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The Art of Questions 

Simply Sales with Scott

Written By: Scott Koepf, Senior Vice President of Sales, Avoya Travel



In travel sales today success will be based on three primary things: Product Knowledge, Offer Knowledge and Client Knowledge. All three will intertwine and be used in various amounts throughout any interaction with customers. Those who will maximize their potential and watch their sales soar will be fully prepared for all three before the phone rings or email is received.


Preparation for the first two is relatively straight forward. For Product knowledge, you should study your selected supplier websites, attend all webinars and if offered become certified through their education program. In addition, if you can obtain firsthand knowledge and take copious notes then even better (but don’t try the old “I can’t sell it if I haven’t sailed it’ bit as you certainly can!). You should also read trade publications, reviews and just about everything you can find to make sure you feel fully confident about the product delivered and who it will appeal to.


In the last few years, offer knowledge has gained so much in importance that it may equal product knowledge in importance. Most consumers will start the conversation or request around the deal or price or offer. So, to keep them interested and to show them you are an expert, offer knowledge will have more impact early on in a conversation than you knowing the savings and value adds on that sailing versus the menu items and color of the carpet.


Again it is imperative to study all of the offers that are in the marketplace. As you know there may be ten different prices and/or value adds for even just one trip and room category. Limit yourself to a select few preferred suppliers and you have a chance at understanding the options. Quite simply it is impossible to try to know all of the deals from all of the suppliers so don’t even try. Also, keep a list of your top five competitors and check what they are marketing each week to make sure you know what offers you have (or need to get) to be competitive.


For client knowledge, the preparation is quite different. Product knowledge and offer knowledge is gained by studying the facts so you can recall them. To gain client knowledge you need to know what facts to get and how to get them. I mentioned last month that the tendency is to focus on the five D’s – Destination, Duration, Destination, Dollars (Budget), and Desires. Some even forget the last D and feel when the first four are known then a jump to product presentation and the sharing of your product knowledge will make the sale. I beg to differ.


Knowing what the client wants for their next vacation does not really tell you anything about them. You need a plan to gather information that will create a relationship and give you insight into how you can deliver exactly what this customer wants in both service and product. That plan may be the most important part of your preparation and while studying sales skills (and reading this column each month) will help, your success may hinge on one skill. The Art of Questioning.


What do you ask and when? There is no perfect guide I can provide as it needs to fit your personality and then needs to be adjusted on the fly as the conversation progresses. However, you should start with the list of questions that you want to ask and generally in order, knowing that the order will change for each customer. The hardest thing about getting client knowledge will be the desire to just get to the five D’s and move on to a presentation or sharing your amazing knowledge. However, once the client has given you that information they are less likely to want to share more information with you and you will have no idea what their true desires are out of this vacation. Therefore, spend some time crafting your questions and putting them in an order of importance. Then put them where you can reference them – on a sheet of paper next to your phone or in your computer or on your phone.


Try to ask as many questions as you can about the past before you move to the present or future. Almost all questions fall into those three areas but to make things easier I have compiled a list of questions for you to consider. Don’t use them all (your client is not THAT patient) and don’t worry about the order but have your list ready to refer to. I have also listed a few opening questions that I would ask right away and a couple that are sales basics. Put these into your own words and don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions. It is the only way to get to client knowledge. This is certainly not an exhaustive list and please add your own questions (I would love for you to share any other questions you have found to be successful so I can add to this list in future columns. Please send to [email protected])


Questioning is indeed an art and it can be as simple as coloring by the numbers if you practice and prepare. Well then, Leonardo, here is your canvas:


  • May I ask who is calling? (Sales 101 and still very important!)
  • Where did you hear about us/me/my agency? (You will want these answers when you wear your marketing hat)
  • Is this a convenient time to talk about your (cruise/land) vacation?
  • May I ask you a few questions to help me understand what your vacation needs are?
  • I’m curious, how did you make your prior vacation reservations? With a local travel agent or on-line, or by yourself?
  • (If answer is ‘local travel agent’: May I ask why you are not using that agent today?)
  • Were you happy researching all your vacation options yourself? Did you find it confusing?
  • How long have you been planning this trip?


  • Have you traveled to this region before? If so, who did you travel with? (Example: tour company, cruise line or on your own)
  • Where have you traveled to before?
  • What do you like to do when on vacation? (Example: sightseeing, relaxing, exploring new cultures, snorkeling/diving, getting in with the locals, Local cuisine, Local wines/beers, etc.)
  • Have you cruised before? Which line/ship? What did you enjoy the most?
  • Why did you pick this particular cruise line/ship, island/resort, etc.?
  • What is your favorite place you have ever been? Why?
  • What is the worst hotel or resort you have stayed at?
  • Where did you go on your last vacation?
  • Have you ever taken a river or ocean cruise before? Where did you go and what did you like about the experience?
  • Where do you like to eat on vacation?
  • What were the best and worst experiences on your last vacation?
  • What is your favorite place to visit on vacation, and why?
  • What is one place you would never want to visit again and why?
  • What hotel chain is your favorite to stay at, and why?
  • How many vacations do you usually take each year?


  • Names and ages of Spouse/Significant Other and Kids
  • What do you like to read/watch?
  • What city and state do you live in? Does everyone who is traveling live in the same area?
  • Perhaps you qualify for additional discounts. Is anyone travelling an AFL/CIO Union Member, Active/Retired Military, or Police/Firefighter?
  • How would you describe your ultimate vacation?
  • When are you planning to make your decision?
  • If I am able to offer everything you want/need for this vacation, are you ready to make a commitment with me today?
  • Do you have any mileage saved up? Free air tickets?
  • Let me get your names as they appear on your passports, dates of birth, and home addresses so we can get your vacation rolling as soon as we have all the details worked out.
  • When you get back, do you want to say “I saw” or “I did”?
  • Are your bags packed?
  • Are you the decision maker, or do you need to involve another family member or traveler?
  • If the price and terms are what you expect, when are you prepared to make a commitment to place a deposit or pay for your trip? If you pay in advance, there are financial advantages for you, but you have to act soon due to the popularity of the company and the limited number of cabins for the date you want.
  • What do you expect from me?


  • Is anyone celebrating a birthday or other special event?
  • What dates are you interested in? Are your dates flexible?
  • How many nights are you considering?
  • Where is the one place you have always wanted to visit?
  • What is the budget you have in mind?
  • What kind of accommodations do you prefer? Interior/Ocean? With/Without a balcony?
  • Where do you want to go? (Or reconfirm if you already have this information.)
  • What are you looking forward to the most?
  • Why did you pick this current destination (and/or vendor)?
  • What will make this vacation perfect?
  • What are your priorities for this vacation?
  • Is the total cost of the trip the only qualifying factor in making your decision?
  • Are you open to suggestions on alternate itineraries (destinations, vendors, etc.)?
  • Are you looking for a dream vacation, once in a lifetime, or is this just another quick getaway?
  • Are you looking for a vacation with lots of activities or more of a stress free and relaxing getaway?
  • Are you familiar with the different kinds of accommodations on the vessels? Do you know what is included in their service?
  • Are you planning on a pre/post stay? Do you need assistance with air reservations?