No doubt there is a lot of competition out there. If you live in a community of any size, there are likely dozens of travel agents in the yellow pages, networking, writing articles and, in general, marketing hard to get themselves noticed. Beyond the boundaries of your geographic community, just on the other side of your clients' keyboards, are thousands upon thousands of booking opportunities from the largest sites like
Expedia and Orbitz to small, niche players. But diligence will pay off and, over time, you manage to attract some portion of your share of the market to your agency.
That's when the hard work really begins.
Marketing is not merely about the acquisition of new clients. Marketing is also about the retention of your existing client base. Both are important to your travel practice. New client acquisition is necessary for growth. But your base income derives from your existing clients. If you are not hanging onto old business, your efforts are like those of Sisyphus – rolling the great stone uphill only to watch it roll back down next season.
Travel agencies pour enormous energy into the acquisition of new clients. Here's a great secret – not only is it easier and less expensive to retain old clients but a solid
retention program is also one of the best ways to acquire new clients.
Let me explain.
The distance between the average travel planner and the great travel professional is about one mile – the extra one. Great travel professionals are the ones who perform a few additional services for clients the average travel professional doesn't. The great travel planner delivers on their promises, on time. The great travel consultant matches the client with exactly the right travel plan. The great travel pro carries on a continual dialogue with clients, even, at times, during the trip to ensure that all is well. The great travel agent works relationships with suppliers that become visible to the client in special attention and in the details of the client's experience. The great travel agent doesn't just book travel – the great travel agent plans and executes experiences with recommendations on sightseeing, dining, night life and local excursions. In short, the great travel pro goes the extra mile.
As a result, their clients are evangelists for the agent.
Years ago I was in Thailand at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, one of the truly great hotels anywhere. At the manager's reception, I met a gentleman staying at the property with his family on holiday. After only a few words, the traveller began to rave about his travel agent and how well his travel had been planned and executed, right down to every detail.
Turns out, I knew his travel agent. But if I had not, I would have been asking for a name. This client was an evangelist and he made me a believer. There is no stronger way of growing a clientele than by word of mouth.
And no better place to hear word of mouth than an extra mile ahead of the pack.
Richard Earls is the Publisher of
Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.