by Wendy Richards-Edwardson | Featured Contributor
Costco is just one among many disruptors that the travel profession continues to monitor. There is no disputing the fact that bulk stores are changing the way travelers buy their vacations. Together with the Internet, it appears the brick and mortar travel agencies may soon be going the way of the rotary dial telephone.
Rebranding and Specialization
If your passion is helping people experience journeys of a lifetime, get ready for some great news. Travel agents of old have been reinvented and emerging as 21st century Travel Advisors. These independent entrepreneurs really know their stuff, genuinely love travel, and are thriving!
The rebranding of advisors has made it possible for us to draw a line in the sand. Here’s what you need to know:
Do you know what bulk stores are really, really good at? There’s a clue there. Bulk! Volume! It only makes sense that in order to keep those prices dirt cheap they have to sell a lot of the same stuff to make a profit.
Bulk stores don’t know what travelers want and in many cases, neither do consumers. Prospective buyers may not even be sure what questions to ask and no one is offering them assistance because they don’t know either. Most of these sellers of vacations are marketers, not travel consultants.
The big box stores offer cruises and vacation packages with juicy discounts, store and vacation credits. “Buy from us and we’ll give you $500 worth of free groceries.” Really? If trusting holiday time to Costco, buyers may indeed need those free groceries upon their return. If consumers want an “off the rack” vacation, let them have it. They are not your customer.
Enter the Dream Merchant
In today’s world, successful people are busy – really busy – and don’t have the time or inclination to research and plan a well put together itinerary that maximizes their all-important family time. Do you really think JK Rowling books her holidays through Sam’s Club (pardon the pun)? To these individuals, time is as valuable as currency and they are willing to pay to get what they want.
Enter the designer of travel. A Travel Advisor works on the same basis as an interior designer or architect. They are employed by the client, not the supplier. An interior designer gets to know their customer: what appeals to them, the family’s needs, what they don’t want, timelines and budget. They can’t create a dream home if they don’t have a clear picture of the people who will live in it. Step by step they put together a plan of action that the consumer sees the value in and is excited about!
As a successful Travel Advisor, not only do I charge fees but my clients expect it! The best is never free. From inexpensive getaways to lavish holidays, there is no such thing as one size fits all. Advisors are now tapping into exciting markets: expeditions, sports, yachting, genealogy, hiking, wine tasting, music cruises, luxury trains, history and architectural travel. You name it; someone out there wants you to make it happen!
The best Travel Designers are affiliated or employed by Destination Management Companies such as Canada’s Vision Travel Solutions and luxury consortiums such as USA Virtuoso who have standards that must be met by both agents and suppliers. Everything from virtual sales training, product and destination knowledge, and educational trips are offered and expected. Today’s sophisticated travelers rely on their advisor’s expertise in choosing sustainable and environmentally responsible partners.
Expanding into Concierge Service
Advisors have inside access to everything to do with the travel industry. Doesn’t it then make sense to have them make their clients’ reservations? Choice of cabins, suite views, tours, air, dining, cars, transfers, you name it. The big box stores are not going to suggest booking a cruise cabin on the side of the ship that will get their customer the best view of Monaco at night. Nor do they have the connections to get an enviable dinner reservation at The French Laundry in Napa.
The average traveler does not have the clout to wield influence should things go sideways on vacation. And in today’s world, it happens more often than you think. It’s hard to act as your own advocate when stuck in an airport terminal with thousands of others going nowhere. With boots on the ground everywhere, I have solved problems half way around the world! Call Costco when you arrive at Kilimanjaro airport and your luggage is sitting in Istanbul and see what happens!
Little Black Book – What Sets a Travel Advisor Apart
Here is something you can’t put a price tag on. You won’t find consortiums of small Scottish country inns, German castle stays and Italian boutique hotels offering their properties at big box stores. You won’t find adventure outfitters, tiny yachts and gulets for lease, and I can guarantee you, you won’t find my little black book of hidden gems of accommodation and destinations.
Whether you are 25 or 65, clients choose their advisor based on relatability, knowledge and trust. I am over 50; my clients are over 40. I like to travel well and so do they. Ageism is not a factor and that is fabulous news in our youth oriented world!
The profession of Travel Advisor is thriving! It has become more specialized, challenging, interesting, exciting and ultimately, very profitable. There is nothing more rewarding than having clients return from an outstanding vacation and telling you that it was you who made all the difference. When can we book the next one?
Remember these very important words: Travel sells itself. You are selling YOU.