Nowadays, it seems that around every virtual corner is a new website offering travelers cheap and fast access to all the services they used to rely on from travel agents. As an independent travel agent, you may be wondering how you can stack up against sites like Expedia, Travelocity or Priceline. Are travel agents doomed to become a thing of the past? Of course not! There is still plenty of room in the travel market for independent travel agents who follow these tips:
Have an area of expertise and market this specialized knowledge
How can one individual compete with the vast amount of information offered by travel websites? You don't have to. Many independent travel agents find success specializing in one certain area of travel or vacation planning. Perhaps you're a master when it comes to cruise bookings, or have indepth knowledge of traveling through Japan. Clients will come to you for your expertise when the travel websites overload them with information. This specialized knowledge is something that can't be mimicked by online travel sites.
Know those travel websites and what they offer
You've heard the saying “know your enemy.” Chances are many of your clients are aware of what those travel sites offer and will bring them up when they speak with you. By being up to date with these websites, you'll be able to show clients that the low fare ticket is actually for stand-by seating or that the hotel room is actually non-refundable. Not every deal offered on travel websites is a good value. As an independent travel agent, it's important to know how those travel websites may be lacking when it comes to fulfilling the unique needs of your clients.
Offer personalized, friendly service to your customers
One huge thing travel websites aren't able to offer is personalized, friendly customer service that goes past the moment the customer enters their credit card online. If you want to stand out from the online travel sites as an independent travel agent, focus on giving their clients excellent customer service. Remember client's’ specific needs and preferences. Offer a friendly face that genuinely cares about the quality of their trip. Don’t give them a sales pitch, give them real conversation that shows you're there to help them. You’ll build customer loyalty and trust by going above and beyond the impersonal customer service offered by travel websites.
Be your customers’ support when things go wrong
The internet doesn't follow traditional business hours, and in order to be successful as an independent travel agent you may have to be willing to break with the 9 to 5 mentality as well. Your clients may need immediate help when they're running late for a flight or severe weather throws their plans awry. You don’t need to become your own 24-hour call center, but being available in emergencies gives you a competitive edge over travel websites.
Travel websites seem here to stay, but that doesn’t mean independent travel agents are no longer in demand. There are many shortcomings to those sites that show the value of booking travel with a professional agent. While the travel profession will undoubtedly continue to evolve, independent agents who adapt with the market will still find success and thrive.