Australia: Tips from a Premier Specialist travel agent

Australia: Tips from a Premier Specialist travel agent

One in every 88 UK residents visits Australia every year. And with most staying for at least three weeks and shelling out for those expensive longest-of-long-haul flights, sending clients Down Under can earn you major sums of commission.

Travel Counsellor Elaine Simpson has been an expert on selling Australia for 13 years and is one of Tourism Australia's Premier Specialists. Travel Weekly picked her brains to get the best advice on how to sell this popular destination successfully.

Know your destination

"Knowledge and passion are the best tools to sell a destination. The first step is to enrol on the Aussie Specialist Programme. Once you've completed the general modules there are modules from different tour operators, and throughout there are links to other specialised websites.

"If you get the chance, attend Corroboree, the training event for travel agents, or go on an educational trip. If you complete the Aussie Specialist programme you are put on the list to be considered for a fam trip."

Know your clients

"You need to be really interested in your clients and what they're looking for from their trip. I get all my customers to make me two lists - one of must-haves, and one of would-like-tos. Then I come back with something as close as possible, which works.

"First-time visitors tend to have an agenda of highlights spread across the country. They always want Sydney, often with a bridge climb, and the Great Barrier Reef. Many want the Red Centre, which I encourage, though I've come across those who say it's 'just a rock!'

"Second or third-timers know they skimmed the surface on their first visit and often want to limit the area they cover and spend more time really exploring in depth.

"Up to half of my clients have family or friends in Australia and, while it may not be the primary reason for their visit, they'll want to schedule in time to spend with them."

Know your flights

"Once you know the routes each airline flies it's easy to find the best option for your clients.

"It's a very long journey, so they won't want to be travelling all over the UK before they even take off. Do your homework and find out which airlines have flights leaving from regional airports. Singapore Airlines has flights leaving from Manchester and Emirates has a range of regional departures and flies to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

"It's also worth thinking about where clients want to end up. Australia is huge and the right flights can help them avoid a long journey once they arrive. Qantas is hard to beat when it comes to flights to a whole range of cities in Australia.

"I recommend a stopover, especially for older travellers. Even if their time is short and they can't afford to stop for a couple of days, I'll book them into the transit hotel at Singapore airport. Just 12 hours allows them to sleep and arrive in Australia ready to start their holiday."

Know your seasons

"Australia isn't just a country, it's a continent. The north is tropical while the far south is temperate with a climate not dissimilar to Europe.

"The seasons vary vastly depending on location, and the belief many clients hold - that the best time to visit is in our winter, their summer - isn't always true. It's by no means the best time to visit the tropical north, as it's very hot and humid. Send clients there in our summer, when the temperature is pleasant and the air drier.

"I have a simple rule of thumb that seems to work: Draw a line through Brisbane. Anything below the line is great in our winter, their summer. Above it, stick to our summer, their winter.

"Having said that, your clients' interests can dictate when they visit. For someone who is passionate about wildlife and photography, I would recommend that they visit the far end of Northern Territory in the wet season for the fabulous natural colours and birdlife, which they would miss in the more comfortable dry season.

"Whale watching is only possible at certain times of year, so if it's high up on the client's list of what they want to do it will dictate the time of their visit."

Know their limits

UK map superimposed on Australia"In Britain we have a mental map where we base everything on a British scale. Clients find it difficult to understand the distances involved in Australia - one of my customers thought they'd be able to drive from Sydney to Cairns in a weekend.

"I have a map with the British Isles superimposed inside Australia that I show them, which usually brings home the distance in scale.

"If you're new to selling Australia it can help to build your confidence to sell some ready-made packages - Qantas Holidays and Travel 2 are good, or there's Australian Pacific Touring and AAT Kings for tours within Australia. Looking at these operators' tours also gives you a good idea of what's practical in terms of timescale.

"For instance, I'd look at the length of time they'd allocate for a Sydney to Cairns trip and add 50% for a self-guide, to allow for the slower pace of independent trips - and the driver getting lost."

Know your gappers

"Gap-year students are a big market, and their visits last from three months up to a year or more. Usually you'll need to sort out their flight there and their internal travel, and perhaps a welcome package for when they arrive.

"Many people think they'll just go to Sydney and sort out what to do next once they get there. It's worth persuading them that they can save a huge amount of money by pre-planning their route. They needn't be pinned down to dates, just a plan of where they'll move on to next."

Know your worth

"Make sure you promote the fact that you're an Aussie Specialist. Tourism Australia can provide joint funding for promotions, and completing the training programme entitles you to window and stationery stickers, posters and display materials.

"Organise a promotional evening in the local pub or community hall - you could even tie up with a wine company that features Australian wines to help keep your costs down. The selling period is at its peak in January, when it's also Australia Day - a convenient hook for a promotion.

"I do a postcard promotion where every day I send an Australian picture postcard to someone who has shown interest in a holiday there, including customers who have visited the country through me before. Most people go to Australia for the first time thinking it'll be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but once they've been, many of them go back again."

Aussie Specialist Programme

This comprehensive online training programme has been designed by Tourism Australia. There are four modules to complete, each finishing with a short exam. If you score more than 85%, that’s a pass, and you can move on to the next module.

The four modules cover an introduction to Australia, the features and attractions of each state and territory, how to build effective itineraries and how to use your Aussie Specialist status to your best advantage. After a final exam to test all your knowledge, you’re qualified.

Enrolling also gives access to a States and Territories reference section, an A-Z of experiences, and images and interactive tools to help you learn and sell.

You’ll be kept up to date with the latest news and developments in the Australian travel sector, be given special deals on your own holidays and be invited to events.

The next step is to become a Premier Aussie Specialist. This requires a proven track record, including three years’ relevant experience and two visits to Australia in the last five years. Premier specialists get their profiles listed on Tourism Australia’s website so consumers are directed straight to them.

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