Travel Agents vs. Online Booking Sites
A recent report compiled by ABTA revealed that the majority of travelers will follow through and book with a travel agent once the conversation has begun. But unfortunately, losing a client to an online travel agency (OTA) is still a real fear. Travelers get a quote and a wealth of useful information about their trip, only to take your knowledge and book somewhere else. How do you prevent this and how do you begin to educate the unreached sector of travelers who have never even considered booking through an agent? Today’s traveler is eagerly looking for the unique, customized travel experience that only you can offer. The market is primed and ready for travel agents who know how to reach it.
Know the facts
1. You protect your clients’ time
The average American booking travel on their own spends 22.95 hours and visits 140 websites in the six weeks prior to booking their vacation. How much would someone be willing to pay an expert to do this legwork faster and better? By paying you to do it for them, your clients eliminate the guesswork and the lower the risk of a costly mistake.
2. You understand booking rules
When travelers choose to book airfare, hotels, and excursions online, they typically don’t have a good grasp on the fine print. Instead, they look for a good price and “hope for the best.” But in the world of travel, this is a huge risk. Hidden fees, sudden changes, and unforeseen problems arise. Your expertise on booking rules and regulations will save your clients from extra costs and headaches down the road.
3. You have high-level access to vendors
The travel industry holds brand loyalty in high regard. That is why airlines and hotels are constantly offering rewards and special treatment to their “card-carrying members.” Don’t undervalue your years of partnership with your favorite vendors. An urgent request to a brand that knows and appreciates your business will get special attention. Your clients reap the benefits of your loyalty simply by choosing to book through you.
Get the word out
1. Start the right conversations
A good salesperson knows how to work the right topics into a natural conversation at the right time. Your brand new client mentions a horror story about getting stranded at the JFK airport. Sympathize and let them know that now they have a name and number to call during a travel fiasco.
2. Update your website
When is the last time you updated your website? Unless your clients all come from referrals, your website creates the first impression of your business. Make sure your website is clean, fresh, and easy to navigate. Your website can be an important medium for answering questions, providing helpful information, and even sharing testimonials from happy clients.
3. Don’t drop the ball on social media
Social media is a marketing gold mine for travel professionals. Every major OTA is using it, but you have the opportunity to be more creative and personable. Use your posts to fuel a passion for exploration and adventure. Create content that helps to educate the public about the value of a travel agent and break the myths. Encourage engagement and don’t shy away from answering questions.
Shine where they fail
1. Keep it human
An OTA doesn’t know and doesn’t care what travelers want. They offer the options and take the payment. Your strength is your ability to listen to your clients — to help them navigate their own uncertainty about their travel goals and exceed expectations. A booking engine will never do this.
2. Stay accessible
When things go wrong with travel booked online, travelers will spend hours on hold or being passed from department to department. If they finally reach a customer service representative, they will most likely be told, “sorry, there’s not much we can do.” Here is another opportunity to make your service stand out. Staying responsive and attentive to your clients’ needs and concerns makes a world of difference.
3. Let your passion show
“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life” – Michael Palin
A passion for travel is contagious. Share in the excitement of your clients’ upcoming trips and welcome the stories of the previous ones. Your enthusiasm will build upon the trust and connection you establish through your quality, consistent service to them.