There are times it seems the travel industry should take a cue from its customers; go to some quiet place and just relax for a long time without reading anything about travel (except this blog, of course) or talking to anyone in the business.
This month has been one of those times. Last month there were a number of articles on the familiar theme of how the amazing millennials are the key to capturing a wave of travel business – if a travel agency will only show them the way to a unique destination experience. This month there was an intriguing headline in Bloomberg, “Millennials Spending Power Has Hilton Weighing a 'Hostel-Like' Brand”. Why was it intriguing? Because it isn’t often you find the phrases ‘Spending Power’ and ‘Hostel-Like’ in the same sentence. Normally it’s a case of take your pick because you can’t have it both ways. Well, this sentence explains how apparently those fortunate young people can’t have it both ways either, “Hilton, owner of the Waldorf-Astoria and Hampton Inn brands, aims to meet increasing demand by young travelers seeking no-frills, affordable lodging.” Which leads to the first thing every agency manager needs to remember.
Few People Know More than You
If you’ve worked your way to being a travel agency manager or owner you’re smart enough to realize this isn’t good news. It means there’s no oracle writing for a website, research firm or blog who can dispense wisdom much better than any two of three of your colleagues.
Take millennials: over the past two years there’ve been countless articles or blogs with splashy shots of exuberant youth in exotic locales. How about all those blogs about youth hostels bursting at the seams? Perhaps we both missed them because I don’t remember them either. Yet every agency manager or owner knows which topic is closer to the truth: which is – this new generation isn’t much different than any other new demographic. Only a small minority have anything resembling the disposable travel dollars of their parents and grandparents.
This means your agents should be focusing on delivering the same value that turned millennial’s parents into your customers when they couldn’t splurge on a high-end accommodation either. Agents should also be bold about presenting experience-based advice – because millennials will value it. Yes, they could read or see pictures of Paris on a multitude of social platforms but YouTube has taught this generation the wide gap between reading, watching - and doing. Most of them are too young and struggling to have ‘been there and done that’ like your agents have.
Take an agent’s value: managers and owners can remember with online travel agencies (OTA) came into the travel industry; every prediction was travel agents would find themselves sitting on park benches next to cassette tape recorder salespeople. It didn’t make sense, did it? Sure, margins would suffer because the OTA business model drove down prices. But no matter how much money was saved flying to Paris, Texas rather than Paris, France- the bargain was never going to worth a bad travel decision; precisely what every agent is trained to prevent. The industry is seeing increased recognition for the knowledge agents provide for travelers and even OTAs are beginning to increase the role that skillset plays in their business model. Perhaps that's a surprise to some, but not anyone who really knows the business: a knowledgeable travel agent is irreplaceable.
How it translates into Success
Everyone reading this blog also understands knowledge is only a precondition for success, not the sole determinant of the outcome. So how does the owner or manager of a travel agency make their knowledge translate into success? While no one’s lucky enough to have a guarantee of the outcomes they want, two principles will significantly increase the odds.
Avoid distractions: not the distraction of someone’s annoying ringtone in the office, but distractions that lead to poor use of time and money. An example would be millennials and social media. Does that demographic have a high usage of social media – certainly. Are they likely to be a major source of high margin travel sales in the near to medium future – very likely not. Should their high social media usage influence the agency’s existing social media strategy? After all, common sense says they publicly text and email a great deal – simple observation is evidence of that. But that same common sense also says they’re out of school and – to be a potential travel agency customer – they have a job, which requires them to have adult social skills; which includes face to face conversations and telephone calls. Altering social media plans for this group would be a distraction.
Focus on the most important thing: did you guess – the customer! But it’s a little more complicated than that. Telling anyone in the travel business to focus on the customer is not much more profound than telling a goalie to watch the developing plays. There was a recent article that listed key traits behind every agent’s success: good attitude; seize opportunities; accept what can’t be controlled and focus on the customer. Again, like knowledge, these traits are preconditions for success, they can’t determine outcomes.
Time: that’s why the other key for success is not focusing on the customer; instead, it’s focusing on time. Every professional in your agency should know that list of success traits by heart. That’s why they’re working for you. You need to focus on giving your agents the time they need to leverage those traits more effectively than the competition. Success over the long term is really that simple. How do you give people more time? By doing the one thing they can’t – creating a more efficient agency operation than your competitors.
To be blunt, the greatest threat to your agency’s success is unnecessary work. Every manual task that can be automated has to be automated. Even if they don’t involve an agent’s role, non-automated manual activities bleed money from your budget that could be in marketing. If they do involve an agent’s role their time is too valuable to allow that to continue. Does a travel system give your agents real-time access to channel partner prices, collateral and availability; or is there a support person doing that digging for them (worse yet, they’re doing it themselves)?
Travel Technology: this is the only way your agents will ever have the time to consistently beat your competition. Regular readers of this blog will recognize this theme, but every reader needs to understand how important it is to use travel technology to optimize inefficient work, give your employees instant access to the information they need to make sales and transform your business model.
It’s not hype. Unless dcs plus technology – TINA (mid-back office solution); AIDA (tour operator software); TBS (travel booking system); TRIP (B2C online solution) and TravList (smart mobile travel app) really can quickly and economically re-engineer travel company business models, they wouldn’t have been ranked among Deloitte Technology’s Fast 500 EMEA in 2015 or named Direct Connect Technology partner of the Lufthansa Group.
For the employee time you need for success, it’s time to leverage travel technology. It’s time for dcs plus.