Hug a Travel Agent

We Love Travel Agents

About 25 years ago I started a successful campaign at Choice Hotels we called “We Love Travel Agents”. We did this because travel agents delivered the highest rated business from all intermediaries. We wanted more. Fast forward to today. Travel agents (not to be confused with an OTA) deliver the highest rated business from all intermediary channels. Regardless of push back from Revenue Managers, Travel agents kick serious butt regardless of which channel they choose to book. And guess what; you only pay for what consumes. Today, reaching travel agents and their clients has changed. The principle strategy remains the same but the tactics are new. Few people realize that the database of agents’ clients is incredibly valuable. Here is a group of people who want to travel. What would you pay to reach this super pre-qualified list?

Secret Sauce – Sell from the inside out – not outside in.

Is there a secret sauce? A magical formula? A lost symbol? A missing link?

Well, yes. I know of only one company today, that has for several years been at the forefront of delivering supplier offers and promotions to travel agents and their clients electronically. Some providers just send email blasts, some only communicate to a niche group of agents, some provide interesting share data. Passport Online uniquely provides supplier content to the USA’s leading travel agents and their almost 3 million clients who love to travel.

They do this through a variety of delivery channels, building and populating agency internal and consumer facing websites, email to agents and their clients and social media programs utilizing Facebook and Tweets. All of these programs have real time customer dashboards that show activity right down to a wholesaler and agency level. The competitive edge is that Passport Online delivers this information to agents and their clients in the agents own environment. It is booking channel agnostic. No bias. It is not obtrusive, not a pop up when an agent is booking air, not an ad message thrown at an agent or client that doesn’t want it. It is an integrated part of the agents day to day bsiness. It is where agents go to look for offers and specials – either on their own internal sites or through opted in subscription. Bottom line – to win, you have to engage agents on the agents terms.

Social Media for Travel Agents and their Clients

A new initiative that Passport has introduced is Agent SociaLink. This creates a Facebook and Twitter platform for agents, from which they can share with their followers (clients), special offers and promotions provided by suppliers. This can be done speedily and continues to maintain the level of engagement and relevance between the supply side, agent and consumer. Facebook has continued to grow as a booking tool sometimes over TripAdvisor. Early adopters should investigate this leading edge program as it will only continue to grow.

ASTA Survey – 2010 Technology and Web Usage Report

To further showcase agents usage of electronic media ASTA this week released the results of its 2010 Technology and Web Usage Report, which looks at online booking revenue, Internet usage, Web 2.0 marketing and website development. The survey also looks at how agencies use the Web for supplier research and booking.

ASTA President Chris Russo said in a statement, “Rather than being pushed out of business by the Internet, as many had predicted, travel agents have embraced it and are leveraging its power to enhance their operations.”

The survey found that while 81% of agencies reported booking airline travel online, more than 70% of agencies that book air also assist customers with booking ancillary services online (42%) or by phone (30%). ASTA said this suggests that “the complex and often hidden nature of airlines’ ancillary fees adds additional work and time to the overall airline purchase transaction.”

Travel agencies are booking on suppliers’ websites less than ever: ASTA said that the percentage of total agency bookings made through supplier websites decreased in 2010 to 40%, from 45% in 2009.

52% of respondents said Facebook was their most used networking and marketing technique, citing its ease of use in connecting with current and potential customers.

Most agencies said they use their website to provide an e-mail link to their agency (90%) or to promote their areas of specialty (80%) and travel deals (75%). A majority of agencies (58%) use their own e-newsletters or e-mail promotions to promote their website. More than a quarter of travel agencies’ client requests come through their websites, representing 18% of all agency revenue.

Agents Power Grows

PhoCusWright recently stated that travel agents were in the ascendance in 2010. ARC reported significant increases in agency sales revenue 2010 over 2009. The Y partnership reported in Travel Weekly’s annual industry survey reported a considerable number of younger travelers using travel agents.

The new role travel agents play in the sales of supplier products has never been so critical. In the over information world we all live in, consumers need a balanced, honest, no spin recommendation on where to go and where to stay.

Become an Insider

The secret is to make sure you are playing in the same sandbox as travel agents. Make sure you are in their consideration zone. If you are not present when and where agents (and their clients) go to look for leisure offers how can you be booked. Get on their websites, internal and consumer facing, get engaged with email programs to agents and their clients, partner with their social media plans. If you follow some simple steps you will drive that higher rated business tour property (but don’t let the Revenue Managers know how you did it!)

Bob Gilbert CTC, MInstM.  CEO Travika

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