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Like the wisdom of the old proverb, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” retaining clients and building repeat business is a smart and efficient way to ensure success.

Indeed, a solid, reliable client list can be the lifeblood of any travel counsellor and agency in general, especially when compared to the uncertainty of attracting new clients, many of whom may be subject to the influence of competitors or only interested in the lowest possible price.


BUT HOW CAN YOU BUILD THAT LIST?

Value, trust and relationships are buzzwords that are constantly used by experts when it comes to establishing a loyal customer base (i.e. clients who will return again and again) and it’s no wonder why.

“The goal of the travel consultant is to provide the right product for the right person at the right price,” says Lindsay Pearlman, co-president, Ensemble Travel Group. “That’s how a long-term consultant-customer relationship is built. From that positive relationship comes loyalty. People continually buy travel from advisors they trust and who have provided them with a strong value proposition, which is based on how the individual defines value. A successful travel consultant knows, understands, and sells to those respective preferences and values.”

Christine James, vice-president Canada, Travel Leaders Network (TLN), points out that “it costs more to gain a new client than it does to retain existing business, so clearly the priority has to be on the latter.”

She says that some of the strategies used by TLN members include:

- Offering existing clients an incentive if they refer their friends and relatives.

- Hosting events at clubs or associations they belong to; or approaching their kids’ teachers to see if there’s interest in leading a student group.

- Using social media to promote and build their business by posting special offers and pictures of their own travels that could inspire clients to experience the destination themselves.


SPECIALIST PROGRAMS

Agents can also build loyalty with travel partners through participation in agent specialist programs; these days, almost all suppliers and tourism offices have one. Not only do successful program participants increase their knowledge, but credentials, certificates, marketing tools and FAM trips help position the agent as an “expert” in a particular destination or niche. Better still, many programs refer potential clients to their specialists.

“One of the benefits of being a Premier [Aussie specialist] is that they get to post a profile on our consumer website and they can also get leads sent to them,” says Paul Larcher of Tourism Australia in Canada. “There have been some recent large bookings generated by the leads from our website – a single reservation worth over $100,000, for example.”

Some agency groups provide their own specialist programs, for example, The Travel Agent Next Door offers “SME” (Subject Matter Expert) programs that help its agents become specialized in certain destinations and products, including small group training, marketing, FAMs and special project pages on their website.

For its part, Ensemble agents have access to online marketing tools, social media strategies and traditional print pieces, along with increasingly easier and more efficient booking engines; B2B platforms that offer more options for the clients and additional revenue opportunities for members.

“We provide travel professionals with products and services that allow them access to knowledge and resources that help build relationships and drive value to their customers,” Pearlman says. “If the knowledge isn’t there, then products become commoditized and there will never be relationships, loyalty or repeat business.”

As for TLN, the organization’s Agent Profiler delivers new leads to members on a daily basis and includes writers who help agents improve their profiles, leading to more prospects.


GET PERSONAL

But selling travel isn’t all tech and tickets. And buying travel isn’t like buying socks; it’s an emotional experience (besides costing a lot more than basic hosiery). As such, it’s a good idea to get deeper into the sales experience. Trafalgar Canada, for example, has gone so far as to create a five-step “emotional selling technique” that’s based on appealing to a client’s “emotional and aspirational” needs rather than simply their budget. Get to know your client, urges Trafalgar. They’ll appreciate it, and you!

TLN’s Christine James adds, “Never take your clients loyalty for granted, even if you’ve been handling their business for years. You need to make sure that you remain ‘front of mind’ and relevant to their needs... I also recommend that [agents] maintain a database segmented on clients’ special interests and send a personal note to those clients when there’s an offer that might appeal to them. Even if they don’t necessarily book at that moment, this demonstrates that you listen to their needs and have their best interests at heart. There’s no better way to retain loyalty.”

CoffeePixabay / Photo-Mix

IN GOOD TIMES AND BAD

Sometimes, it’s how you deal with a client’s adversity that can make or break a relationship. From routine missed flights or mucked up hotel reservations (not your fault!) to once-in-a- generation calamities like the Iceland volcano that disrupted transatlantic travel for weeks, agents can make a friend – or a least a client – for life with swift, efficient help.

“About 85 per cent of our calls are from people who need some kind of help... their plans have changed, something awful has happened to them, they have become stranded, etc.,” says Air Canada Worldwide Call Centre Manager Michael Tremblay. “How we handle these things, including doing something extra special when we can, is remembered for well into the future.”


UPSELLING

It may seem counterintuitive that boosting the sticker price on a client’s package might ultimately endear them to you, but many travel experts maintain that coaxing a few more dollars up front can not only save them money in the long run, but also create a better overall trip experience, which is the key to building client loyalty.

Some clients will simply appreciate the value. As a few examples, try suggesting: pre-paid Canadian dollar theme park tickets; premium tours that include attraction admission costs; or centrally-located hotels that can save time and sightseeing transfer costs. There are countless ways to help add value to a client’s package.

Others will appreciate being steered into a special destination experience – something that will be the memory of a lifetime, such as a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon or adding a couple of days in the Amazon onto the end of a South American trip.

“These are the thing your clients will never forget,” says Brent Carnegie of Canlink Travel. “It’s money worth spending and they’ll be back.”

At the same time, imagine (heaven forbid) the gratitude engendered by a client if an insurance add-on turned out to be necessary? Medical emergencies have been known to bankrupt uninsured travellers.

“Getting to know a customer during a call and exploring a little about why they are travelling can give us hints as to what things might make their experience a bit better,” adds Air Canada’s Tremblay. “Many customers aren’t even aware of some of the add-ons we have and when they purchase something that enhances their trip and is of good value, they are quite pleased.”

Maureen Barnes-Smith, director of sales and marketing for Sandals and Beaches Resorts in Canada, agrees. “[Upselling to] higher room categories means higher commission, [but] generally for clients it means a more upgraded room, more amenities and better location, so it tends to lead to a more satisfied guest,” she says. “Satisfied guests mean repeat guests, so repeat business for the agent. [And] of course, we all know that word of mouth is the best recommendation. One satisfied guest will tell several others and business builds.”


IT GOES BOTH WAYS

Loyalty and repeat business is a concept that also goes beyond the agent-client relationship. For example, Karisma Hotels & Resorts VP of Sales & Marketing Mandy Chomat urges agents to remember the agent-supplier relationship and demonstrate loyalty to their partners – especially those which offer programs, perks and incentives to do business with them. Karisma, Chomat points out, can only be booked through travel agents (not even OTAs) and offers agents a wealth of sophisticated marketing tools to help them sell and increase business to its resorts. “(We’re) two mutual forces,” he states. “Growing together!”

 

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