Priscilla Alexander, editor-at-large for Luxury Travel Advisor, shares her insights on reaching new markets with confidence and expertise.
Do you have to be married with kids to successfully sell family travel? Hardly. Do you have to be a senior citizen yourself in order to orchestrate travel for retirees? Nonsense. Do you have to be a member of the "one percent" to select appropriate vacations for the wealthiest of the wealthy? Uh, you know the answer.
So, do you have to be a certain age to be an effective travel advisor for that rapidly emerging segment of our population identified as Millennials? Of course not!
Let us all agree: Age, gender or race are not the qualifying criteria to determine the effectiveness of a salesperson. However, it seems quite another matter when we hear the clamor to attract younger people into the retail travel industry. But this is very different from claiming, because of their ages, they immediately possess attributes that are sure pathways to success. It’s simply that no industry can sustain itself without replenishing its troops. Today, there are indeed real opportunities for young people to have a fulfilling career selling travel. It is also an accepted truth that today advisors must be more intelligent, ever more informed, and entirely worldly with well-honed communication skills. Let us not forget the need to understand the value of marketing and sales techniques. It takes years with solid mentoring to sell luxury travel. There are no shortcuts.
In the meantime, the established advisors who have spent years perfecting these very skills must not abdicate their positions as the best in the business. In fact, the established successful luxury seller is perfectly positioned to answer the needs of this young dynamic demographic. It is a golden opportunity to expand any clever advisor's book of business. Does it require making some accommodations? For sure. Just as a good seller has developed, over the years, a technique to speak to different customers with different voices, Millennials have introduced a new way of communicating and connecting, influenced by social media affecting patterns of work habits and devotion to discretionary time.
Here's the good news: Millennials love to travel, seeing it not as a reward but a vital part of their life agendas. Many have grown up already seasoned travelers. It fits in with their thirst for interactive experiences and adventure. They are culturally more open-minded and members of the largest generation of formally educated people. Complementing the desire to travel is the ability to fully indulge this wish. They show every indication of rapidly achieving high levels of affluence at a remarkably young age.
That's all the good news. Here's the flip side: They are smart. Gone are the days when you can bluff your way through a sale. They are also agile, moving around to sites on the internet most have never heard of to find information. You have to be on their clock. Structured hours are a thing of the past. The operative word is "fluid:" You too have to make yourself available to them, geared to how they operate. I was just told of a young family member working in a small, new, highly coveted startup company who had a day off this week. When I questioned why he told me it was Bill Murray's birthday. The owner of the company loves this comedian so much he honors him with a holiday for all. This same young Millennial, after only working in this company for weeks, was allowed to leave for a ten-day trip to Africa that family members had arranged months before. The owners (Millennials themselves) thought that would be a great experience for his personal development. My, how times they are a-changing! Do not be fooled: Millennials work very hard and often with crazy hours, ignoring any nine-to-five, five-day work schedule. Equally important, they play hard: Vacations are a given—short and long, often and interesting.
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Have you ever realized that many young folks are actually offput by mature (anyone older than they) advisors thinking they don't qualify? You may already know their parents but never followed where their kids are. Studies have shown that Millennials don't use travel advisors because they don't know one or how you use their services. They know how to interact with OTAs but often fumble around arranging personal itineraries. What this whole scenario lacks is any personal touch. Doesn't everyone appreciate and love the advice and assistance of a warm, responsive hand? Time to start romancing the kids.
There is a chance this may be a good introduction to the world's next wave of travelers. Millennial parents will foster a new generation of young travelers, all with their own unique tastes and a heightened sense of adventure. Who knows—mature advisors today may be in demand well into their nineties.