Travel agent's sales skills for the new era of travel

Friday, February 11, 2022

The four travel agents skills you’ll need in 2022

It’s a phrase which hardly bears repeating: the world has been transformed by the pandemic. While the closure of borders and the implementation of traffic light systems would have seemed all but unfathomable just a couple of years ago, the global population has been left with little choice but to adapt to an ever-changing landscape.

Of all the industries affected by COVID-19, travel and tourism has arguably weathered the greatest storm: mass redundancies were witnessed as airlines were grounded, revenue dropped to historical lows, and institutions shuttered parts of their business (case in point: Lonely Planet, who ceased the publication of their monthly magazines, much to the dismay of readers who needed nothing more than a sense of escapism). Outside of healthcare, tourism could perhaps be considered one of the most unnerving sectors to be in between 2020 and now…but the industry is certainly resilient, and one set to reap major rewards as the dust settles.

It may seem hyperbolic, but travel agents are needed now more than ever. From reuniting families via re-routed flights to recovering costs on behalf of their clients, agents have had to prove their ability to remain calm and collected in the face of what has been, undoubtedly, the most far-spread crisis our modern world has seen. This pragmatism was witnessed on a comparably smaller scale back in 2010, when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano cast a plume of ash across Europe: those of us around at the time will remember of chaos of telephones ringing off the hook as more than 10 million passengers worldwide responded to the confusion of flights being cancelled and accommodation options appearing out of reach. As travellers struggled against a feeling of helplessness, industry experts were hard at work conjuring up solutions to the disruption; and when solutions were impossible, agents were quick to assist their clients in making sense of their insurance, fighting their corner in name of ‘force majeure’.

The pandemic has resembled the 2010 fiasco in many ways, but on a mega-scale. Similarities are found in the disruption and upset caused in both instances, but – worrisome/frustrating as it is at the time – any kind of disaster, so to speak, is an opportunity for education. Lessons are learnt at a break-neck pace, which proves challenging in the moment but massively beneficial moving forward. The difference with the pandemic, however, has been the wider impact felt: not only were hotels closed, flights grounded and borders shut, but workplaces were affected, too. Footfall fell from intermittent to zero, face time between colleagues became digital at best, and the ability to communicate concerns became nigh-on impossible. 

But like we mentioned: the travel industry is resilient. Despite damaged revenue streams and a palpable nervousness felt from the top of the chain (CEOs) to the source of income (customers), an eagerness to ‘get back out there’ has superseded the fear of further cancellations or disruptions. People are ready to travel, and agents are rejoicing these prayed-for signs of life. Naturally, in order to garner the benefits of recovery, all agents must be equipped with the skills and knowledge required to make the most of the industry landscape as it stands. Read on to discover the top skills travel agents need to succeed in a post-pandemic world.

Travel agents skills

SOCIAL SKILLS

After a year of being starved of face-to-face contact, consumers across all industries are making a point of hitting the high street and paying a visit to their local travel agency. The emergence of technology in our new world puts agents in the unique position of catering to both sides of a social spectrum: those who are eager to enter an agency environment are welcomed with open arms, while those who are still a little nervous about sitting in an office full of strangers are increasingly being offered an alternative - face-to-face consultations which take place entirely online.

While it’s true that travellers of the recent past had felt at ease with making their own bookings from start to finish, the pandemic has inspired a need to seek out a helping hand. Travellers are less confident about handling the caveats of bookings and – god forbid – cancellations, so leading with a friendly (online) face will likely put your digital customers at ease.

We’re not saying to take your entire process to FaceTime: agents are likely to get busier and busier as we settle into the ‘new normal’, but where possible, we would recommend that you make yourself available for a quick video chat. It’s much easier to show enthusiasm for a destination when you’re able to be expressive (get those facial muscles moving!), and you’re more likely to build a warm bond with your customers in this way…after all, we all know how soulless emails can feel.

Speaking of building bonds, there is something to be said about the power of social media and its ability to break down walls. Take Instagram, for example: many agents have utilized the platform to empathize with their clients over the course of the pandemic, sharing throwback photos of their own memorable trips and responding in real-time to their followers. From mourning the closure of borders to celebrating the re-opening of routes, travel pros like @bpktravel and @carpediemtraveler have embraced all COVID-related talking points, proving to their clients that they’re not only in tune with pandemic goings-on, but that they’re humans too – who are just as eager to head out on an adventure of their own.

Top tip: if you’re going to use Instagram, keep a keen eye on trending hashtag such as #travelpassport, #goexplore and #postcardsfromtheworld - you never know, your future clients may just be watching.

DIGITAL SKILLS

We’ve already touched on digital skills, but owing to the constant development of our online world, it is vital that agents expand their artillery. From broader skills such as marketing (via Facebook, Instagram and Google, to name but a few channels) to specialist tools, the pandemic has shown that digital platforms are more than a minor part of your business.

Here at BedsOnline, we’ve utilized our knowledge of the digital landscape to create a tool designed to skyrocket your stock as an agent. The Compass uses data intelligence to ensure that you’re promoting the most in-demand destinations and products at the right time, enabling you to capitalise on demand and maximize your bookings and delighting your customers in the process. We won’t expand on it too much now – we’ve covered the Compass at length here – but if there’s one digital tool that’ll benefit your business, we’re certain that this is it. Click through and have a good read.

Travel agents sales skills

INDUSTRY SKILLS

Some of the most important travel agent skills and qualities are, and likely always will be, the ability to remain attuned to goings-on across the industry. The pandemic has flipped typical trends on their head: a demand for domestic travel has seen an additional $45,800,000 spent on trips closer to home (US), cultural experiences are king, and sustainability is now a key requirement for 87% of travellers. As we continue to navigate the way through a turbulent post-pandemic world, agents should seek anchorage in the form of well-rounded knowledge.

To touch again on the Compass for a moment, our innovative tool allows agents to filter trending destinations out by domestic and international. What’s more, the tool also provides foresight on when destinations will be trending: say your customer is aiming to travel within the next three months, for example, the Compass will show you which destinations are in-demand and are therefore an opportunity for you.

It’s also worthwhile sharpening your knowledge of ancillaries: as we’ve already mentioned, today’s travellers are craving culture and experiences, which is excellent news for those of us (all of us!) who are keen to earn a little extra in the COVID era. Our Star Brochure will help you expand your knowledge ‘beyond the bed’ by showcasing a plethora of activities, excursions, transfers and more in 147+ destinations around the world. All that’s left for you to do is to play matchmaker between our top picks and your customers.

Elsewhere, we would advise keeping up to date with cancellation fees, change fees and so forth – not only will your forward-thinking aid positive agent-client relationships, but you’ll cut back on time and stress by being prepared.

Top tip: why not consider adding FAQs to your email signatures? This will help you streamline the customer service side of your operations, granting you more time to monitor the industry and to tailor your services accordingly.

INDIVIDUAL STRENGTH

A major but criminally underrated skill is, simply put, self-belief. In uncertain times, it’s easy to feel shaky about your place in the world – imposter syndrome seeps into all of our lives - but statistics show that travellers are waking up to the fact that agents are the ultimate security net. No number of hours spent watching the news or scouring Google for the latest COVID updates will compare to the insider knowledge and expertise of an agent: customers just do not have the insight or the resources to keep up with travel trends, nor do they have the valuable relationship with airlines, hoteliers and tour operators that you’re likely have. This also brings us full-circle to the point we made earlier about resilience, as when times get hard, travel agents are not ones to shy away. Aside from turning dreams into a reality, the most important job of a travel agent is to put their clients at ease…which can, even outside of the pandemic era, feel like a tall order. From catering to customers who refuse vaccinations (and delivering the less-than-desired news that their preferred destination may be out of bounds) to juggling panicked phone calls, follow-up emails and rapidly-changing global regulations, remember to dig deep and think about the skills needed to be a travel agent, as well as the route that got you here.

Becoming a travel agent is no easy feat, but you’re here – and you can handle anything the industry (and its outside influences) throws at you.
 

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