Gemma Antrobus, chairman of Aito Specialist Travel Agents, shares her tips on how smart operators can maximise agents’ sales

At a recent Aito council meeting, I listened with great interest to some of our specialist travel companies openly discussing their trading over the summer period. The conversation was mixed, most notably because of the varying parts of the world that each operator sells.

But what struck me was that, even in cases where business sales were on par or slightly below previous years, the volume of sales generated by travel agents had increased significantly.

The same message came from other Aito operators last week on board the Silver Barracuda, a Thames charter boat that the Aito Agents’ Panel had hired for a summer soirée and networking event – agent business was up!

News like this is music to my ears. It’s the main focus of conversation at Aito Agents’ panel meetings. Every discussion we have or event we plan is underpinned by the same theme: Aito agents placing more business with Aito tour operators.

Choose your partners

As an agent myself, proud to place around 80% of my business via Aito operators, I firmly believe in choosing your partners with care and consideration if you seek a long-term relationship – much as you would a new friend.

For operators looking to grow their distribution via agents, I always suggest starting small, being patient and putting yourself in the shoes of the agent. What information would you find helpful when selling a specialist holiday? Why should the agent choose your company over another?

What tools can you provide to help them close the sale? And do you have any local agents with whom you can test the water?

Of course, the ability to do the basics must be covered too. Can you pay a level of commission on a par with similar tour operators? Can you produce both client and agent invoices? Can you support your agent partners with training and promotional material? And are you able to offer familiarisation trips once the relationship and volume of sales builds?

Get to know us

One area that often gets overlooked is just how different it is to take an enquiry from a direct client compared with handling an enquiry from an agent. Some operators have only ever spoken to the end client, so dealing with an agent is an unknown for them.

One very smart Aito operator now conducts in-depth training sessions with all members of its staff on this exact subject. Staff are given role‑play scenarios based on face-to-face interaction with clients – something that most tour operators have no experience in doing. This further level of in-house training has paid huge dividends, and the trade sales for this company are now exceptionally high.

Another equally smart Aito operator opens its doors a handful of times each year, inviting agents to come and see how they work. To meet the faces behind the names and to see just how much goes into pulling together the more intricate itineraries is a real eye‑opener for agents.

So the moral of this story is be prepared and be patient. And, most importantly, get to know each other well. More bookings will result.