Secret (Travel) Agent Man

To call or not to call.These days it’s not a reason of why, but how to find a good travel agent.  Travel agents (who occasionally prefer the term travel consultants) are experiencing a revamp in business. What was once thought to be the dying service is seeing an influx of patronage from a wide demographic of people. If you Google “Why Travel Agents” you’ll see a huge number of hits (531,000,000) and at the top of the list are some very compelling articles. Larry Olmstead writes a great account on Forbes.com as to why travel agents are necessary here and here. Olmstead articulates the argument so well that there’s hardly any need for this post to address why agents are necessary.

The problem isn’t justification, though, but convincing people to use an agent. Travel consultants should be considered as any other specialized service; same as your lawyer, your accountant or even the firm who helps file your taxes. Like these examples the service comes with a wealth of information which, in the age of DIY (do it yourself) you could, plausibly, find on your own. What Turbo Tax and H&R Block do for you, however, is save you time by being convenient AND back you up when you get into trouble.

The difficulty of convincing people to pay an agent arises with sites like this or Sun Travel. Both are top hits on Google. Like all industries, self promotion is the key to existence. However in the new age of Marketing and PR (a la David Meerman Scott among others) providing a laundry list as self promotion is typically dismissed by the audience as mirror self-inflation. A good lawyer may give you a list of testimonials, of client satisfaction or case-winnings, but they’re not going to provide a laundry list for why you need a lawyer. When you need one, you’ll go looking for one.

Travel consultants should learn the lesson. It comes off as amateur to simply list why you’re necessary. Assume you are necessary and provide testimonial by building an vast online support network via social media and blogs. Consider your clients, the people who book cruises with you, as repaying your services with a mention on their Twitter account. But, payment in this new age of consultants can’t simply be good mentions on websites.

In the revamp of the travel agent there also is a revamp in payment process. The new age of travel consulting is a tricky one. Agents are faced with very poor rates of return from bookings cruises, airlines, hotels and tour packages (some as low as $13.00 a head) because all these industries want higher return for their products. The less they pay, the better the margin of profit for Carnival Cruises and Super African Sufari. Essentially agents spend X amount of hours marketing, researching and selling and are thanked with mediocre returns on investment.

In answer to this some consultants have started charging for time invested, much like a lawyer. But the billings become vague and highly competitive with other travel consultants. Oftentimes there’s no real way of evaluating the value of one agent compared to another (even with customer reviews), so a well established self-employed agent may charge twice as much as a start-up agent yet provide the exact same services with the same resources.

What’s the solution? Buy local.

If your looking for an agent start locally: it’s like an organic movement but for a service industry. If you are a travel consultant market yourself locally. Tell what city you’re based in and why you like it, branch out to places where travel agents don’t typically go to like bars, restaurants and senior housing. Then online build yourselves not as Travel Agents, but people who are willing to research, argue, bargain and talk with customers for a nominal fee. As you grow diversify your clientele. Find a small company and offer your services. Then, not only are you providing families with great travel information but corporations too. You have created a portfolio which you can now use as a marketing tool, instead of writing self-inflation.

If you find, as a traveler, a consultant who really gets you, really molds to your needs (say they’re very terse and down to business and you dig that, or maybe they love to talk and you have hour long conversations while commuting home) let others know. This is part of the repayment. The other part of the repayment, the monetary part, should be discussed with your agent after you’ve booked one or two trips with them. Perhaps the solution to repaying your consultant should be two-fold, with marketing at one section. The other section, if they don’t already have a pay-up-front for consulting, would be a tip. A monetary tip based on the cost of your trip, say 10%. In reality they probably still saved you as much, and chose not to charge you some vague fee that would go into their pockets. You’ll be creating loyalty on both ends, the service provider and the client.

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