Trial & Error

Richard Earls, Travel Research Online

“Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.” ~ C.S. Lewis

 If you have been in this business for more than a few years, you have your share of battle wounds. Like the drunken companions on their tiny boat in the movie JAWS, old travel professionals love to compare their scars. The problem with scars, of course, is they result from injury.

There has to be a better way. In fact, there is. We don’t have to insist on making every mistake ourselves.  Sure, those scars are pretty impressive, but mistakes can also be very expensive. 

In 1936 when my father was 15, he jumped feet first into a pond without testing the bottom. He landed on a spike and drove it through his foot. He told me of the struggle to keep his leg, only barely saving it from amputation.

His story scared the beezelbub out of me. I learned well. Never have I jumped into water without first knowing the bottom.

Learn from the mistakes of others.

You don’t have to watch a client walk away with your research to learn you should be charging a fee. You don’t have to spend a thousand dollars on a newspaper ad and not get any qualified leads. You don’t have to lose a client to Travelocity while you research the trip you thought they asked you to handle.

Those mistakes have already been made. It doesn’t mean you won’t take risks – heaven knows I take my share. But it does mean you will do so having done a solid assessment first, before losing all of your stakes at the roulette wheel of trial and error.

Here are a few tips that will keep you as free of battle wounds as possible, while almost certainly contributing to your net worth over the course of your travel career:

  1. Make a study of sales and marketing. Really. This is the travel business. I know you love travel, and that is a great thing. Now, learn to love being an expert at business principles. Where to start? TRO’s Community and many, many others are great ways to communicate with your peers. However, there are also many trainers and business coaches in this industry. Find one sympathetic to your practice and sign up!
  2. Practice what you learn. It is too easy to attend a trade show or to take a course and agree with the trainer while continuing to do things the way you have always done them. It is not enough to intellectually agree with a concept. You have to integrate it into your travel practice. Practice. Integrate what you hear until it becomes muscle memory.
  3. Sign up for an outside marketing and sales course. Invest in yourself. Find a good marketing or sales course and sign up. I can guarantee you almost every professional takes courses such as these to ensure their success – so should you. While peer-to-peer communication is important, it is inadequate. The vast majority of your peers are in no better shape than you are. If you hope to rise above the 80% mark, then you have to train outside the 80%.

There is no teacher like experience, but he’s a tough master, harsh and unforgiving. The same was true of my third-grade teacher, Ms. Lambert.


Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.

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