Before the dawn of the Internet, travel agents were a dominant factor in the hotel industry because filling a travel itinerary — including booking a hotel property — was complex, and resources were limited. As electronic booking engines became commonplace, travel agents were scorched. Many dropped out. Those who remained offered their customers more than just the ability to book a trip, but that critical intangible: expert knowledge. As odd as it may seem to some, there is still a world beyond “the gospel according to TripAdvisor.”
Decades ago, travel agents lost commissions on discounted air travel (overrides and commissions on full fare still exist). Thus, selling cruises and hotel rooms became the mainstay of their revenue stream. As such, they definitely have something to offer their clientele.
Today’s travel agents have more than just a GDS terminal and access to the Internet. They have honed their own market, becoming the “go-to travel masters” for a very loyal customer base. Travel agent groups such as Virtuoso provide further expertise for their members, accelerated by the group’s exceptional industry education.
If you consider traditional travel agents to be of importance, how do you rekindle your efforts with this channel? Here are just some of the approaches you can consider as part of the development plan:
- If you are part of a chain or representation group, get involved in any offered group programs.
- Add a section on travel agents or a special email to your website encouraging communications.
- Establish a member of your sales team devoted to this channel.
- Host travel agent welcome days.
- Publicize FAMs with journals such as Travel Agent or Travel Weekly.
- Manage your travel agent business by recording sales and reward agents who perform.
- Extend travel agent relationships through your sale. For example, when a guest was booked through a travel agent, provide a welcome letter from the travel agent, extending the relationship. Your actions will be noticed!
- Build relationships with travel agents utilizing appropriate communications such as newsletters or bulletins as well as personal notes.
- Go to travel agent shows such as the Luxury Travel Expo.
The fact is this: there is still business to be had amongst traditional travel agents. If your plan is to reduce dependency on the higher-commission channels of the OTAs, traditional travel agents represent an excellent opportunity.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on August 19, 2013)