Author: Alma Morales

Finding the right travel host agency that fits your business needs is of utmost importance to your success. You may be transitioning from one career to a travel career, and you need a little guidance on getting your agency off the ground. Or, you may have outgrown your current business model and find that affiliating with a host agency will be advantageous to you and your customers. Or, perhaps you just wish to take your business to another level, where a host agency would benefit these wishes.

When researching host agencies, do your research and call each host agency to ask their sales manager qualifying questions. My recommendation is to go to www.hostagencyreviews.com and/or www.findahosttravelagency.com, and choose a few to interview by reading reviews from agents who belong to them. Then call each host and ask these questions:

  1. How long have you been in business, and what is your sales volume? You want to look for size, strength and experience, which brings added negotiating power with supplier partners that will help you. For example, Nexion® is owned by Travel Leaders Group, and with gross travel sales of $400+ million, Nexion® has size, strength and more than 20 years of experience.
  2. What are your commission levels, commission split levels and which suppliers do you partner with? You’ll want to find a host that can provide you with maximum commission levels on the suppliers you will be selling. As a member of the Nexion® family, you will earn what a passionate travel professional should earn: up to 90 percent of top-tier commissions with more than 140+ air, cruise and land supplier partners.
  3. How and when will I get paid? There’s no point in a host stating they’ll pay you 90 or 100 percent of commissions if they never pass it along to you from the supplier or if you have to wait forever to receive payment. Get paid twice per month via direct deposit with Nexion®.
  4. How can I keep track of commissions, and what reporting resources are available? Does the host offer a 24/7, automated commission tracking system? What about offering standardized reports to track important metrics such as supplier payment status, service fees, commission income and revenue/expenses?
  5. What are your fees? Be sure to ask about any hidden or annual fees as well. You’ll want to find a host that doesn’t nickel and dime you for everything as well as a host where you’ll pay fees on only the things that pertain directly to your business. With Nexion®, there are no annual renewal fees, no per-invoice or transaction fees, no ARC bond or accreditation requirements, and no long-term GDS contracts.
  6. Are you affiliated with a consortia, and what marketing tools and resources do you offer? Will you have access to direct mail and e-mail marketing materials to gain new customers and keep your agency top-of-mind with existing clients? Does the host provide a free consumer website, as well as social media marketing solutions?
  7. How many agents do you have, and how large is your support staff? You don’t want a host that is so large, or so small, that they don’t have a good support system. You want to be part of the host family and not just a number; it’s important that you’ll receive personalized attention and a support team that will answer your questions.
  8. What types of educational and business development opportunities do you offer? This is an area where Nexion® is well known and won numerous industry awards. Is live classroom training important to you, or do you prefer virtual educational opportunities and a 24/7 learning management system? What types of coaching and mentorship programs does the host offer, as well as conferences and programs?
  9. What additional opportunities for networking do you offer? Because the majority of travel professionals today are home-based, having a network of like-minded agents in your region or who have similar business models or niches as you is paramount. Does the host rely on local supplier functions for networking, or do they provide events or conferences that bring members together to share best practices?
  10. Tell me about your technology; or better yet, show me the agent portal I would be using as a member and all the tools it provides to help me in my business. Will you have access to the GDS you book through, with 24/7 automated ticketing, fulfillment and quality control? What if you don’t use a GDS – how will you be able to book your clients’ travel? What does the host offer so you can manage your account?

By asking some critical questions up front, you’ll make an informed decision on choosing the right host agency for you … and soon you’ll be on your way to being a truly exceptional travel professional!

 

If you think about it, we are all salespeople. As a parent, you sell your child on the importance of eating a healthy meal or on the value of having a good education. As a coach, you sell your athletes on the significance of practice and fine tuning their skills. As a travel consultant, you plan and sell the perfect trip for your customers.

In order for any of us to be successful, we have to perfect our sales skills by investing in ourselves – through education and product knowledge, as well as through marketing. Take the time to learn more about the business you’re in. Know the products and/or services that you are selling. Practice the art of successfully marketing yourself. But most importantly, know your customers by asking questions and listening!

One of my favorite quotes is, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Think about it! Are you the type of person who asks a question, but you’re already thinking about the next thing you want to ask or say instead of truly listening to what your customer is telling you? Slow down and really take note of everything your client is telling you – listen with the intent to understand this person’s wants and needs.

I recently took part in training from Jeff Bloomfield, author of “Story-Based Selling” and former executive coach to senior executives of Fortune 500 companies. As Jeff states in his “Sales Fundamentals” online video, one of the pitfalls to successful sales is “to sell something that your customer does not want or need.” To have true success, we must understand our customers and their buying motivators, and then share our knowledge and experiences to gain credibility and trust.

Jeff shares the three stages of the sales process. It was a great review for me, and consequently, I wanted to share these processes with you as well:

Pre-sales:  This is where you do your planning and preparation. If you have business plan, review it and see if you need to update it. If you don’t have a business plan, this is the perfect time to start one by enhancing your training and education. For example, Nexion® offers several programs to assist with business development and education, including its Agents Connecting Together (ACT) mentorship program.

Customer Engagement:  Create the connection with your customers. Engage in marketing programs. Put together qualifying questions to find out more about them and what they value the most. Work on building trust and credibility. If you’re part of a travel agency host or consortia, take advantage of the marketing tools offered to stay connected with your customers. Nexion® members have access to marketing solutions that let you stay connected through social media, targeted emails and direct mail, so the right message is delivered to the right customer. Remember, it’s all about listening and selling something your customer wants or needs.

Post-sales:  This step is often forgotten by many travel professionals, and it’s too important to forget as it helps in building those life-long relationships with your customers. Show your service and support. Follow up with your customers with a phone call to see how their trip went. Use your marketing tools to send out greeting cards, and keep in touch with your customers with ongoing direct mail and email marketing. Again, your host or consortia should have an arsenal of resources that will make this step simple and easy to remember.

By reviewing these steps and fine tuning your skills through education, marketing, asking the right questions and LISTENING, you will position yourself for success.

 

There is one question I am frequently asked by travel professionals:  “When a client comes to me with a price found online, and I am only able to match the price or if my price is higher, why would they want to book with me?” This is a great question and one that all travel professionals must be able to readily and confidently answer.

When you are asked this question – and it’s a matter of when and not if – this is when you have the opportunity to sell yourself, show your value and secure the booking. As travel professionals, you are not only selling travel, but you are also selling yourselves. So know your product!

To begin, ask yourself, “Why do clients come to me?” Do they come to you for your advice, for information, for your knowledge of the travel industry and destinations, and because they want an expert to do the work? That expert is YOU, and you should know and be able to articulate your value.

Everyone has a different value proposition. Here are five ways to get you thinking about what yours are:

I am valuable because …

Relationships, Provide Best Value
I will get to know you and will create a trip customized for your own unique vacation. I will select the best products and provide my professional guidance along the way.

Save Time, Convenience
I am a one-stop shop for every aspect of your travel needs. I will assist you with all components of the trip in one place and give you pricing that is clear and concise, saving you countless hours of online research.

Industry Knowledge, Clout
My relationships with supplier partners allow for best value, amenities and direct assistance. I know who to trust and which products to offer. I will also offer you travel insurance to protect your investment.

Destination Knowledge, Consultant
By booking with me, I will give you direct access to me as your personal travel consultant. I will give you tips about your destinations that only a travel expert who’s experienced these places could give. I will qualify you based on your needs and wants to ensure you have the vacation of your dreams, and I’ll follow up upon your return.

Advocate, Expertise
I will monitor your bookings for any schedule changes and be there to assist if an issue should arise. I will ensure you have the proper documentation you need, advise you of any special travel information based on my knowledge of the destination and be there to answer any questions you may have.

Be ready, be confident, and most of all, know your value! In closing, I invite you to consider Nexion® as your host agency. Whether you’re new to the business, an experienced agent, an agency with multiple agents or focus on corporate business, Nexion has the tools and resources to help you develop your business and show your value as a travel professional.

With so many educational opportunities available both within and outside the travel industry, it is important to make the right choices in order to gain the most from your training sessions. Use these three tips to set a training course that will make a difference for your personal development.

#1.  Don’t become a training junkie! As an educator, I can definitely appreciate the enthusiasm; however, there is no need to sign up for every course offered. It is not realistic to expect you’ll know everything about all things. Narrow your focus to what is most important to your professional growth right now, six months from now and within the next year, and plan accordingly.

Agents in NEXstart (a program exclusively for new sellers of travel LINK TO THIS ONE WEBSITE from Nexion® that lets you earn commission while you learn) have a set training curriculum to start with, and we also provide them with a professional development plan template that they may use to plot their own unique training course. 

#2.  Just schedule it! Schedule time for your training and development. Whether you are attending an event, virtual classroom training or viewing recorded sessions, it is important to schedule your time and stick to it. Create a training plan, select your courses and schedule it on your calendar. When that calendar reminder pops up, take the course!

Nexion University is our learning management system that gives you access to a virtual education 24/7, so you can schedule your training when it’s convenient for you. Topics include Nexion® tools, industry and destination knowledge, managing your business and supplier partner presentations. Nexion University provides every Nexion® agent access to all of our virtual educational opportunities.

#3.  Use it or lose it! Put your new knowledge to use immediately. While attending a session, take note of those “a-ha” moments – you know, those times when you just learned something that you know will apply to your professional development. As soon as you are back in your office, decide how you can apply what you just learned.

At a recent Boot Camp (a Nexion-exclusive, three-day event on how to be an incredibly successful travel agent), an agent asked a great question. “Why use SNAP! (Nexion’s graphical air, car, hotel and rail booking tool) to book hotels rather than another popular online booking tool?” Our answer is by using SNAP! for hotel bookings, Nexion® agents have access to our exclusive hotel program rates and special amenities, and booking this special rate will guarantee commission. Also when booking in SNAP!, the reservation is automatically posted in our back-office system. Now she knew that she had access to these special rates and amenities for her clients, and guaranteed commission and less work for her by not having to manually post the booking!