After speaking with numerous advisors who have graced the cover of Luxury Travel Advisor over the years, we’ve compiled the Best of the Top Management Tips. These are the tips that came up the most and will help take your business from a concept to a successful agency.
Inspire/Know Your “Why”
So you want to create a thriving travel agency? First, to really create your brand, you have to know what drives you.
“Ensure your team understands and believes your brand story,” Julia Douglas tells us. “Without a clear identity and purpose, it’s more challenging to stand out to your clients and the competition.”
Tania Swasbrook echoes the sentiment, saying “Your “why” is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do, which allows you do inspire others. You can’t run a successful agency without putting your clients first, nor can your team inspire your clients without being inspired. As a manager, lead by example and set the pace for your team by your expectations so they can inspire and lead your clients.”
Both advisors here are referencing Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. If you haven’t read it, make it the next book on your list.
Build the Brand
Now you have your mission statement, you know why you’re selling travel. Now how do you create the right brand for what you want to do?
“Your service, culture, verbiage, and overall look are all opportunities to communicate your trustworthiness and travel expertise in this industry,” Wendy Burk says. “If you can create and protect a recognizable, consistent, sophisticated brand experience, your clients will have something tangible to relate to and personally connect with. Your vibe attracts your tribe: refine your brand and get yourself out there!”
“You don’t sell a product; you sell a way of life,” Swasbrook says. “If you are a luxury travel agency, you and your team need to understand what that means and reflect that to the world. Travel like a client would travel so you understand all the details it entails (within reason of course; it’s a case of taste testing!): dress well, speak well, and act well. Make sure you and your team are a unified front, a community that represents who you are.”
Craig Carter adds two pieces of advice in regard to the brand: stay true to the core business model (“It’s so easy to be distracted with so many other ideas that your core business can suffer.”) and avoid changing by addition (“When we decided to become a luxury service agency, it was not a decision until we also decided not to provide low-cost services to price-sensitive customers anymore.”)
Create the Right Team Culture
Once you’ve implemented the proper foundation for what your brand will represent, find the right advisors who fit your model and who will help you and each other get better.
“We all love to earn a comfortable living, but your colleague’s character and the company culture are critically important to their retention,” Burk says.
Troy Haas agrees, saying, “It all begins with who is on the team. So be very selective of who you select! Ask yourself if this person is someone you will enjoy being around every day, and if the answer is ‘no’ don’t hire!”
Steve Orens tells us that he makes sure his staff knows they have their back: “They can count on my support and dedication to them, and in return they provide the same. There are always things that come up – issues, challenges, errors. While we’d all like to avoid these things, they are reality. I always allow the staff to learn from these issues, and don’t overreact.”
He adds, “The best way to cultivate and keep a good staff is to treat them the way you want them to treat you, their peers and your clients.”
On the same note, Lia Batkin adds that the respect between employer and employee must go both ways. For instance, she says to be open to new ideas and suggestions from your advisors. “Not only will it help your business evolve but it will also empower your employees to constantly be thinking as well as feeling a part of the company’s growth.”
The world of travel is 24/7: There is never a point where you should comfortably be able to say you know it all.
“We are in the business of knowing ‘the world,’ Swasbrook says. “We need to keep up to speed on news, travel trends, locations, travel brands and more. Ours is a virtual world but at that, there is no such thing as 9-5…ever. It is a constant state of education and everyone has to be a part of it.”
And sometimes it’s not enough to just be on top of the news but ahead of it as Sheila Yellin tells us. “Although I have been doing this for many years I like to stay ahead of the curve – reading about trends and influences helps me stay ahead of the competition.”
Maintain the Ability to Adapt
Perhaps a travel advisor’s most useful asset is his or her ability to adept—in both the short-term and long-term. It’s unlikely that you’ve never had a trip that didn’t need a little last-minute magic. This is where you thrive.
Then there are also industry-changing events that you need to be able to adapt to. “You need the ability to adapt and be flexible to a dynamic industry where parts are always moving,” Yellin says. “The Internet changed the landscape of the travel market and I used it as an opportunity to find new ways to build the business and to expand our staff to meet these needs.”
“Downturns and severe drops (think 9/11 or 2008 financial crisis) are part of the reality,” Haas says. “So, have a plan to deal with a 25 percent downturn without doing layoffs, and then get the team in on the plan. We learned so much post-9/11 when everyone went on four-day weeks and took a 20 percent pay reduction together. Shared sacrifice builds shared success.”
Nurture Genuine Relationships
Everything is in place now: You know your “why;” you’ve built your brand and your team; you’re reading and staying on top of the newsiest news and you’re ready for anything. All that’s left is “simply” selling travel.
Burk says the most important aspect of the industry is personal connections—and that’s in reference to your team, your clients and your suppliers.
“As technology, automation and even artificial intelligence change the way we think about the travel-buying process, we must explore the power of personal connection,” she says. “It is truly the key to staying relevant in a service industry like ours. Consider how real human interactions and memorable, meaningful experiences will nurture your long-term relationships with both clients and team members.”
“Doing business with good people will put you on a path to success and will make you one of those good people,” Carter says. “Don’t be afraid to partner: Partnerships offer you the ability to enhance your skill set and accomplish your goals at a faster rate.”
Bob Romano tells us it’s important to know your clients well—and what they value. For example: “Know your client and don’t be afraid to sell up when appropriate. As air service diminishes in quality many of us are happy to pay for First Class or Business Class to have a decent start and finish to our trips. Private Jets are becoming increasingly important.” He also notes the importance of correspondence with your clients, saying “Every day I learn that people want rapid responses. We are constantly challenging ourselves to be able to deliver the best quality product and service within what our customers perceive as a reasonable amount of time.”