Anyone who has been a travel agent for any amount of time….say they started a hot minute ago, will have heard the following phrase at some point in their career.
“We were researching the trip online last night, and we found this exact holiday for $XXXX cheaper.”
Let’s set the stage. Your clients, Mildred and Bob, have just walked into your office. Mildred has the floor while Bob is nervously averting your gaze, pacing behind the brochure rack – back when people went to brick and mortar travel agencies to book their travel.
And this is after you’ve invested a solid few hours crafting the perfect itinerary, sewing together all the dates, ensuring that all the times match up perfectly. All stones have been flipped and turned. What’s worse? Mildred is your husband’s favourite aunt. #FML
You shouldn’t be shocked. You know you shouldn’t. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, yet you find yourself wondering if a career working in a slaughterhouse might be more up your alley.
“Are you able to beat that price?”
Is, of course, the follow-up question. You look at Bob. He still refuses to make eye contact. And in your mind, a slew of expletives are ricocheting between your ears that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush.
But before you submit your resume to Smithfield Foods, know that this whole exchange has nothing to do with you.
Hahaha…KIDDING… Of course it does!
I can sense you want to flip me the bird…(who’d blame you), but please let me humbly explain.
This unfortunate incident could have been prevented. It was completely in your control. And the good news is that because it was within your control, it is also in your control to change the outcome the next time around.
And like a great pair of Ginsu knives…there is MORE good news.
The fact that Bob and Mildred reached out, (forget the dodgy family connection for the moment) and enlisted your services, tells you that they really do prefer to purchase their travel from you. Otherwise, why not just click onto the “BOOK NOW” button on the web page? A buck is a buck, right?
As much as people will use the internet to do their research on their dream trip, according to Statistica, on average, only 33% will actually book online. And that number includes all the point-to-point travel and Airbnb business that most travel professionals aren’t interested in booking in the first place. That doesn’t mean that Bob and Mildred understand the differences in your prices and the value you offer. You still need to educate them. But let’s set that aside for now.
I would like to focus on one of the biggest traps that many travel agents fall into and probably don’t even realize they are doing so. I know…because not only have I slipped into the trap myself, but I’ve seen it happen over and over again.
And the second piece of good news is…once you realize where things went off the rails, you can course-correct and never make the same mistake again.
Let’s circle back and take a closer look at the typical travel booking cycle.
The idea sparks
Bob and Mildred are snuggling on the couch one evening…they are deep into Season 4 of the Crown, the point where Diana and Charles finally seem to connect on the dance floor in Sydney and Mildred lovingly whispers into Bob’s ear…” Let’s go on a vaycay to Australia, Bob!”
And that’s when the first domino leans ever so slightly, and the travel planning train begins.
The research gets underway
Next up, either Bob or Mildred or both will begin their journey down the internet rabbit hole. They’ll Google “best holidays in Australia,” “Top things to see in OZ,” “Filming locations for the Crown,” “Holiday Hotspots in the Land Downunder.” At this stage, they have no idea what a trip like that will even cost. They may even start looking into Facebook travel groups and follow #travelaustralia on Insta. Bob might even pin a few strange rock formations on his Pinterest board.
They are so excited that before they know it, it’s the wee hours of the morning when Bob leans into Mildred and says…
“Hey, Millie, isn’t your nephew Harold married to a travel agent?”
Enter the travel advisor
This is the critical moment. This is often where the mistake is made that doesn’t surface until long after the initial consultation.
You see, Bob and Mildred have been up all night. They have done a ton of research. Bob already knows he wants to visit a sheep station 😳, and Mildred is inexplicably drawn to Alice Springs and that big red rock she’s heard so much about.
They have a couple of hotel recommendations they got from Facebook. Someone on Instagram told them they should rent a motorhome, but both are hopeless drivers.
And of course, they want to be sure to include all the highlights from the Gold Coast to the Sydney Opera House. In their minds, they’ve done a lot of work.
Beware of the Order Taker
The trap that snares more agents than tunnel traps capture wombats is the trap of becoming an order taker.
Many travel agents will fastidiously take down all that info and start to work on building a quote. Maybe they’ll ask for a budget; maybe they won’t. Often they don’t ask for a booking fee. After all, Bob and Mildred seem pretty keen to travel, and they appear to know what they want. Why bother with a fee? This should be easy peasy.
No, I mean enter the travel advisor this time for reals
This is the moment a travel advisor needs to shine. While it is so easy to copy down all the deets and give Bob and Mildred exactly what they want, as a travel professional, you need to provide them with what they need and, better yet, what they didn’t even realize they wanted or needed. This is where your work really begins as an expert consultant.
The truth is…item to item, cost to cost, an OTA (Online Travel Agency, i.e. Expedia, Booking.com) will often come in less expensive. The OTA has far lower overhead expenses AND they deal in volume. They are prepared to make peanuts. One peanut a million times over is, well…a lot of friggin’ peanuts. That is their business model. But that is not your business model.
And any purchaser of travel knows that there is an assumed risk when purchasing through an OTA. Have you ever tried to contact one after the booking has been made to make a slight change? The struggle is real.
OTAs don’t have the staff to offer personalized customer service. And there are such strict terms and conditions that amendments will have those peanuts adding up post-haste. They price themselves aggressively, but that attractive price comes at the expense of after-sales service.
These are the disadvantages of booking with an OTA that we all sort of know and expect. Even Bob and Mildred know that on some level. They would be more than willing to pay a few more dollars to get peace of mind, I’m sure.
But most important of all…
The one thing that OTAs cannot offer is human expert interaction. OTAs won’t tell Bob and Mildred insider tips like:
- That packing a cork-hat is a good idea to keep the flies at bay in the Outback or at least you’ll show them how to do a proper Aussie salute.
- That Bob really shouldn’t miss out on the annual barefoot mud crab wrestling tourney held up in Darwin at the exact time they’ll be passing through.
- That unlike in Bowmanville, Ontario, every snake they encounter probably WILL kill them.
- And that they just MUST have an avo on toast for brekkie with a side of rock melon and paw paw at the White Rabbit café in Sydney
- And if the waiter shouts “Have a ripper of an arvo” as they leave the café, he is simply wishing them both a wonderful afternoon – not suggesting they tear apart any local wildlife.
OTAs can’t offer these tidbits, but you, the Aussie specialist, can.
Or that the Melbourne hotel they chose from a recommendation from a Facebook acquaintance is actually miles away from all the action. Instead, you will offer an alternative that is centrally located, boutique yet doesn’t have them both dipping into their retirement savings just to spend a few nights.
Both Bob and Mildred like the sound of that. They slowly begin to realize that while they loved the idea of getting lost in pages and pages of online research, they were indeed lost.
They realize that just as you might be able to diagnose a life-threatening disease on the internet, doesn’t mean you should. People have their professions for a reason. And you are clearly great at your job.
You have now elevated yourself as a person of benefit to your relatives – so much more valuable than the crab-dip you usually bring to family barbeques.
Sure, a good travel consultant listens intently to what the client says they want. They even listen to what hasn’t been said. They ask all the right questions to tease out even the most minute detail. They’ll take note of the things that a client doesn’t even realize they wanted.
Order takers are not thought makers.
If you just give Bob and Mildred what they ask for then it will be difficult for them not to do a price comparison, item for item, against what they found on the internet.
Next up, time to pack, board the plane, toss back a few glasses of fine Shiraz, sling a boomerang and then return.
Of course, we can’t forget that an expert travel advisor continues to add value to a booking well after the credit card numbers have been processed, but that’s all for another day.
My key point in writing this piece is highlighting a very common pitfall that so many of my peers have fallen into and how to ward it off at the pass. If you offer real value upfront to your client during the booking process’s consulting phase, they will never come to you asking you to match the screaming hot deal they found on the internet.
Well, maybe Mildred still will. There was always something not quite right about her. And here you thought it was just her lazy eye. 😉
If you’d like to book your first complimentary coaching session with me, click on the link below. I promise to offer you a ton of value to help get you started or…your money back.
Totally agree! Especially about the OTAs …….
Yes, they are making dirt cheap friggin’ peanuts and they drive you nuts too.
😂 So true.
“Never lower your price, add value.” wise words indeed!
Yeah, I like that one too.
I can confirm watching some clown with a gut full of piss trying to tie up a muddy with no shoes or thongs on is quite entertaining.
Thanks for the extra support, Chris. You know I can’t wait to get up to Darwin at some point soon.