid to hand them out. Timing can be everything. The person standing in front of you in the check-out line at Aldi could be your next best client.
Treat every interaction like an opportunity. We are lucky in this industry in that, unlike selling life insurance, people genuinely like to talk about travel. So extend your hand and let people know you have the expertise to help.
#5 – Start an email list as early as possible
I’ve heard it said that the best time to start building your email list was yesterday. But the second-best time to start is today. So many successful agents tell me that they wish they had started building their client list much earlier.
Sure, most of them knew to have a database of clients that they would send Christmas cards and birthday cards to, but those names only became clients once they booked. Most agents say they never thought about building a database of potential clients or taking it seriously.
The best way to start your email list is to offer something of value in exchange for an email. It’s called a “lead magnet.” A lead magnet can be something as simple as a chance to win something like a gift certificate or similar prize.
Read How to Attract the Perfect Client to Your Travel Business to learn more about what makes a good lead magnet. But yeah…many of my colleagues wish they had started collecting names far sooner than they did.
#6 Get things in writing – everything
Sad to say, but you only need to be burned once before this nugget is seared into your skull. In the world of travel, when even a slight name modification from Barbara to Barbra on a PNR can end up costing mucho dollars…most successful agents will advise never to take critical information verbally.
I wish it weren’t true. You want to trust people, but some people will lie to save a buck when money is on the line.
Always cover your ass with granny panties (you know…the kind that goes from your chin to your knees) and get things in writing.
#7 Don’t take things personally
Top agents know that booking travel can bring out the best and the worst in people. This is especially true when flights get cancelled or rerouted. When earthquakes happen or a global pandemic wreaks havoc on travel plans – you will likely become the hated messenger. You’ll be the convenient punching bag when frustrations run high, even when the shit has nothing to do with you.
Of course, we shouldn’t accept poor behaviour, and you can choose to fire your client if it makes sense to do so. (see point #1) But never take things personally. A client’s actions have more to do with them than you.
#8 Never deliver bad news in an email
Ugh…I know. Nobody likes to share bad news. It’s horrible when we learn of a sked change on an airline that will eliminate a precious vacation day. Plus, countless other things that could potentially go wrong, but the most successful agents will say…
Time to pull on your big girl pants and make the call.
While it may be tempting to hide behind an email to avoid the confrontation, just take in a few big deep breaths and deliver the bad news face to face or ear to ear. Everything is figureoutable. Clients are always far more appreciative when you reach out and show empathy rather than hide behind text.
#9 Find a mentor
This industry is tough – no question. There is just so much to know. There are so many nuances that change every day. Even the most experienced agents struggle to keep current with all industry updates.
Many of the top-producing travel agents I spoke to said they wished they’d found a mentor earlier on in their career. Or, some said that they found one, and that turned out to be a game-changer for them.
You can find a mentor through industry Facebook groups or within your host agency network. Ideally, you’ll want to find one that can guide you in areas where you are weak. If you struggle to understand airline contracts, look for someone who excels in this area.
And most importantly, as soon as you get to a place that you can pay it forward and help another new agent get started, do it. John F. Kennedy said it best in his pivotal 1963 speech, “Rising tides lift all boats.” Helping our fellow agents only improves the reputation of our industry across all facets. Sometimes, all it takes is one foul experience with a travel agent, and a client will never trust another travel advisor again.
If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out Part II.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to someone starting in this industry? Please leave it in the comments below. I still have a few goodies tucked up my sleeve for next time, and I’m happy to include your nuggets of knowledge.