Written By: Jackie Friedman, President – Nexion Travel Group
Hello, friends, and I hope you are staying healthy and doing well as we start the last few months of this turbulent and taxing year. Although business on the books has dramatically decreased, hopefully by now you have re-evaluated your business and marketing plan and started implementing changes you want to make, so that your business is still profitable for the short- to mid-term. If you haven’t, it’s not too late (see past editions of Travel Professional News and my Mind. Set. Go. columns for pointers).
We must remember that the challenges of 2020 are not the first we have faced as an industry. Over the years, we have certainly seen our share of ups and downs. One thing we have learned is that we are resilient, and we do find ways to overcome challenges and become more relevant than ever before. I believe we will do that again. We all need to believe that we will do that again! We just need to have the patience to see it through.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a few tips to get you thinking about how you are going to re-build your business.
Look at Both Short- and Long-term Business Goals
For the short-term, ask yourself if you are focusing on the right thing. Are there enough people looking for vacations that fit what you sell right now? Are you comfortable selling travel now?
A hot topic I’ve been getting asked about frequently is whether it’s ok to sell travel now. I know some of you have mixed feelings on this subject, and I’ve also had advisors ask or be asked if it is the right thing to be selling and promoting travel now. The fact is there is no right answer. The important thing to remember is that having conversations with your customers is key, as some are ready to book, and some are not. And if you’re not ready now, it’s ok to take a sabbatical with the intent to come back. Find something else you can do and think about your transferrable skills. What makes you good at what you do, and how can you apply those skills in the short term if you can’t generate income selling travel.
Though short-term travel trends may not align with your longer-term business goals, do take some time to evaluate those long-term goals and how you will achieve them.
One way is to evaluate your specialty. Do you have a specialty or niche? Does it have the potential to be profitable for you? Does it align with your passion? According to an industry report done in 2019, 94 percent of advisors specialize, and 73 percent of all sales come from the areas they specialize in.
Specialization enables you to really be that expert to your existing customer base. It also helps you attract new customers who are looking for the right specialist to help them with their travel plans. It enables you to focus your training and development – and, as I often say, know more about less rather than less about more.
Although I am a big believer in specialization, be careful not to pigeonhole yourself so much that your target customer base is too small. Ensure that your niche is not so narrow that it detracts from repeat bookings.
If you choose to specialize, it is important that you commit to it and focus your marketing in a way that reaches your ideal customer. You need to identify and articulate a unique selling proposition that tells your prospects why you’re different, sets your brand apart from your competition and allows you to target a very specific audience that would most likely find your products or services relevant and valuable.
Get Paid for Your Time and Expertise
One thing that has come out of this pandemic is that more of you now understand the importance of charging professional fees. COVID-19 travel bans, cancellations and rebookings have created an immense amount of extra work for some travel advisors. You’ve spent hours on hold, stayed up to date on new supplier policies and facilitated clients’ concerns. You must ensure that you are paid for your time and hard work.
I know not all of you are comfortable charging fees, and for some business models, it might not be the right choice. I do encourage you to challenge your way of thinking. It is so important that you value your time. Now is the best time to evolve your value proposition, and more importantly, to learn how to articulate or merchandize it. You would be surprised how many of your customers actually expect to pay a fee for your services. They value having an advocate who works for them, and if you don’t ask, you will never know.
How Are You Going to Tell Your Story?
Remember why you got into the travel industry. We all share a common passion, and some may say it is in your blood. Those very reasons are why so many of us are determined to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever. We have found our dream jobs and will fight until the end not to lose them!
As an industry, we continue to show our resilience and stay connected with customers, colleagues and supplier partners. We understand the value of human connection and relationships. These connections will help us get through this. We need to stay empathetic and kind, even though we will have trying days that test our patience.
When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. Take the proper steps to reduce your own personal risk, as well as the risk of others you are in contact with.
From a business perspective, don’t dwell on the bookings you have lost. Focus your time and energy on your business recovery plan. Stay on top of future travel credits and make sure your customers know you are happy to help them rebook when they are ready. Start marketing to those customers who are ready to start dreaming about their next vacation, even if they are not ready to travel now.
For all of you, this is a passion. Think back to why you got into the travel industry. A lot of those reasons have not changed. They may have dimmed because you are not traveling as much, but that passion is still there. Let it fuel you in rebuilding your business. Are you going to rebuild it the same way or is there an opportunity to make some changes?
Most importantly, stay positive. On your worst days, reach out to a fellow travel peer or colleague for support and cheering up. On your best days, offer that same solace to a colleague. It is up to all of us to keep the ball moving.