Steve Byrne, chief executive, Travel Counsellors
The digital age and growth in the internet and e-commerce and sheer volume of business transacted online is staggering.
When customers can research and do so much themselves, you are left wondering whether there is a role left for the independent travel agent professional.
Indeed, the growth in online bookings and the related well-publicised failures on the high street have called some commentators to question the viability of business models that don’t offer online bookings.
But it’s the high street that is under threat, not the independent agent.
We now live in the ‘connected economy’ – an economy in which never before have individual consumers and companies had so many ways to connect with each other.
Yet the startling thing about the connected economy is how individually we are choosing to spend more and more of our time connecting with others using social media to share ideas, thoughts, feelings and views on products and build relationships.
As consumers become more time poor, an increasing number of them want someone to personally guide them through the myriad choices they have and ensure they book the right holiday for them, not just the cheapest.
This is also not a trend limited to leisure travel and is just as prevalent for corporate travellers.
The travel professionals of the future that will not only survive but prosper are those that can connect with consumers on a personal level.
By personalising the relationship you are putting yourself in the shoes of the customer.
Far from undermining the role of the professional agent, the connected economy and development of the internet, provides the greatest opportunity, but it requires three essential ingredients to succeed:
1. You have to add value to the customer. If you merely act like a quoting tool and deal with the customer ‘electronically’ you will lose because the customer will choose the cheapest
That is why Travel Counsellors invests heavily in providing our agents with all of the training, tools and confidence to sell on the basis of value (what the customer receives) rather than price (what the customer pays);
2. You need help in identifying and building relationships with those customers that are more likely to want to buy on the basis of value rather than price.
We enable our Travel Counsellors to do targeted marketing to certain types of customers so our messages are relevant and focused on those customers that will provide a lasting basis to their business; and
3. You need the confidence and self-belief to believe passionately that you deserve to retain some of the value you create for a customer and those customers will pay a premium if they receive a premium service.
We train and support our Travel Counsellors so they become adept in operating in a non-commissionable environment.
At the same time they have access to their own net rates to create their own packages so they are in control of the margin they earn.
Despite the much heralded decline of the high street and the growth of the internet, the development of technology and social media plays to the strengths of the independent agent and agency owner who with the right support can make themselves indispensable to their customers.
In the digital age, the old adage remains, its people that count first and foremost.
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