It’s safe to say that the great travel advisors move at 50 miles per hour. They’re engaging with clients, nurturing relationships with suppliers and putting together complex dream vacations. And you can add to this a roster of other impressive activities, such as sharing their world knowledge with colleagues, learning about new destinations and hotels and, oh, taking care of basic business operations to be sure the lights stay on.
This is just a standard day for most travel advisors, but it’s those who have the backing of a truly great host agency who are the real success stories and who have a healthy bottom line to show for it.
A strong host agency matters because it’s performing a number of important tasks while the travel advisor is busy with their standard whirlwind of activity. A great host provides seamless technology that makes it oh, so simple to put together sophisticated itineraries with the click of a mouse from anywhere across the globe. That same host has access to amazing marketing programs that reach out to the advisor’s most loyal clients (under the agency’s name, of course) and even those prospective clients they haven’t met yet. A good host agency chases down commissions that are overdue, and the best part? It doesn’t ask for loads and loads of money upfront, so it’s doesn’t break the travel advisor’s bank. In fact, the host agency’s commission plan is so attractive, the advisor can sleep well at night, knowing they’ve made a good choice.
The Good and the Bad
During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we reached out to travel advisors to determine which host agencies got it right, and which ones got it outrageously wrong.
Let’s get to the punch. The losers on the list displayed poor communication during the times when it was needed the most. Some gave the air of being indifferent to all of the problems, but the worst offenders (after those who did nothing at all) were tone deaf to the situation. They sent out “funny” cartoons on what it was like to be a travel advisor immersed in misery, or else blasted their members with optimistic missives that didn’t reflect the reality of an industry that had screeched to a halt.
“The role of a passionate community is an integral part of a successful IC business,” says Mary Kleen, director of advisor services at Travel Edge. “We have taken this time at Travel Edge to lead with transparency and community. Communication is key in uniting us all through this stormy climate. A great host agency is only as good as its IC community – we are finding unity and support through weekly community calls, regional communications – and my personal favorite is our Wine Fridays Trivia Nights because it allows us the opportunity to glean from each other over the highs and lows of the week and provide a true platform for an open discussion about our businesses.”
Do Business with the Best
It’s hard to believe, we know, but there are always those who rise during a crisis and those who sink.
Those host agencies that rose to the occasion communicated valuable information constantly to their independent contractors; they were at the ready with constant updates on supplier cancellation and refund policies, airline schedule changes and anything COVID-19 related that applied to travel, including government programs providing relief to ICs.
It takes enormous resources for any executive management team to be do all that, but the really good ones took it several steps further to help their advisors shape their businesses for the future. Education during the down time was consistently promoted via webinars and other forms of virtual training and we hear that plenty of morale support was provided along the way.
In short, displaying strong leadership is the common trait of the best host agencies that are helping their advisors make it through this very challenging time.
“At Travel Edge we have set up support teams for ICs giving them direct access to the best legal, finance and human resource professionals who understanding the urgently evolving world – and how it affects our advisors and their business” says Michael Johnson, executive vice president, Travel Edge Leisure. “A truly strong community invests in each other – we celebrate the craft of the luxury advisor at Travel Edge – we are dialing up regional supplier training and development support, we are working to ensure advisor commission payments get released, securing government financial support and client credits for future travel - most importantly recognizing those going above and beyond for their clients. A strong host agency should be in the trenches with their advisors every step of the way.”
To the Future!
This same support structure should live on, even after the travel industry returns to a “new normal.”
When considering a host agency, successful travel advisors will want to be sure that their network, even during the good times, enables a strong sense of community by bringing top performers together in either live or virtual venues to share ideas and foster new friendships. Successes should be recognized and celebrated with other humans; we’ve certainly found that to be true during the COVID-19 era. Being a busy independent contractor who is working most hours of the day can be a solitary experience, but with a great host agency, an advisor is never really alone.
“At the end of the day we are all humans supporting each other through a truly uncertain time,” says Kleen. “We believe dedicated support will help IC business stay the course for better days – but heart is just as important. I can speak for the leadership team at Travel Edge when I say it’s also important at this time to support the heart of our IC community. I am looking forward to our exclusive recognition trips, luxury travel conferences and recognizing our advisors with the industry awards they deserve in our post pandemic world. A great host agency should care about you as a person – through your highs and your lows we are stronger together.”