If the last five, ten or twenty-five years are any indication, the always changing, but ever present array of challenges facing the travel agent community are here to stay! Nowhere have the challenges been more sweeping, swift and omnipresent than for our rapidly expanding segment of home based travel agents,
The good news is that we have survived, and many have thrived! If we are to continue to survive the challenges that face us today, and those that are yet to come, we must adapt; to thrive, we must innovate, specialize and service!
There are many challenges that we home based travel agents have in common with our brick and mortar brethren that must be taken on. However, in order to effectively compete in today's travel marketplace, we must first address those challenges that overwhelmingly affect only our home based travel agent community directly.
First and foremost, we must become teachers. We must educate consumers to help them understand our choice to be home based and to accept us as professional, qualified travel agents. The more the consumer knows about the home based travel agent, the less time we must take defending ourselves as ‘real’ travel agents, and the more time we have to spend servicing our customers and selling travel!
A couple of major challenges are the following objections many home based travel agents face today, and will face in the future, with some tried and true methods used by successful home based travel agents in overcoming them.
“But you don’t have a retail store!” or “Why can’t I just come in and purchase?”
These consumers should be educated to the fact that you can provide full service at competitive prices because you are home based. Help them to realize that a storefront agency, from which so many of us have migrated, with thousands of dollars more overhead, must charge more and/or provide less service to compete with you!
Overcoming this objection actually becomes a great sales tool to price conscious consumers, puts great value on your services and may help to avoid the “D” word – discounting.
“I found you on the Internet – how do I know this isn’t a scam?”
The Internet, unfortunately, has produced its share of travel scams, and these consumers are simply searching for that warm, fuzzy feeling that will give them confidence in YOU!
Since the majority of home based agents will get a significant portion of their business (especially NEW business) from their web site or Internet marketing, any ammunition you have that will allay consumer fears, and impart that warm fuzziness, should be readily available - and listed on your web site!
This can include memberships in the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, ASTA, ARC, IATAN, CLIA, NACTA etc.; state required bonding; educational achievements such as CTC, MCC – these are all helpful, and you should use them.
However, the most effective way of instilling consumer confidence, by far, is through affiliations with well-known travel companies, consortiums, or, the future of travel agent sales - host agencies and marketing organizations.
Consumers are much more likely to feel comfortable purchasing from “American Express Smith Travel”, “Uniglobe Smith Travel” or “Cruise Shoppes Smith Travel” than, simply, from “Smith Travel”. The name recognition of a respected company can do much more for your business than all the marketing assistance and higher commissions they bring to you combined! As e-commerce becomes more widely accepted and wideband Internet access proliferates worldwide, host agencies will grow, with the most successful hosting thousands of agents working independently from home and pooling their ‘buying power’ and building their host ‘brand’. Consumers will, eventually, show greater acceptance of professional travel agents working from home.
Your chosen profession of home based travel agent can be very rewarding; both monetarily and through personal fulfillment, reduced stress and peace of mind. Although there are many unknown challenges yet to be thrust upon our industry, you can better meet those challenges and help ensure your continued success by simply realizing and utilizing all the advantages that being a home based travel agent truly brings to you, and, therefore, to your customers.
By quickly adapting to the constant internal, political and technological challenges of our industry and by being innovative in your business by embracing change and providing services in your chosen niche travel markets, you, too, can survive - and thrive.
(NOTE: Although 16 years old now, my 2004 column for Travel Trade magazine is still quite accurate about the challenges faced by home based agents and the future of host agencies – Peter Coloyan)