The most difficult thing about being a new travel agent may be dealing with disappointment if sales success doesn’t come right away.
Veteran agents and educators, however, say the first few months are not the time to focus on big sales. Instead, they should be devoted to laying the groundwork for future success.
Here’s what the experts advise.
Don’t set an immediate sales goals: Diving into a first job with determination to meet pre-set sales goals is a big mistake that will lead to discouragement, according to Jennifer Doncsecz, president, VIP Vacations.
Instead, she counsels new hires at her agency to focus on learning the ropes and acquiring the skills that will lead to success.
“I actually begin by not having a sales target for the first few months,” she said. “This gives time to learn and not be disappointed. Agents see their value when they sell so it’s important to teach sales skills and not set unrealistic goals.”
Doncsecz encourages new agents to “shadow” and assist veteran colleagues, an arrangement that can be beneficial for both.
“A lot of really high producing agents need assistance and this is a great way to start a newbie so they can learn to model themselves after a top performer,” she said.
Andi McClure-Mysza, co-president of Montrose Travel, also encourages new agents reach out to others in the office.
“Ask for help when you need it – don’t sit quietly and suffer,” she said. “Pay attention to the company culture and integrate with people. Be open to learning from others.
“If you act like a know-it-all, which some people do as a defense mechanism, it will put people off and they won’t want to teach and train you.”
Don’t be swayed by jaded colleagues: While there is much to learn from experienced colleagues, be aware that some in the industry have outdated notions of what it takes to succeed today, said consultant Nolan Burris, president of Future Proof Travel Solutions.
“Don’t let other people’s jaded notions of the industry cloud your vision,” he said. “Some still wish for the days when the airlines paid commissions and gave us free tickets.
“But we’re no longer in the airline business. Now it’s about selling and marketing yourself as a travel consultant.”
Burris advocates for agents to charge consulting fees for their services rather than rely solely on commissions.
The influence of colleagues “with the old mind set” can be detrimental, he said.
“A woman I know who was hired by an agency was all fired up about charging fees as a consultant for high-end clientele,” he said. “She says that the rest of her office believes she is an idiot. However, she is succeeding in spite of her co-workers.”
In particular, new agents who want to build a clientele among young consumers need to follow the consultancy model, Burris said.
“The generation that is most likely to pay a fee to a travel agent are the millennials,” he said. “But unlike past generations, they will not pay you to make the booking. What they will pay for is advice, support and advocacy.”
Don’t be too specialized: While having a specialty or niche is desirable, new agents—whether they are independent or employed by an agency—shouldn’t be too quick to specialize, according to McClure-Mysza.
“If you are an agency employee, you need to do what your agency needs you to do,” she said. “If the agency wants you to be a jack-of-all trades, you need to be able to do this.
“However, after you’ve been there awhile you can get a better idea of where most of the business is coming from, perhaps Hawaii or Europe, and you can see where to focus your efforts.”
New agents who start as independent contractors should also be open to pursuing the most likely sources of business, McClure-Mysza added.
“We encourage independents to be a jack-of-all-trades the first year or until they can develop a prospect list,” she said. “You may walk into the industry intending to focus on family travel, but instead find the low-hanging fruit is actually retired people who want river cruises.
“Cater to those people on your doorstep. See where the client base takes you and naturally go in that direction.”
Be a sponge: When it comes to education and training, experts advise pursuing as much of it as can be realistically worked into the schedule.
To learn the basics, Patty Noonan, CTC, director of sales for The Travel Institute, recommends taking the Institute’s Travel Introductory Program (TRIPKit), which provides materials used by many travel and hospitality schools around the country.
“Once you have the basics, you can then move to administration lessons such as GDS and CRS,” she said. “Participate in everything. Take advantage of every opportunity.
“Spend time with a veteran agent who is willing to share their knowledge. Take supplier training, live and online. Be a sponge.”
Get educated on sales as well as on products While training focused on destinations and supplier products is important, sales and operational training is even more crucial, according to Scott Koepf, senior vice president of marketing for Avoya Travel.
“Too much emphasis is placed on product education – that should only be about 25% of your training,” Koepf said. “Focus on the things that help you make money – like sales, operations and technology. These things aren’t so sexy, but they’re essential.”
Don’t be a dabbler: Koepf also urges new agents to realize that building a successful business requires a full-time commitment.
“Those who just dabble in the industry don’t go very far,” he said. “People think they can be an agent part-time while they do something else full-time, but that doesn’t work.
“The consumer is going to want access to the agent on a regular basis. You have to put in the time to be educated.”
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