There was already a good buzz in the air when Luxury Travel Exchange (LTX) kicked off this week on Tuesday; the Young Leaders Conference (YLC) had already been going on since Sunday night and attendees had enjoyed a Monday filled with seminars and panels led by their peers, focusing on such topics as how to perfect your selling pitch, delivering the wow factor and how to deal with damage control. Attendees were extremely engaged with each other during discussions and the consensus was that these “fresh faces” to the industry have matured to the point where they’re well beyond “travel agency sales 101, phase” said Travel Agent magazine’s senior editor and event co-host, Joe Pike.
The Young Leaders Conference attendees stayed on for LTX (both conferences were held here in Las Vegas at The Venetian), injecting a dynamic and collegial spirit into LTX even as it was just beginning. Those of us who were just arriving got our own sense of “wow” during LTX’s general session, particularly from presenter Juliet Funt of WhiteSpace, who spoke on how to let up on our obsessions with digital communications and how to relax our minds so that we’ll return to a normal state where we’ll be able to think creatively once again.
“Jack Welch of General Electric spent one and a half hours a day looking out the window,” Funt told us, advising that for starters, we should at the very least clear off our desks and get the clutter out of the way.
“Figure out what you can get rid of,” she also advised, noting that email is by far and away the worst culprit when it comes to stealing our quality time. Try to set certain times of the day when you’ll check email, she said, even if it’s as often as every half hour. “That’s ok, as long as your have purposeful periods of abstention,” said Funt.
When it comes to writing emails, you can cut back on the clutter of responses you’ll get by writing them “clearly, with levity and with punch,” she said.
A final message from Funt, who peppered her presentation with humorous clips from Candid Camera, the show produced by her famous father, Allen Funt, was that we should learn to “redistribute our excellence” by not trying to have our hands in every single project going on around you to ensure it’s done right.
“Control what you can control,” she said, advising that perfectionists should make it a point to let others do things in their own way, even if there is a fear they’ll fail. She described a scene in which she observed her mother and brother trying to open a pair of scissors encased in impenetrable plastic. Funt held herself back, trying to her suppress her urge to scream that they should find another pair of scissors to open the package. In the end, they somehow opened it without her help. “And guess what,” admitted Funt, “Nobody died!”
LTX advisors continued to be inspired by their profession the following day, attending panels in which advisors and suppliers counseled each other on such topics. Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, ran a seminar entitled, “From Agent to Advisor,” providing an amazing array of tips that will elevate both the personal and professional image of travel consultants.
“How you present yourself to your clients matters,” Scully told a packed room of travel advisors, noting that emails should be written as carefully and as thoughtfully as you would write handwrite a letter.
The art of standing out is another topic advisors should focus on. “Become the go-to expert, but first you have to decide how to present yourself, just be sure to present yourself as an expert,” she said. How to decide what to excel in? “Pick what you’re very good at, because that’s where the fun comes in,” she said. “Think about what makes you happy.”
Tactical measures to become an expert in a specific area of travel should include “going to the rep who sells it and asking them how they can help you sell it better,” said Scully.
When it comes to retaining clients, she recommended creating a business plan for each of them. This includes creating long-term travel goals for them and reaching out to them at least four times a year. The best way to do that, she said, was to simply go in to Clientbase and selecting four days of the year that you’ll be pinged to call the customer. You should also create notifications to call them to wish them a happy birthday, and don’t hesitate to send them flowers on their anniversary, said Scully. Along those lines, when they arrive in their hotel room be sure you’ve sent them a special gift with a personal note that references their interests. Books are great gifts for clients, she said. “And if you know that a family likes to play board games, have a game of Scrabble set up in their hotel rooms with a note from you set on top of it.”
As for suppliers, you should pay attention to what the hotel brands are doing these days, she cautioned the audience, calling attention to the new hotels that Shangri-la, Rosewood, Ritz-Carlton, Starwood, Four Seasons and other brands opening. You should actually qualify your clients for a certain brand of hotels as you would a tour company or cruise line, said Scully.
One piece of advice was reminiscent of Juliet Funt’s presentation on injecting “WhiteSpace” back into your day. Scully’s tip was to take 10 minutes each morning, prior to turning on your email, and contemplating what you need to learn about that day to make yourself a better advisor. The practice could include something as simple as catching up on what the various hotel brands are up to, she said.
Down the hall, another dynamic presentation was taking place on “Cooperative Marketing: How to leverage co-op dollars through strategic marketing plans,” moderated by Kier Matthews of Europe Express.
Leslie Overton of Absolute Travel told advisors in the audience that when it comes to approaching suppliers for funding they shouldn’t be shy. “Go to the vendor with your idea, whether it involves a hotel in Morocco that you just stayed in and fell in love with, or something else,” she said. “We need to be more proactive instead of waiting for vendors to come to us. It shouldn’t be coming from the top down,” she said.
Eric Maryanov of All-Travel.com said his agency’s practice is this: “Any time a BDM comes to us saying they need help with something we ask what they are willing to invest first,” he said, noting that his agency engages in such programs only with “super-preferred suppliers.”
His top tip of the day? “This is a great time of year to see if suppliers have any funds left in their budgets. They often want to spend it as they don’t want it sitting there in the new year. We ask them how we can work together to maximize it,” said Maryanov.
One advisor in the audience asked the panel for advice, saying she had approached a supplier for co-op dollars only to be told she needed to accomplish several feats before being given money.
“I get offended when a vendor says they are ‘giving’ me money,” said Maryanov. “They are investing money, not giving it to me.”
Overton of Absolute Travel offered her own sage advice to the advisor in the audience. “It’s not ok if a supplier wants you to do all the work and then maybe you’ll get something from it,” she cautioned.