How to Sell Travel in Multiple Channels

By Bob Morrell on July 23, 2015

When you book a holiday yourself, do you think you’re an agent, saving yourself an agent’s booking fee or commission, or do you act as a consultant, questioning and challenging your needs and wants and helping you make a fully informed decision?

You can of course ask all of your friends what they think, and draw on the plethora of their experiences as you carefully filter which friend’s opinions are the ones that really count.

There is a simple fact when it comes to booking your own holiday – ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’

If I engage a large travel agency employing a few thousand people, they will have many levels of age and experience.

I may find myself talking to a 20 year old who hasn’t travelled much and doesn’t have tonnes of life experience. I may find myself talking to someone well travelled and very experienced who has accumulated a wealth of knowledge, stories and tips to pass on.

With recruitment a challenge and as companies expand or contract most companies will employ a mix of agents and consultants. Some of the agents will already act like consultants, and sadly some of the people who should be consultants will be acting like agents, adding no value to the conversation.

There are three things that your customers compare when they consider buying their travel experiences from you; Price, Quality and Service.

‘The words you use help you win or lose”, has never been more true than when it comes to web chat. If I receive an ill considered response from the agent then I may well be put off. If the phone is answered in such a way that I feel the person on the other end of the line is half asleep, bored and unengaged I will retreat. And if as I step across the threshold of your shop and have no eye contact or a smile, I may just tell myself I am better off sorting this holiday myself.

Airbnb now has over a million listings across 34,000 cities and 190 countries.
The ever growing popularity of exchanging your home with someone else is also more competition for the traditional travel agency.

A survey by Homeexchangeguru found the strong degree of trust necessary in collaborative consumption, with 75% agreeing that most people are trustworthy. 93% are satisfied with their experience, with 81% having swapped homes more than once.

What is the key word in that sentence? Trustworthy. The reason why people believe they can research and book their own travel is that they don’t trust an agent or a consultant to do it any better than they would. They don’t trust that a travel agency will add any value to the experience and as a result they don’t trust the recommendation.

When I am given too much choice by a travel consultant I trust them even less. A stack of brochures says to me, “I don’t know either, you have a look through these and then we can narrow it down a bit!”

What an agent needs to be able to do, and this is not new news, is to sell. Most importantly they need to be able to develop outstanding questions that will highlight the knowledge gaps in your customer’s mind. When a gap has been identified through a question, your customer is far more likely to listen to what you say.

What most agents do is tell rather than sell.

They get the basic requirements from a hostile untrusting customer and try to make a recommendation based on a very weak brief.

If you were having an extension done on your house and said to the architect, “2 adults 2 kids, and we want it done in three months”, where would they start with the design?!!!

I have sat with agents and consultants and looked at the weak and uninspiring briefing documents that have either been half filled in online, or been taken over the phone and even face to face and I know why that customer won’t book a holiday with them, and so do you.

They have no outcomes, desires or strong needs to sell to. The brief is weak, empty or at best half complete.

The one facet of the buying process that your agents and consultants can control is Service. They need to realise and so do their number chasing managers that they are being compared consciously or sub consciously from the very first words they type on webchat or email, or with the very first words they say when they pick up the phone or see them in their shop.

Once trust has begun to be built from that very first conversation, then your customers will be happy to deal with you in different channels. They won’t mind getting a text, an email or a voicemail from someone who is fully briefed in helping them get what they want, someone who has their back and someone who they trust.

Thousands of your customers don’t want to spend weeks searching for the unique holiday, they just want to find someone they believe in who will do it with them. A holiday is not a product it is a service, and a service is jointly created between a customer and a consultant.

You ask, they speak, you listen, you recommend. Sales is not complex when you have been trained in the essential principles and even though the channels may change, the language does not.

Build your sales skills across all your sales channels, then you can build trust, then and only then, will you build your business.