Alex Sharpe’s Five Top Priorities for Travel Advisors

On Tuesday, Signature Travel Network launched its Virtual Connections series—ongoing, online programming “designed to inspire and inform by connecting preferred partners, members and their clients, and deliver simple, tactical initiatives to drive sales.” They are planned to run from August into December.

During the kick-off event, Signature president and CEO Alex Sharpe shared his five top priorities to help travel advisors find success during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. They are:

1. Meaningful Conversations – What Is Your Personal Daily Quota?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in everyone’s business—to put it lightly. And even though destinations or properties may be closed, and clients were cancelling trips, it’s important to stay connected with them. Sharpe says, in a normal year, he would be on the road 120 days, connecting with Signature members and partners across the globe. Now, however, he says “I’ve had to be more thoughtful, meaningful in reaching out and making sure that I’m connecting with everyone through this crisis.”

Whether it’s by text, a phone call or a Zoom chat, advisors need to keep their clients up to date and get them thinking about travel again. “It’s always been a priority to connect one-to-one but now, more than ever, it’s absolutely essential,” Sharpe adds. Clients want to hear from you—they want to learn what’s going on and they want to talk about where they’re dreaming of going in the future, once they can.

“This is a healing process, and being connected is so important for us to move through this and into the next phase,” Sharpe says.

2. FCCs and FTCS – What Is Your Conversion Rate?

Advisors: Do you have a full view of your clients’ future travel credits and are you storing that in your database? These travelers have gift certificates, as Sharpe called them, that are commissionable to you. In fact, suppliers have awarded over $450 million in FTCs during the pandemic. What are you doing to get your clients to put that down on their next trip and restart the planning process?

It’s also important to note that these FTCs are assigned to your clients—not you. Make sure your clients rebook through you and not directly or with another advisor because they don’t know better. Sharpe also notes that suppliers should provide which clients have received FTCs to agencies. As some advisors may have been furloughed or laid off, it will help agencies keep track of their clients and so current advisors can follow up with them

3. Specialization – What Is Your Difference?

Signature, Sharpe says, has always advocated specialization—whether it’s a destination or a passion point. Beyond those, however, Sharpe adds “We all need to be specialists in is health and safety protocols.” Clients want to know what it’s like to fly right now; what the requirements are for entry to a given country; or what a hotel is doing to promote social distancing.

Sharpe says that Signature is aggregating this information on SigNet and will create summary sheets, so that it’s at advisors’ fingertips and is easier to break down. He tells suppliers: “If you have it (travel requirements, health protocols, etc.), we need it … Send us more than you think we want.”

4. Honor Your Expertise – Are You Asking for What You Deserve?

As an advisor, are you charging fees? Are you getting paid upfront for your work?

Similar to specialization, Sharpe says “This has been a priority for many, many years and this crisis has absolutely underscored how essential this best practice is.” Even agencies who have long been charging fees are rethinking their payment methods—and that doesn’t necessarily just mean charging more. “You can’t underestimate your worth,” Sharpe adds. “You’re advisors not agents … and you should be paid for your advice and your assistance through this process.”

Charging fees, an early commission payment initiative (which is being pursued by Signature with industry partners) and selling travel insurance are all ways to help advisors get paid now.

5. Focus on Opportunity – Embrace the Possibilities

It can be hard to put a silver lining on what’s going on right now, Sharpe says. Everyone in the industry is dealing with an incredible amount of change—and with that can come confusion and fear. But this “downtime” provides opportunities to learn new skills or rethinking your business model.

Sharpe notes that after 9/11 travel was no longer seen as a luxury but a necessity. The same notion was reinforced after the Great Recession in 2007-2008. It will likely be confirmed again once the pandemic begins to slow. “After being cooped up for months … that passion for travel has never been stronger,” Sharpe says.

He also notes there will be attrition in the industry, as there already has been. But, Sharpe adds, “there will never be a time when an advisor is more valued than after this—your expertise, your information, your advocacy for a destination or a partner [are needed].” Customers are going to want handholding, he adds.

And, as for that attrition, Sharpe believes it will lead to greater revenue per advisor in 2020 than in 2019—and 2021 will be even better than that. Overall, he says he’s “excited about the future for all of us.”

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