Your clients will lie to you. Perhaps “lie" is too strong a word. Your clients will mislead you. Most often, they will do so unintentionally, but they will give you bad intelligence and then expect you to work with it. If you are not careful, you find yourself sending clients off to invade the wrong country. It can happen.
Clients do not always know what they want. They say they do. The truth, however, is clients are influenced by advertising, by word of mouth, by friends and other resources that do not take into consideration the real needs of this particular individual.
Your client is a civilian. You are the professional. That's why it's important for you to take charge of the relationship and lead them to where they need to arrive.
The very reason clients come to a travel consultant is for advice. It is very seldom that a client knows exactly what they want, even if the client says they do. Many clients will come to an agent with the destination in hand, with the hotel and dates picked out in advance. They can be SO convincing! If not careful, the agent picks up the phone and makes the booking without ever discussing the rationale for the decision with the client. The client arrives at the destination and the hotel property is a total mis-match for the client. It looked good in the brochures, but the reality is far from picture-perfect. To top it off, it happens to be the rainy season and the client has been outside to golf only once since they arrived. Who does the client blame? The agent of course. Why? Because the agent is at fault!
Don't let clients use you like an online booking engine. Your profession is one of consultation, and that very fact is a key differentiator from the large, on-line travel agencies and booking engines. Slow down the process to one of questions and answers even when the client comes to you with travel plans in hand. How did the client choose the destination? What do they want to do while they were there? Why are they going in November? What does the client want from this vacation? With whom are they traveling? Why this hotel? Each of these questions gets closer to uncovering the reasons the client wants to travel. The travel consultant's job is to assist the client in making a good purchasing decision. If the agent does not assist the client in asking the right questions, there is no value-add by the agent. The client may have as well booked online and taken their chances.
Suppliers do an excellent job of marketing their product. From the perspective of a couch, every cruise looks enticing. Every escorted tour looks like the trip of a lifetime. The reality, however, is it takes a professional to find the perfect mesh between client and product. That is the real value of the travel consultant – matching exactly the right trip to the right client, and doing so from a professional platform of good research resources. Performed in this manner, travel consulting is a valuable service, one that cannot be replicated online, or by a client operating on their own.
Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.