Posts Tagged With: travel agents

So Other Than Convenience, Exposure & Increased Productivity, What Has the Internet Ever Done for the Travel Industry?

IMG_1631The other day I was recounting life before the Internet to my nieces, and I felt like a crotchety old man talking about the good old days when phone lines were used for talking and streaming had more to do with water flow than bandwidth. While an argument can be made about my level of crotchetiness, I don’t feel quite old enough to warrant the sensation of someone who lived in another era. But the sad fact is that I have—as have any of us born before 1990-something. In that time we’ve seen the Internet shrink the world before our very eyes. We can watch events taking place on the other side of the globe in real-time, conduct research without the use of a single roll of microfiche (remember that?) and immerse ourselves in virtual tours aplenty.

 

In the travel industry, the Internet has been like a two-edged sword. In some cases it giveth prospects, in other cases it taketh them away. It has simplified the booking process, and at the same time rendered certain services that were once part of an agent’s private domain (such as ticketing) unnecessary. It has allowed us to research destinations and properties with the click of a mouse, but has also left us wondering who to trust. Being the optimist that I am, here’s three reasons why I feel the Internet has been good to the travel industry.

 

1) Email—Remember when you needed to wait for the mailman to receive documents or written quotes that weren’t printed on all-too-smudgy FAX paper? Or when you needed get back to someone with an itinerary but could never get them to pick up the phone? Email made everyone’s life easier due to its convenience, low-cost, and immediate nature. It has also served at times as a buffer for communicating with long-winded clients who don’t grasp the value of your time when visiting in person.

 

2) Destination/Hotel/Cruise Ship web sites—I remember all too clearly the rear section of an agency I worked at as being reserved for glossy brochures of every tour operator, cruise line and hotel chain imaginable. I remember this mainly because it often fell to me to go through the reams of paper to make sure all was in order and up to date. Now, both agents and clients can research to their hearts’ content, with lots of pretty pictures and virtual tours. Given the visual nature of today’s society, having a limitless library to conjure out of the ether on a whim is a handy alternative to a back room brimming with publications. And in the meantime, it has probably saved a few trees.

 

3) Reviews—This can be tricky. Many of the reviews to be found on the Internet are not from professionals but from everyday travelers, which has its flaws and merits. For instance, on the popular site Tripadvisor.com I usually throw away the highest and lowest ratings and concentrate on the majority’s consensus. The more reviews the better, as it increases the chances for an honest cross-section without the gushing raves of people who thought everything and everyone was excellent to the superlative degree (the waiter was the most excellent napkin-folder, the room was the best rectangular space I’ve ever occupied, the guy at the bar made the most delicious ice cubes) and the sour-pusses who by their reviews alone make me glad that I don’t have to travel with them (terrible hotel and service–there was a mosquito in our room and management did nothing about it even though I complained for ten hours). Both agents and clients alike can gain greater insight in the places they intend to visit, and such knowledge can make a big difference.

 

It is pretty obvious that so long as this world lasts, it will be Internet ready. Times change, and for travel professionals we have to keep on changing with them. But when fuming over losing a booking because someone saw if for 50 cents cheaper online, remember all the good things the Internet has brought and maybe it can temper your frustration. If not, at least there are online communities where you can get some help 🙂

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Categories: Anecdotes | Tags: , , , , ,

The Best Things In Life Are For Sale

All this can be yours!

All this can be yours!

For Sale: Priceless memories for right-minded person. Must be willing to travel, try new things, and be ready to see what comes around the bend. Sharing with family or partner is preferred. The ideal buyer would have a sense of adventure, love for nature, and appreciation of culture and history. Price is negotiable but will always have a greater value than what you paid for it.

 

In essence, the above is what travel agents (& consultants like myself) sell: experiences. That’s our real product. It’s not a tangible thing like an heirloom that can be handed down from generation to generation, but its value is certainly on par. And the opportunities, stories and curiosity those experiences may inspire have far-greater potential to change a life than a dusty old brooch.

 

From personal experience I can say that selling something that cannot be seen can be a real challenge. Web sites and brochures can only do so much to impart to the client that those pictures and those places will become part of their life history. An agent’s job isn’t just to book flights and reserve hotel rooms. To make the clients truly happy, they need to convey what’s really for sale: wistful memories that will pop into your head every third Tuesday, crowd-pleasing stories to share at dinner parties, poignant moments that will mark your life’s path, chance encounters that lead to lifelong friendships, and newly-opened doorways to worlds you’ve yet to experience. When presented in those terms, irregardless of the price tag, any trip can look like a steal.

 

My portrait in front of the Great Wall of China--many years before the invention of selfies.

My portrait in front of the Great Wall of China–many years before the invention of selfies.

That is why I’ve chosen to focus my business interests on destination expertise. Any agent with a phone or internet connection can book a trip. Only those whose passion is travel can really sell one. And what gets people excited? It’s knowing that they too will have pictures of that far-off place that you showed them on your iPhone. It’s them imagining themselves taking a selfie in front of the Pyramids, Taj Mahal, or Great Wall of China. It’s helping them to envision the stories they will tell about how close the elephant was while they were on safari in Zimbabwe, or how colorful the fish were when they snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef. This is what travel is all about; hotels, airlines, cruise ships–that’s just details.

 

This is not to say that how you get there and where you stay doesn’t matter. On the contrary, such ‘details’ can profoundly affect the quality of ‘good’ memories, etc on a trip. But regardless of whether you are the seller or buyer always remember what the real product is—experiences. At the end of the day—and extending a bit further—our days (yeah, like until death), what we’ll value most isn’t what we have, but rather what we’ve done. It’s up to us to direct our resources into what counts. Travel is unique in that even though it costs money, you always come home richer. So if you’re in the market for some travel memories of lasting value, I just happen to know a guy…;)

 

To all you real or would-be travelers out there, is this something you agree with? Share your thoughts with the rest of us.

Categories: Travel Tips | Tags: , , , , , , ,

A Lonely ‘Y’ in a Sea of ‘X’s: Confessions of a Male Travel Agent

It's a jungle out there and the travel industry is certainly not a man's world

It’s a jungle out there and the travel industry is certainly not a man’s world

I can’t speak for how things are in the rest of the world, but when I broke into the travel field in suburban Long Island in the late ‘90’s, the industry demographic could pretty well be broken down like this: 70% middle-aged women, 20% older women, 8% young women, 1.99999% old men, and me. I don’t know why it was such a rarity for a young male to enter the field of selling travel. After all, the act of traveling is not the domain of only one gender. Why should selling it be any different?

 

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against working with women of all ages, races, and creeds. Most of my life my bosses have always been women. In an earlier career as a graphic artist, for a time the restroom that I was accustomed to use wasn’t called the men’s room, but the man’s room, so I’m quite used to being the only rooster in the henhouse. I just always found it intriguing as to why that would be the case.

 

Part me of thinks that it has to do with dispositions toward patience.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m male or because I’m me, but when I see the minutiae of price breakdowns and fare codes my eyes glaze over. I’m inclined to think that women generally have more tolerance to such tasks, and I’ve witnessed many an agent (all female of course) delve into the most banal details with such aplomb that I know I could never compare.

 

Another thought is that in general women tend to be more empathetic in their interactions, which is a fine quality for a travel agent—after all, the object isn’t just to sell travel but to keep & increase clientele. Most men I know aren’t all that interested in the small talk and would be disposed to irritation at the fickleness of some clients. I consider myself a generally empathetic person, but I know that my limits as to how much I’ll indulge the whimsy of my clients or listen to them unload their life story, is well short of most of the ladies I’ve worked with. Of course, that might not be a gender thing at all. It may be that I’m just a jerk. In that case, I offer my apologies.

 

Lastly, the travel industry is not something that gets promoted to young men as a suitable career for a future family head or potential success story. Sure it’s a tough field subject to the vagaries of an interdependent economy, but hey—you get to travel the world. I’d take the experiences over money any day. And as for money, well, it can be made for those willing to use their brains, charm and wit, just as it can in any other field. Yeah, the title ‘travel agent’ doesn’t sound all that prestigious next to ‘doctor’ or ‘law associate’ but when you post pictures taken on the job on Instagram, who will be the jealous one?

 

It may be that there really isn’t any specific answer, and if so, that’s fine. Kudos to all you ladies who are exemplary in your field. I’ve learned a lot from you, and thanks for keeping things going. And for you handful of guys out there, hang in there and keep representing. The other guys don’t know what they’re missing.

Categories: Anecdotes | Tags: , , ,

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