Before the arrival of the Internet and online booking sites, travel agents were nothing less than a touristic necessity. Exploring the world required professional assistance and expertise, and the average advisor knew more about exotic destinations, hotels and air travel than the most North Americans ever could.
These days, not much has changed in that regard; travel experts are still essential resources to their clients, especially when it comes to booking specialty travel such as luxury getaways, group vacations and bespoke itineraries.
But the world has also become more accessible than ever, and with social media and the instantly-informative World Wide Web, being a master of the inner-workings of adventure and airlines is no longer enough.
Repeat business and referrals now make up the lion’s share of a travel expert’s regular business, so many agencies are exploring new ways to take client satisfaction to the next level, with things like in-house amenities and multi-media communication.
Here are just a few ways today’s agencies are working to enhance the traveller experience before they even leave home.
AGENCIES WITH ATMOSPHERE
Imagine arriving at your local agency to book your upcoming honeymoon and being greeted with a glass of champagne. Or taking a tour of your soon-to-be destination from a comfy leather recliner in the virtual lounge.
Such scenarios are not too far from the truth; more and more brick and mortar agencies are going beyond stuffy, across-the-desk setups in favour of more casually comfortable settings to turn typical client visits into ambient, multi-sensory experiences.
Some serve-up trendy tunes and a cappuccino to make brochure-browsing more leisurely, while others incorporate client-friendly computers with an open-space environment so curious would-be travellers can research at their own pace. Destination wedding-themed lounges are also becoming increasingly popular, using whimsical and romantic décor, music and tropical refreshments as a way to instil excitement in a bride and get her in a booking mood.
Last year, an Omaha-based travel agency opened up a retail location which featured snacks, wine and iPads as a way to attract travellers to the store, where they could relax, examine their options – and look to the guidance of the in-house advisors whenever they have a question.
The premise makes sense; transforming a typical brochure-and-banner strip mall spot into an energetic, approachable space that excites people about travel before they even know their vacation dates can not only result in more engaged client interaction (leading to increased bookings), it can also mean more walk-in business from passers-by who just want to see what all the fuss is about.
As millennial travellers become more experience-hungry and agent-appreciative, travel experts are reaching for the latest technology to provide more consistent and up-to-date services. On top of that, many agents are conducting business while travelling themselves, which means eschewing standard office hours for more flexible alternatives.
The use of instant messaging apps such as What’s App and Facebook are an effective means of communication for both home-based and retail agents – not just as the preferred method for most travellers under 30, but also as a way to offer more attentive customer assistance.
Many advisors are also taking advantage of self-made videos and social media platforms like Instagram as a way to pique their clients’ interest in products and destinations, prompting information or booking requests. Committing to an online presence and brand allows an agency to foster an ongoing relationship with clients, and stay top-of-mind in-between trips.
In addition to building a public image, more agents are making use of digital tools which increase the impact of their services, such as collaborative itinerary apps Umapped and The Travel Valet; interactive virtual reality software; and live video programs like Skype for real-time meetings and in-destination assistance.
REINVENTING THE ROYAL TREATMENT
Of course, stylish new spaces and the latest toys in tech aren’t nearly as important as stand-out customer service. And while working to achieve client satisfaction has always been central to the travel expert value proposition, Twitter-based complaint systems and the loyalty-based nature of the agent-customer relationship means the bar is constantly rising.As usual, advisors are adapting, and coming up with small but significant ways to go above and beyond for their clients.
As usual, advisors are adapting, and coming up with small but significant ways to go above and beyond for their clients. Reaching out to a customer once they’ve finished a much-anticipated vacation is not only a thoughtful follow-up, it’s also an opportunity to keep the travel talk flowing into their next trip. Some agents send hand-written cards or gifts to mark a client’s homecoming, while some destination wedding specialists will send their brides off with an in-flight survival kit designed to alleviate wedding stress.
Reaching out to a customer once they’ve finished a much-anticipated vacation is not only a thoughtful follow-up, it’s also an opportunity to keep the travel talk flowing into their next trip. Some agents send hand-written cards or gifts to mark a client’s homecoming, while some destination wedding specialists will send their brides off with an in-flight survival kit designed to alleviate wedding stress.
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