I spend many of my columns speaking to the importance of positioning and differentiation – setting your travel practice apart from the crowd. From the e-mails and comments I received, however, it’s clear that it’s not always easy to really BE different. Where do the ideas arise that will energize your travel practice in such a way that travellers will choose you over another agency or booking on their own?
The most important thing is to lead with your personality. You are the one thing that is truly unique about your travel practice. You are the one thing not duplicated online, in your office or at another agency. You are the human element with which people want to engage. Learn to infuse your creative thinking with your own personality.
Just like the manufacturing process, engineering or magic for that matter, creative thinking requires raw material. If you find yourself in need of fresh ideas or a new perspective in your travel practice, one of the best ways to generate intuitive insight is to browse through magazines, the internet, or even stock photography at random. As ideas, images and unrelated concepts enter your mind from these sources, you will be surprised at your capability to relate them to your own situation.
When short on marketing ideas, I suggest a run straight for the magazine section of the nearest bookstore. Certainly every business person should know and understand the basic marketing principles and the standard techniques of telling their story and cultivating a clientele. However, remember too that every other business person in your community is reading those same books. That is why so much marketing activity looks the same and too often lacks an essential ingredient – personality.
Instead, subscribe to or read as many magazines not related to travel as you possibly can. Make the topics diverse, but of some interest to you and seated in popular culture. Oprah, Men’s Journal, Photography, Popular Mechanics, Cosmopolitan… whatever you can handle. Another technique is to browse sites on the internet that you might otherwise not ordinarily visit such as Outside Magazine’s site, I09, or Astronomy.com. These magazines and web sites each have a readership and a core demographic that may be very different from your own. When you browse unfamiliar reading, magazine’s ads and art, you expose yourself to new perspectives and concepts that will serve to move you from your own settled ways of thinking.
One of the really great aspects of the travel industry is the way that it ties into almost every other activity. From astronomy to genealogy and culture to sports and interests of all types, there is almost always a connection you can make to travel.
When a creative idea arises, let it sit for a few days. Many ideas that seem absolutely outstanding early on lose their luster after the initial rush of adrenaline has worn off. Quit actively pursuing the idea; don’t add any further bells and whistles, just let it sit. If it still looks as good to you on Friday as it did on Monday, it is a good sign.
Give yourself time to think, time to simply be. Your other work will still be there when you return and your perspective may be genuinely refreshed.
As always, there is a real temptation to treat exercises such as these as something other than productive work. However, many travel consultants make the mistake of spending all of their time IN their business and neglecting the importance of spending time ON their business. Remember that not all productive activity looks like work.
Sometimes it involves feeding your mind the raw material it needs to stay refreshed and healthy.
Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.