Dedra Shahan, president of Cowboy Way Travel, offers her take on how to prove the value of travel agents. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
“Why should I use a travel agent?”
It’s a question every travel agent has heard, and it’s at the heart of the challenge agents face in communicating the value of their work to prospective clients.
Geoff Millar, owner of Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel Inc. in Gilbert, Ariz., described how his agency tackles the issue during a lunchtime brainstorming session at Global Travel Marketplace West (GTM West), held May 2-4 at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz. “We get a lot of people who call and ask us why they should use a travel agent, so we came up with a campaign,” Millar said.
The agency’s website poses and answers the question, listing all the ways consumers benefit from booking through a travel agent. Then, the agency asks prospective clients an alternate question: “Why would you not use a travel agent?”
Millar said his agency also developed “a short elevator speech addressing the same question for call-ins.”
Randy Mohr, vice president of sales for Wild China, added, “Go back to your agents and ask them as a group to come up with a consistent 30-second elevator message on why someone should use a travel agent. That’s a very simple fix. And every day, they should tell at least one person what they do for a living.”
Donna Alkarmi, owner of Lone Star Travel in McKinney, Texas, plays the specialist card with a dash of humor in communicating the value of travel agents. For example, when Alkarmi heard the “Why should I use you?” question while getting her hair done, she responded, “Well, do you recommend that people cut their own hair just because they have a pair of scissors?”
Judy Wheeler, owner of Elegant Dream Journeys / DBA Riverdiscounts.com, emphasizes the power of having an unbiased consultant in your camp when she gets hit with the question.
“I tell them: You aren’t going to pay any more with us, but we have first-hand knowledge and we are totally unbiased — it doesn’t matter to us who you book with,” said Wheeler. “We can make your dream happen because we are going to match you with the best cruise for you.”
Linda May-Dinsmore, owner of Deluxe Travel & Cruises in South Surrey, British Columbia, was one of many agents at GTM West who has been tracking a welcome resurgence of consumer interest in booking through a travel agent.
“I think people are turning back to agents for complex trips,” she said. “So many agents think the Internet is competition, but people get overwhelmed by the Internet. I get clients who call and say, ‘I’ve been searching online for three days and now I’m more confused than when I started.’ I can ask them a few questions, do a little research and find something perfect and have them on their way in one hour.”
Mary DeGroat, manager of Rennert Travel / Corporate Travel Planners (CTP) Travel in San Antonio, Texas, has also noted a reversal of the consumer migration to online booking channels that kicked in about a decade ago.
“It’s come back around,” DeGroat said. “People are realizing that they need a travel agent because they need a specialist — someone who has been there and has experience.”
Paul Farha, a front-line agent with Reflection Travel in Wichita, Kansas who has worked in the field for more than 20 years, has observed the same shift. “We’ve turned the corner,” Farha said. “People who used to book with me [but then] went online, are coming back now.
The return to travel agents is a pattern that Scott Caddow, owner of Legendary World in Tucson, Ariz., describes as “a resurgence, a renaissance.”
Caddow added, “I have clients referring other people to me and those people are asking if I will take them on. People are starting to look at agents differently, as professionals. I have another 25 years that I’m going to be doing this, so that’s hopeful.”