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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Hotels and All Inclusive Resorts: Case In Point

Dear Travel Agents/ Advisors,

Thank you to all who read last week’s blog: Fake It Until You’ve Been There, and especially to those who commented on it. One comment sparked the reason for this blog.

“Totally disagree. Case in point. Two resorts looked very much the same. The research I did made them seem the same. Both had the same inclusions. Until I visited, I had no idea how very different they could be. I can sell anything to anybody. I just don’t want to sell something I don’t know. My experiences have proven it.”

I explained that we were talking about countries and not about hotels or all-inclusives but thanked the writer for giving me a great opportunity to write about this issue.

So how can a TA know ALL the hotels in a city or a country? No one can!

Even if you have an opportunity to visit a hotel or an all-inclusive Resort at any point, you can’t guarantee how it will be in a couple of years.

Many travel agents/advisors use the internet to check out hotels, but which sites can you trust? How old are the pictures on the site you are checking? How updated is the information for each and every hotel or AI?

Many people rely on and trust TripAdvisor.com. Not only is this a booking engine, you don’t really know the criteria of the people who are reviewing these hotels as compared to your clients who might call you at 3:00am to complain!

For All-Inclusive Resorts, go through the BDM. Learn as much as you can about the AI Brands and what is important at each one. Learn how they are structured and what their procedures are in terms of how often they update, and if they keep same standards in all countries, etc.

Once you are familiar with each brand and build a rapport with a BDM from the ones you want to work with, it will be a piece of cake – or a bucket full of dreams and shells!

For hotels, it is a little bit different. First, you need to understand that what is considered 5 stars in a different country is not necessarily 5 stars in the US. There are some countries that list 5 stars, and 5 stars (by US standards.) TA BEWARE!!!!

In Europe, most hotels in great locations are very tiny (location, location and location!) Be careful when quoting a price and thinking that 3 people can fit in a room!!!

When choosing hotels in other countries, first understand the star system for that country. Then learn about hotel brands: American brands have a different standard than European ones, than Chinese ones and so forth. Learn the structure within each brand, for example: the hotel groups from IHG: Sheraton, Westin, Hyatt, Hilton, Doubletree and more can all be independently owned as a franchise.

Feel free to pick my brain for more information on how to select hotels without visiting each of them personally.

Stay tuned for information about different cruise ships and how to choose each one of them.

Cheering for you!

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Fake it until you’ve been there

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

Revisiting the age-old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg?

When I first started my career as a travel agent, the only countries I had ever been to were Brazil (born and raised) and the U.S. (Los Angeles), where I moved in 1988. How could I sell another destination without “experiencing” it?

The use of computers was in the earliest stages, so I used books, videos and maps as resources and even more importantly, CREATIVITY! I FAKED IT UNTIL I COULD AFFORD TO VISIT IT! This is also how I became a country collector; so far, I have been to 86. Not a shabby number!

I definitely believe in taking advantage of FAM Trips in order to sell a destination, but I trust those who do their due diligence by learning all of the information they need to help a client much more. I did it myself, and I know that it is not only possible, but seeing a place is not enough to teach ourselves all we need to know and make sure everything is covered in order to help a client have the best trip.

Caring and life experience are two essential factors that make using a travel advisor a more successful experience for your client. By caring, you will better understand your client’s expectations, and with your own life experience, you will know that many times what the client is saying is not necessarily what he/she really means. These components carry much more weight than knowing what the temperature of the water on the beach is, or how many restaurants are open in the resort. Knowing that your client needs a resort that will take care of their kids full time and finding the perfect kid friendly/safe resort for their family is much more important. 

Once you have the opportunity to visit all the places on your bucket list you will do it, in your own time. Know that this will not only be a legitimate business expense, but also the cherry on top of your cake!

Cheers!

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Having Fun with Group Travel

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

I personally love group travel, especially when I organize the group and am part of it. If that is something that you would like to do, we can call it: HOW TO MAKE CLIENTS YOUR FRIENDS!

Or, we could rephrase it to say, how to have a great time with your clients. 

I consider myself to be very lucky! I have traveled with many travel agents who became my dear friends, and I hope to continue to do so. These are some of the great gifts of life: travel and friends. What a joy to meet new people with one big common denominator – travel.

I would never have met these wonderful people if I hadn’t organized those tours. In these cases, they were FAM Trips and Tours for Women. The travelers were travel agents and their companions from all over the USA and Canada, from different backgrounds, ages, views of the world, but all sharing a love of travel and traveling together. I have to confess that this is the cherry on top for me, the part of my work that I look forward to the most!

To ensure the success of a wonderful and smooth group tour, you need to make sure that you will be the Travel Leader. (Yes, if you organize a group, you become the Travel Leader.)

Let’s go over some basics:

  • Decide who will pair the roommates: you, or will you let the travelers interview each other? If you decide that you will be doing it, ask questions, such as, do you snore? What do you expect from your roommate? Also, ask other questions pertinent to your specific trip.
  • Decide if you will all travel together from one gateway or meet at the destination.
  • Decide how much “free” time and/or optional tours you will offer to your group.
  • Decide on the number of people you are willing to include on your trip. In my opinion, keep it small for your first few groups to make them more manageable.
  • Decide if tips for drivers and tour guides and are included or not. And if not, whether you will collect from the group and present the tips to each professional, or let each traveler give individually. (Please advise your travelers ahead of time to avoid surprises!)
  • Set some ground rules before the trip, or as soon as you arrive to avoid future problems. (Trust me, problems happen, and I could write a book about them!). For example: ask travelers to let you know that if they have a problem “today” to tell you “today,” and not “tomorrow.” It is hard to solve problems from “yesterday.”
  • Medication – People seem to believe that once they are on vacation, it means “I will not take my medication.”  This is a big mistake and can jeopardize a great trip.
  • Respect: Personal views on politics, race and religion are very sensitive.  Decide how you want to handle them if they come up! 
  • Make sure that you will be the only one communicating to the tour guide and tour organizer. That way, you avoid “too many tour leaders” and everyone knows who is who.
  • HAVE FUN, MAKE FRIENDS, AND PLAN ANOTHER TRIP!

Always cheering for you!

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Travel Advisor/Agent or Sales Person

Dear Travel Advisors/Agents,

As the owner of two tour operator businesses in the past, one of my duties was to hire TAs to sell our tour packages. We hired many travel agents and I had to train them all to sell our specific packages to Latin America. I taught them our market, geography, and product.

At that time, most of the sales requests came by phone from all over the US and Canada. We tried finding good TAs through newspapers ads, going to local travel agent schools, and offering good commission to experienced TAs from other tour operators (spreading the word through our own TAs.)

Let me remind you that this was during a time at the very beginning of the internet’s popularity in business. Big companies had very expensive websites, but there wasn’t much more – like Google, Social Media and all these tools that make life a bit easier.

It came to a point that in desperation I started to try to hire salespeople from other industries and tried to teach them travel, thinking that if they could sell one thing, they just need to learn a new product.

Well, that experience totally backfired! I realized through this experience that if an experienced salesperson can’t really relate to a product, it made it much harder for them to sell. I realized that if they couldn’t or wouldn’t buy the product that they were selling and really relate to it, it was harder for them to sell. I also noticed that novice travel agents were so in love with travel that they did much better learning new sales techniques than the other way around.

I don’t regret taking this time and learning from this experience. The company was short on staff to answer phone calls at that time, and we couldn’t afford to lose calls. I learned a lot and never made the same mistake again. I actually improved and focused on teaching experienced travel agents and lovers of travel how to be more comfortable in dealing with prospective clients.

If you are a new travel agent/ advisor and want to improve your sales skills, feel free to pick my brain! After all, I improved my skills in teaching in the best way. 😉

Cheers!

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The American Dream

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

I have been posting blogs about how to succeed as a travel agent since 2017. Once in a while, I post other types of blogs that are not specific to travel agents, but more about kindness, empathy and caring for others. For those who know me, I really believe in being kind, and that if you don’t have anything nice to say, avoid making a fool of yourself and don’t say anything at all.

I’m not sure how long you have been reading my posts and blogs, but in case you don’t know much about me or my reasons for writing and wanting to help travel agents/advisors, here is a very short version of the story of my life. I call it The American Dream.

I was born in Brazil, and in January of 1988, my husband, my 1-year-old son and I came to Los Angeles. All we had with us was $2,000 and 3 suitcases. We lived in a 1 bedroom, where we slept on the floor. It was a very hard beginning.

All of the ups and downs of almost 35 years belong in a good book with lots of laughter and tears. The point I want to get to here is that I started to work as a travel agent, and soon after that I decided to start a tour company that specialized in Latin America. The company became very successful. When Travelzoo started, we had a weekly Top20.

Eventually, I sold that company, and years later I started another one with a partner.

It came to a point in 2016 that I felt that I had worked enough, I had conquered enough. My husband and I live in a beautiful home, we travel extensively throughout the world, and we have more than enough material things. We are also blessed with successful and happy kids.

These are my beliefs:

– If I do something I love, I don’t ever need to work a day in my life.

– I can’t take material things with me when I die – only my good deeds and my legacy.

– I truly enjoy seeing people succeed, life is not a competition.

– I have so many blessings to count, and am especially grateful to this country. I love to pay it forward.

So, if you are reading this blog for the first time, or have read my other blogs, please know my true intentions. I am truly cheering for you!

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Knowledge, Expertise and Empathy

Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

We are all hoping that the number of bookings will increase because of the new rules about mask requirements on airports, airplanes and cruises. With the changes, travel agents/advisors must feel a lot of empathy for clients’ needs and fears, anxieties and expectations. Many times, we expect that ALL clients will respond the same way to news about the masks. This can create a false sense of reality. Being ready to explain to some clients how they can feel “protected against Covid” in this new environment demonstrates the real knowledge and expertise of the TA.

Knowledge comes from dedication in learning about a location(s) but the nuances and details come from personal experience. Offering empathy is a skill that is not teachable, but inheritable. It doesn’t matter your sex, political or religion affiliations, it probably comes from your DNA. This whole combo of knowledge and empathy translates into a powerful tool that makes you an awesome Travel Advisor, ready to go the extra mile for each and every client. Clients will be sure to tell family and friends about you, and in a couple of years your business becomes a great success.

I highly recommend that you eventually become a mentor to new agents and/or to others who struggle with any issue in the business. Use your empathy to understand where others are lacking. With your knowledge, you can guide the other person how to succeed. If all of us can focus on growing and helping others to do the same, we can build a better tomorrow for us all.

As my mom used to say, when you just give a fish it will help with only one meal. Teaching someone how to fish helps them forever.

For all the great minds out there, pay it forward!

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