Competition Understood

Richard Earls, Travel Research Online

I once had a travel professional take me to task because I provided them with an article in USA Today which also contained advertising for other travel programs. That would never do, she assured me, because like so many other papers and magazines, USA Today was “filled with travel advertising.”  Likewise, many agents will not link to travel articles that include the contact information of hotels or tour operators.

I believe many travel professionals sometimes work with an over-broad image of their competition because they have failed to properly define their customer base and their proper relationship to their clients. To these few, the landscape is filled with competition. This perspective is informed by the idea that the travel consultant is “selling” travel. That is what Travelocity does, just as suppliers do. They sell travel with few frills, often based on price alone.

Thinking in terms of selling travel is a killer – it makes a commodity out of the planning exercise and makes price the most important component of the drill. Indeed, the focus on price absolutely corrupts the marketing posture (and disposition) of so many travel professionals. It is no surprise your clients focus on price – they are civilians with little understanding of the intricacies involved in travel planning, but you should not. Confronted with a quote from Travelocity, a supplier direct or a discounter, the unaware travel consultant launches in their own frantic internet search for an even “lower” price. As a result, we end up going to war on the wrong field of battle.

You are the professional and should instead guide the conversation.

It is an absolute certainty that your clients are going to research the internet, read travel magazines and travel sections of newspapers and, in general, seek to become the well informed consumer that we all pride ourselves on becoming. Don’t fear their research. Welcome it, invite it, encourage it. But have them bring their results back to you!

Rid yourself of any scintilla of the concept you sell travel! I know when asked every travel professional disavows the notion they sell travel, but this deviant posture continually comes through the back door, robbing the professional of their most important characteristic: their professionalism!

Your job is not to sell travel. That is an antiquated version of “travel agent” from years past. There is a reason the number of “agencies” declined so dramatically since 2001. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Your job is to help consumers make intelligent buying decisions. If you truly adopt the perspective of a consultant, why does price become the most crucial aspect of the buying process? Is that the chief consideration in any other buying decision you make? Do you buy a washer and drier solely on the basis of price? Does brand matter, do features, warranty, service and even more emotional considerations like color and appearance? Is price the sole determinant of the coffee you drink, the car you drive or hairdresser? My guess is the answer to each of these questions is a resounding “No”. Yet, many travel professionals are absolutely certain that the only thing that matters to their clients is price.

Here’s the thing – Travelocity is not your competition. More truly, OTAs and discounters are simply a part of the landscape of the industry. The millions of dollars spent by OTAs , discounters and suppliers on marketing actually inure to your benefit by educating the consumer and keeping “travel” top of mind.

Your real competition is perception – the client who doesn’t understand what you do and how you do it, who doesn’t understand the value of your services. As a professional it is your responsibility to make yourself understood through your marketing – and that is the value and function of a good marketing plan.

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

(will not be published)