One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

I have always up to a challenge in my life. In the past, I struggled with my weight and during 2004, lost 80lbs and have kept it off since. I went from a size 16 to a size 4. Back then, I tried many different diets and different kinds of exercises (I even hurt my back in group classes!) until I found my own way. It was not surgery or magical diets – in my opinion, they DONT WORK for the long term!

Why am I sharing this? Like many new TAs who are struggling to find their niche and how to keep their clients, one formula doesn’t work the same for everyone. Unfortunately, it is not one size fits all.

I love self-help books for losing weight, to how to become a billionaire, and everything in between. Hopefully, they help the writer make money, and are very inspiring to read. But again, everyone is different and what works for Jane will probably not work for John or Jessie.

When trying a new diet and learning that it doesn’t work for you, or that it is making you feel miserable, don’t just try another diet. Or even worse, continue to stay on the same diet, calling it “research.”  How about trying to analyze why it is not working FOR YOU?  

How can you do this? Some people are good at analyzing themselves. Others work best in a support group or with friends. Some are lucky to find coaches or mentors. There are free mentors like me out there who love to pay it forward.

There are people who don’t believe that a free mentor will really help without an ulterior motive. I am sorry for them! For those people, I am working on getting 900 number and charging $5 a minute!

To less research and more accomplishments!   

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You Said So

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

Here we are – it has been over 2 years since the beginning of Covid. So many predicted that tourism was done for, and no one would ever travel again, maybe only inside one’s own country. Well, here we are facing summer of 2022. We all know that more and more flights are being canceled and that there are more delayed than on-time flights, not only in the US but all over the world. Airlines prices are skyrocketing and luggage is missing or lost like never before.

Let’s try to understand why, so you can explain to it your clients. Make sure you advise them of two very important pieces of information. In my opinion, these two things should be highly recommended by you, and your client should have to sign that he/she/they were advised and can’t blame you for bad consequences:

  • Comprehensive Travel Insurance
  • Highly recommend traveling with carry-ons

Now, as for what is going on:

Airlines, especially American ones, are not supposed to increase the price of the airline tickets because of the price of the fuel or inflation. So why are the prices so high? There are two big reasons: many pilots are retiring, and airlines are reducing the number of flights to major destinations, controlling supply and demand. This way, they can raise prices and try to make up for the revenue they lost, especially on the corporate side, since they don’t make as much money on leisure. The corporate side is coming back slowly.

Should we cross our fingers for 2023? In my humble opinion, it will take a couple of years until the airlines get more new pilots and corporate travel goes back to the way it was before Covid.  

About luggage being missing or lost, the problem is that airports don’t have enough ground workers to send the luggage to the different airlines. The situation is made worse because of canceled and delayed planes. This is happening a lot in Europe. So, using carry-ons is the real solution. Less is more. Get wrinkle free clothes. Undergarments that can be washed in the shower in the evening and be dried by morning time. Summer is great for shorts and t-shirts. Mix and match colors. Travel with older tennis shoes and some other clothes and leave them behind to make space for souvenirs. Ship home bigger souvenirs or presents. And don’t forget to make sure the comprehensive travel insurance covers for clothing in case of misplaced or lost luggage.

Once you cover these topics with your client (apps don’t do this!) you will have a client for life and hopefully soon, easier times when traveling for all.

Cheering for you!

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Protect Your Travel Business (Part 2)

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

Last week we spoke about the Terms and Conditions that TA’s should send to their clients and have them read, initial and sign.  Rather like the way a doctor has patients sign consent forms.  (But, who really reads them?)

Today, let’s talk about E&O (Errors and Omissions) insurance. As a disclaimer, I am not an attorney nor am I an insurance agent. I mentor Travel Agents/Advisors on how to succeed in their business based on my background of having 2 tour operator companies and working directly with the public and travel agents.

E&O insurance is also referred to as “professional liability” insurance and can be a good fit for any business that provides services to clients, especially those that charge a fee for their service. What is E&O Insurance?

Errors and Omissions insurance covers some of the errors and omissions you may make. But it doesn’t cover all errors or all omissions. It is much smarter to think of it as catastrophic insurance – for when something goes horribly wrong. It will not cover the $500 mistake of booking the client in the wrong room – but will cover you if someone sues you for an exorbitant amount. E&O insurance also covers your legal defense. Regardless of the reason for the lawsuit, your legal defense will be covered up to your policy limit, until you are proven guilty. Your legal defense will not be covered for sexual misconduct, intentional acts, and criminal acts. Read your policy carefully. Be sure that if you work with specific groups of travelers or a specific niche that the travel you’re booking is covered.

What Doesn’t E&O Insurance Cover?

 E&O does not cover things like debit memos from the airlines, or if you provided the wrong info for travel insurance. If your error/omission had no negative consequences beyond paying the deductible, and you/your client benefited from the error/omission, that’s a moral hazard. And insurance companies don’t pay for those claims.

Examples:

An agency quotes a client $4,000 for a trip that really costs $5,000. The verdict: Your client is happy because they saved $1,000. You’re happy because the client booked. BUT the insurance companies will call that a moral hazard, accident or not, and will not pay.

Your clients are going on a cruise out of Thailand. You let them know they don’t need any special visas, etc. Due to a flight delay and they miss the cruise departure from Thailand and have to catch up with it at the next port, Vietnam, which requires a visa. They end up missing half of their cruise and sue you for the cost of their trip. The verdict: Your unhappy client did not benefit. You did not benefit and could not predict the flight delay. The insurance company would probably cover this.

Do You Need an E&O Policy?

By law, you’re not required to have an E&O policy in the United States. Everyone has different levels of risk they’re comfortable with. Some host agencies allow their independent contractors to be covered under their E&O policy. Others require that the independent contractor obtain their own.

Are there E&O Policies specifically for Travel Agencies?

Call the company you have your homeowners or car insurance with and ask them for a quote to add E&O insurance to your policy. The price of a policy is based on your total agency sales. Also, make sure to ask your consortia, travel agent associations, and/or host agency about any preferred insurance suppliers to save some money. 

Travel agents should understand E&O insurance will not fix all mistakes. Ultimately, it is about knowing and weighing the risk and doing whatever you’re comfortable with.

Now you know better!

There are other ways to protect the way you do business. I like to teach these things to the TA’s I mentor instead of writing them all out in my blogs.  Feel free to reach out!

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Protect Your Travel Business (Part 1)

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

Since Covid, individuals in the travel industry have found themselves to be targets of class-action lawsuits for refunds and other issues related to the virus, like cancellations. Some even due to travelers getting sick or even dying during a trip.

These are the 99.9% of the cases in which a TA might be named on a lawsuit. A class-action lawsuit allows an individual to sue on behalf of a larger group, called a “class.” The individuals involved are called “class members.” There is no set number of class members. These cases frequently involve consumer claims and can be brought in state or federal court.

It is now very important that a travel advisor’s terms and conditions or contract with the customer contains a class-action waiver. Below is some information from Jeffrey Ment, managing partner of The Ment Law Group.

Let’s review what should be covered in your Terms and Conditions (TCs). You should consult with a lawyer to make sure that you’re on the correct path. There are four key areas that you should address: clients’ consent to be bound by TCs; payment terms; credit card chargebacks; and “force majeure” (our new favorite French phrase).

Securing a Client’s Consent to TCs

It is very important to start off with language that binds the customer to abide by your TCs. I would suggest the following: “By booking your arrangement with us, you are agreeing to be bound by the terms of this agreement and any additional terms and conditions of any supplier that are applicable to your booking arrangements. The lead passenger assumes the responsibility of sharing these terms and conditions with each passenger in their group, including payment of all amounts when due. It is the responsibility of each passenger to read our terms and conditions in its entirety. In addition, we reserve the right to modify these Terms and Conditions.”   Also, be sure to include the phrase: “If there is any part of these terms and conditions that you do not agree with, please do not use our travel services.”

Setting Clear Payment Terms

Travel advisors offer a service that customers should pay for. Charging a service fee is typical, but the key is to advise the customer right at the beginning of the relationship. I recommend including a statement such as: “Planning any vacation takes extensive time and effort before the departure date ever arrives. We have a rate structure to assist with the time spent covering the initial consultation, research and proposal. We will advise you of our fee for your journey. Our consulting fee will be charged at the time of proposal delivery, regardless of whether a client books a trip with us. When a client books a trip with us, this fee also goes toward travel support and the booking of the trip itself. The consulting fees are nonrefundable. We may also collect a commission from the supplier of your trip.” 

Transparency is key. Clients need to know that you are a valuable asset, and that they should expect to pay for your services.

Addressing Credit Card Chargebacks

There is one other key issue to address regarding payment: credit card chargebacks. Your language should state: “We accept major credit cards including Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover. Customers must provide a signed charge authorization agreement for every transaction relating to your trip. Your authorization is a binding agreement for us to charge your card, and as such, you waive any right to a chargeback in the case of cancellation for any cause (excepting fraud), including a force majeure event, as defined herein, and agree to refund policies and procedures as outlined in these terms and conditions. In the event a client attempts to chargeback, reverse or recollect a trip payment already made without our authorization, we reserve the right to collect all additional costs, fees and expenses associated with such chargeback, reversal or recollection, including, without limitation, attorney fees.”

The Inclusion of “Force Majeure”

I recommend clearly defining the phrase Force Majeure with this statement: “Force Majeure” means, in relation to our agency, in any circumstances beyond our reasonable control, (including, but without limitation, to acts of God, explosion, flood, forceful wind, fire or accident, war or threat of war declared or undeclared, acts of terrorism, sabotage, insurrection, riots, strikes, civil disturbance, sickness, epidemics, pandemics, quarantines, government intervention, weather conditions, defects in machinery and vehicles, delays or other unforeseeable event), we shall not be deemed to be in breach of these terms and conditions or otherwise be liable to you, and shall not provide any refund, by reason of delay in performance, or by non-performance, of any of our obligations hereunder to the extent that any such delay or non-performance is due to any force majeure. If our agency, and/or any of our travel suppliers, are affected by force majeure, they shall be entitled to, and may in their sole and absolute discretion, vary or cancel any itinerary or arrangement in relation to your trip.”

I know that we are in this business to serve and satisfy our customers, but we need to protect ourselves. These suggestions will help accomplish this objective. Don’t miss part 2 next week. Any questions feel free to contact me!

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Experience and Expertise

Dear Travel Agents/ Advisors,

As you know, I serve as a mentor to travel agents. What I do is free and brings me much pleasure. I frequently get questions from agents asking for advice.  I am here for all of you!

I have spoken with many agents who are eager to get experience in a short time.  Let’s analyze those two concepts: experience, and in a short time.

How long does it take to gain experience in something such as travel? Well, it depends how much we want to know, how much interest we have in specializing in different areas, and how much of a perfectionist we are.

How much time should we invest in learning? It also depends on several factors. How we learn, how much we need to learn, and how much work we are willing to put in.

As a travel agent, you approach your “mentor” (me) and get a bunch of ”it depends” answers. What kind of mentor am I?

Let me give you my honest opinion on the issue of gaining experience in a short time. I feel that if you show your client or prospective client how much you really care, experience moves down in importance to second place.  People are looking for a professional who has real feelings and a big heart, and who will stand with them for the entire journey. Experience alone is not enough. Experience PLUS caring will put the world at your feet!

I am cheering for you! Everyone should learn at their own pace.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

I love mentoring and coaching Travel Agents/Advisors with their businesses. One area where I was and still am very successful, is on how to close a sale. I am not going to bother you with why and where I learned all the psychological pieces of closing a sale, but if you follow my advice and give them a try, and believe in your own skills, success will definitely follow.

Clients need to feel as though they have the power to make a decision. Let them be in charge by giving them the last word. For example: Instead of asking IF they like a certain vacation package, or when they might be ready to book and pay, ASK THEM IF IT WILL BE VISA OR MASTER CARD? Don’t be surprised when they reply by asking if you accept American Express. You asked them a question and gave them the power to making a decision.

Since most sales take place over the phone, keep in mind that what clients hear is exactly how you express yourself. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the use of a mirror when you talk on the phone. What you see is what they hear. Keep smiling, be assertive, be kind and pay attention during the conversation. You will be your best self when you are totally present for your client.

In the event that your client comes to you with “another company/ TA came back with a better price” story, don’t take it personally. First of all, thank that client for being honest and telling you that. Then ask the “questions” but don’t pause to hear the answers – just continue planting seeds of doubt in his/her mind. Ask if the “other company/travel agent” included ALL entrance fees? All transfers? If they will be available for any inconveniences whenever they occur? If the hotel is really a 4-star by American standards or 4-star by that country standards?

By doing this, you show that you are interested in your client’s “worry free” vacation as much as a doctor would be concerned with the patient’s health (you can even use those words). After all, a good TA is like a good doctor. Both are concerned with the person enjoying their time in the best way possible. Value is what you are offering.

I have many more tips on how to approach a client. I will be sending them out weekly in my blogs. If you want them sooner, feel free to contact me. I love sharing my knowledge!

Cheers!

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Airfare, Hotels and Mileage

 

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

There is a big difference between helping your clients or prospective ones, and having your time and kindness taken advantage of.

I keep telling the travel agents I mentor that the way I see them paying for my time and service is when they are doing well and feeling stronger in their businesses, to please pay it forward. Mentor others and/or help people with very low budgets to find a way to travel.

Basically, what I am doing, modeling, and saying is to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Then, and only then, help others.

I’ve seen too many travel agents/advisors try to help clients create amazing vacations when the budget is so minimal that not even a miracle could help. In the end, one party gets hurt and it is usually the travel agent.

I have seen too many TAs booking airline tickets for clients for no fee, spending hours looking for the best price, then the client tries to upgrade the ticket with mileage – but not all airline tickets (especially the very cheap ones) are upgradeable. Who would be blamed for that? The TA for sure, but he/she didn’t even know the client’s intentions.

Another example is the TA booking a whole package for the client including hotels, tours, meals and entrance fees. Once the client gets to the hotel, they want to upgrade the room because they are members or have a rewards program for that particular hotel chain. Even worse, they want to deduct the price of the hotel from the tour package and pay with points, but they are not upfront with the travel agent about their intentions

My advice to Travel Agents/Advisors: Set boundaries with kindness. It is much better than feeling frustrated with the client; both physically and mentally. If they ask you to book airfare tell them you charge a fee, and ask them if they will want to use mileage to upgrade at any time. If they are booking a package including a hotel, explain that the price of the room is a non-negotiable price that cannot be changed, nor paid or modified with any membership or reward program.

The clearer you are, the more control you will have over the amount of time you spend on the booking, and the client will thank you for being upfront because time is precious to all parties.

Cheers to good health and happy times!

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How much does your time cost?

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

Last week we talked about not wasting your time with prospective clients who are not serious about your efforts. Those who shop around and expect you to work for “free.”

This time I want to address the suppliers you reach out to in order to book trips for your clients. Lately, I have seen many posts showing pictures or screenshots of how long you have spent on the phone waiting to book, or to change a booking with a “vendor,” a cruise line, a hotel chain, resort, etc.

Since the pandemic, the number of phone calls has increased astronomically, and to help with the demand, many new “agents” have been hired with very little training. Every time you are being put on hold, this “new” agent is trying to get the information through a colleague (who is also busy on another call) or through a manager (who is overwhelmed by so many requests). It depends on the phone system – but while you are on hold, the same agent is answering another call until he/she gets an answer to help with your call. Can you visualize this situation now?

By the end of this call, you are frustrated. By the time you get your commission and divide it by the number of hours you have invested in this booking (not even getting paid for pain and suffering!) you probably made $2/hour.

How can you avoid this? First and foremost, on every phone call, identify yourself with your first and last name and ask the other person for their first and last name. Ask them to spell it for you. Be nice, say something cute, like: Oh, what a lovely name, or I like how your name is spelled. Write their name, the date and time on a note pad (Yes, I am an old fashioned) or on the computer. Start to ask your question and IF you feel that this person does not know enough, ask for their supervisor or simply hang up. Don’t get frustrated! Start the same process again until you get someone with lots of knowledge within that company. If you are calling to change a booking, make sure you get a confirmation number (even joke that you want their blood type as well!) to make sure EVERYTHING was documented in the computer.

With their complete name, date and time, you can send a written compliment or complain to the supplier. This is the one tool you have to make sure they keep the good employees and get rid of or give the right training to the bad ones. SPEAK UP to your BDMs give them your list of the bad agents and the good ones. Ask for the direct number for the good ones. Until you and everyone else SPEAKS UP, there is no reason for the supplier to invest in proper training if they can just hire enough people to answer the enormous volume of phone calls.

Now you decide. How much does your time cost?

Cheering for you!

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What turns you off?

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

Did the subject of this blog make you wonder what am I talking about? Well, it is about dealing with clients and prospective ones.

I will start by telling you what used to turn me off. It was when prospective clients would call and before we could develop a nice conversation, the first thing I heard was that they were already working with another travel agent, but they wanted to give me a chance to beat that price.

Well, that really ticked me off. I used to say that I was sure they had gotten the best price, but I wasn’t sure about the service. That would make them very curious, and they then wanted to know why my service would be better than the other travel agent’s. I went to say that my kind of clients don’t go shopping around for price or service, and I do not work with shoppers. I would ask them to please call me back when they were serious to get the right service and price and pay my service fee of (advised my price).

Sometimes I would get an itinerary by email with price and the name of another company with a request to reprice it and send it back. I would simply send it back with a note: “Great job! Good for you!”

I understand that travel agents/advisors need clients and it is hard to set boundaries when we depend on the good word of clients to say how nice, kind and caring we are. But there is a big difference between being nice and feeling used. If you ever feel used or that someone is wasting your time, STOP, and set the boundaries. The right clients and prospective ones will respect you and the ones who are there only to use and take advantage of you are the wrong ones – let them go!

Cheering for you!

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Give me more reasons, please

Here it is – me again, bragging about travel agents. Why do I want travel agents to shine? What is it that travel agents have so much more of than search engines do? If you ask my opinion, I believe it is everything!

Travel agents have a sense of humor, empathy, feelings and opinions.  They really care for their clients and want to succeed for them. They love their clients and want that feeling to be mutual. They want their clients to refer them to friends and family. They will go to battle for their clients. When their clients are abroad, they are only a “WhatsApp” or a phone call away.

They build relationships, and learn all they can about destinations, hotels, airlines and other trip details to prevent stress for their clients before their wonderful trip. Travel agents treat their client’s trip as carefully as they would for their own family, and will work hard to make everything perfect.

Travel agents spend hours learning how to be the best they can be, and will talk to other travel agents to find the best vendors, the best hotels, and airlines. They will look for mentors, coaches and experienced travel advisors for tips and guidance.

Search engines “may be” cheaper (I am only saying that they “may be” because they very often don’t point out the fine print that travelers later learn about at the destination!) And forget about opinions, feelings and all the other qualities of an agent I describe above; by using a search engine, travelers are basically on their own! Smart travelers look for travel agents, and will keep coming back!

Travel agents shine, no matter who the President is, what economy we have, or even what budget the clients are working with. Travel agents SHINE!

Feel free to repost or copy and paste this on your site! Prospective clients deserve to know better, and your clients should know how smart they are!

Proud of you!
Rosana


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