Ten years ago, the U.S. was just emerging from the Great Recession. A lot has changed since then, and so have travel advisors.
In large part, those changes have to do with technology. Although the doomsayers predicted it would be the death knell for agents, for many, quite the opposite has proven to be true over the past 10 years.
“I’m not tethered to a desk anymore—and that’s nice because even 10 years ago I still had to rent Wi-Fi hotspots and pay a lot for data while traveling in Europe,” said Trish Gastineau of Fort Myers, Fla.-based Simply Customized Travel, noting that she is now able to work from virtually anywhere in the world.
Technology has also made the booking process more seamless for agents, with an ever-increasing number of cruise, tour and hotel brands enabling travel agents to book their products online.
“I wouldn’t book a complicated trip online, but I would book a trip for someone who is going to Jamaica to an all-inclusive,” said Claire Schoeder of Atlanta-based Travel Edge. “Now there’s no spending all that time on hold anymore.”
Additionally, travel agency consortia groups have established online links with destination management companies (DMCs), which are locally based companies that offer a range of services, from simple airport transfers to tours that would be virtually impossible for travelers to find on their own.
“I can often get a reply within 24 hours on what tours to recommend to my clients,” Schoeder said. “There’s just more and more available, and more companies realize the need to answer quickly. This type of technology has made my work life a lot easier.”
Technology, however, has also enabled travelers to research their own trips online, which means agents need to be at the top of their games. “Travelers are much more educated now, and that means I have to be more on the ball – there’s no coasting,” Gastineau said.
Today’s travel advisors “need to be faster with the Internet than the client is,” Schoeder said. When communicating with clients, she said she makes sure she’s in front of her computer so she can consult Google immediately if clients ask a question that she may not have the answer for.
For his part, FROSCH agent Ben Gritzewsky, who specializes in Mexico and Latin America, said he has grown his business in the last 10 years “by focusing on regions the world that I know really well.” Thanks in large to technology, Gritzewsky was able to relocate from Houston to Merida, Mexico in 2012, a move that he attributed to helping him better facilitate his clients’ travel experiences.
“I wanted to be in the heart of the region I specialized in,” he said. “The public has become a lot more sophisticated and knowledgeable, and if they want something more specialized, they look to people who are experts.”
The move to Mexico has been a win-win for Gritzewsky and his clients. “I’m a lot less stressed, happier and I have more confidence when talking to clients.”
For her part, Schoeder, an England and Scotland specialist, shines a spotlight on high-touch service. “I emphasize that I’m there if something goes awry, which is something you don’t get from the OTAs,” she said.
If a prospective client calls with an inquiry, she emphasizes her knowledge and specialization. “You find out what holiday, what experience they’re looking to have, and then you use your personal knowledge to design a trip that meets their personal needs,” Schoeder said.
She provides clients with detailed full-blown itineraries—not just copies of air and hotel reservations.
“In Scotland, when clients are driving from hotel to hotel, I give them a list with small descriptions of two suggested routes to follow,” she said. “I describe things that they can stop to see along the way. I give them more than they can do so they can pick and choose what sounds best for them.”
Although travel advisors typically don’t meet with clients face-to-face as regularly as they did in the past, Gastineau noted that technology has made it easier forge strong ties with them through such tools as FaceTime and Zoom, along with social media platforms like Facebook.
“My client relationships are stronger than ever, and technology has made it so much easier for me to stay in touch with them.”
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