Las Vegas Travel Agent Forum 2019: #HARlive Highlights

April 1, 2019

The Dealio

Ahoy there, worker bees! 🐝🐝🐝I'm wearing the hat of the Travel Agent Forum Correspondent for travel agents who weren't able to make it to Vegas. For each panel, I wrote down some summaries with tips from the panelists. Later, I will go in more depth on the panels and the great info panelists shared.

You can take a shortcut to the panels below and see what strikes your fancy!


⭐️ HAR Article Highlights: ⭐️

  1. Travel Seller 2.0—Working Smarter (Not Harder) with Technology
  2. General Session
  3. [VIDEO] What You Need to Know Before Selecting a Host Agency
  4. Technology, Change and the Law
  5. Successful Group & Contract Strategies
  6. Converting Leads to Happy Clients
  7. It's the Law
  8. Suppliers Share: Do's and don'ts of Great Travel Sellers
  9. How to Scale Your Business for Success

Travel Seller 2.0 - Working Smarter (Not Harder) With Technology

2019 Travel Agent Forum: Travel Seller 2.0
A packed room at Travel Seller 2.0


I'm not going to mince my words. Travel technology and tools can be intimidating. Especially if you feel like you're starting from scratch, and your primary CRM consists of sticky notes and manilla envelopes (if this is you—you're not alone). The most important thing to do is take a deep breath, and remember that adopting technology is a part of travel agency growth. Not only do you not need to "do it all" when it comes to tech, but you also don't have to do it at once. (Heck, you don't even have to toss out all your paper files if you don't want to).

The Panelists

  1. Sharon Little (facilitator), Wedding and Honeymoon Travel Group
  2. Miki Taylor, Taylor and co Travel
  3. David Chait, founder of Travefy
  4. Ron Doster, Director of Business Development for TESS

The panelists included a travel agent and technologist perspective, and they walked agents through the importance of adopting technology in the 21st century. Here's a few big picture insights I gleaned from the panel:

  1. You don't have to be in competition with tech: It’s not about competing with technology, but leveraging technology to help you automate your process as much as possible so you can focus on the tasks that use your expertise.
  2. You don't need to do it all: You don't need to adopt all technology tools at once. Consider where you are losing the most time (getting cc info? putting together itineraries?) and figure out if there is a tool to help streamline/ automate that process for your business.

A few fun statistics from sharon

Sharon offered a few statistics to show the importance of adopting technology (if you haven't already)

  1. “In the next 10 years there will be 2 Billion international travelers”
  2. “28% of 3 year old children can operate an iPad or a tablet” (this is the future of your clientele)
  3. “80% of online travelers want an answer instantly” — they expect a response within an hour
  4. “Half of online travelers today are using voice-assistive technology”
  5. “Air BnB has one of the highest levels of customer loyalty in the travel industry” (even though they don’t even have a loyalty program)

What is a technology stack?

What kinds of technology might you consider incorporating into your business model? These different kinds of tech tools are called a "technology stack," according to Sharon. Here's a few examples of what might be included in your "technology stack:"

  1. Website
  2. Social Media
  3. Email marketing
  4. CRM
  5. Invoicing and payments
  6. Booking Engine
  7. Itinerary tools
  8. Calendars
  9. Work flow program
  10. Online credit card Processing or booking engines

How do you determine which technologies your agency might be ready for? According to Sharon, ask yourself this, "where is your biggest bottleneck today?" What tasks do you spend the most time on that take away from focusing on sales? Which tasks create the most stress for you? What tools might help you be more responsive to your clients and will save you time?

audience Q & A

Curious if any agents at the panel had the same question as you? Check it out here! Don't see your question, or still looking for more answers? Reach out to us at hello@hostagencyreviews.com!

1. Tech budgets

Q: What is Miki’s tech budget: (A little context: Miki is a solo agent who sells 1M in travel. She has over 15 travel tools in her "technology stack")

A. Micki: $400/ month approximately

A. Sharon Little: $12,000 last year, but her sales growth was 10x more: “I’m always willing to adapt [my budget] based on the problem the technology will be able to solve.” (She is currently looking for something similar to GoogleDocs to share group Docs. The other piece that has had the most impact was the social media manager. Most of her marketing budget is spent on social. Her largest clientele is Millennials, and due to the nature of their niche (destination weddings in Jamaica), They are out there trying to find new brides every day.)

A. David Chait: It’s not about the specific number, but your ROI when it comes to determining a budget.

2. Collecting credit card Payments

Q: What are your thoughts about collecting payments through an agency vs. making transaction go through between client/ tour operator?

A. Sharon: Her agency collects and processes all of their clients’ payments. They lose the 3% merchant fee, "When I'm looking at a contract, I might be making 27% commission, but I usually end up with a 20-21% if I go direct. 90% is direct, 10% through tour operator. Merchant-direct has a lot more risks." She has won 4 out of 5 chargebacks.

A. Miki: Her agency sells a little bit of everything and mostly goes through supplier.

A. TESS is trying to make it easier to sell packages directly from multiple vendors.

A. David: Agents need to ensure all their transactions (directly or through the supplier) are PCI compliant. Are they in regulation with PCI rules? This is important to consider.

A. Sharon: some large vendors are not PCI compliant (they ask for cc card info over email with a form). She feels agents needs to refuse to pay them in order to educate industries.

What is PCI compliance? Read TravelWeek's report on it here!


3. Getting technical

Q: What's next for tech updates at Travefy and Tess? how do they decide what's next?

A. Ron: TESS is introducing a plan that will enter group hotel info. Agents will be able to build sites for individual suppliers and clients can explore more on agent sites. It's important before you partner with a technologist to consider frequently they release updates. This should be at least quarterly.

Q: Should agents build a custom website or buy one off the shelf?

A . David: At Travefy, when considering developing vs. adopting technologies, they ask themselves, "Is this core to our business? If it is, then we’ll build it." With an agency website, consider if the website is core to how you operate your business. For example, does it include e-document, intake forms, cc processing etc. Or is it more a place where you need to be found? If the latter is the case, it may not really worth the time and money to build your own site.

* If you conduct a high volume of sales directly from your site, you will likely want to invest in a custom site.

Want to see an example of an agency that conduct high sales volume online? Check out Elite Sports Tours, an agency an audience member owns and conducts over 1M of sales online.

A. Sharon: “In Scotland we have a saying that goes, 'suck it and see' . . . try it, and if it doesn’t work for you, move on to the next one.”

4. Catering to Millennials

Q: IF you selling tours, how do you cater to millennials who want to process or submit a payment to the agency so the agency can send it along to the tour operator?

A: David: VANs (Virtual Account Numbers). These are virtual credit cards that offer the ability for your client to authorize their card for a certain amount. You don’t get their cc info, you get the authorized virtual card that can only be used for a specific type of purchase and a specific amount.

A. Ron: In TESS, what you’d do is use the client portal which has info on every trip they’ve every done. Clients can communicate with agent through the portal and submit requests to submit certain payment amounts. Everybody in group will be connected to the app. Now they can authorize payments within the app.

5. to blog or not to blog

Q: What do you think about blogging your clients’ trips? Do you put it on your agency page or keep it separate?

A. Miki: She runs a blog that is a completely separate website from her agency site (she started her travel blog before she began her agency). She has a passion for blogging and sharing her travel journey. Since she started her blog first, there is a hyperlink on her agency blog and redirects clients to the independent blog site. This gives an opportunity to show a different side of her personality to clients.

A. David: "This is the good and the bad news for everyone. There’s no silver bullet that something will go viral. There’s no one thing that’s going to drive all the traffic instantaneously. 1. A blog can add a ton of value to you and your brand. And blogs like other things pay dividends over time, and will enhance your search-ability and discoverability." (David also mentioned, this is more helpful if your agency has a very specific niche)

A. Ron: "If you say you’re going to do it once a week, do it once a week."

If blogging brings you a lot of passion and joy and helps you connect, it can be a great investment of time. If it's one of those tasks that will end up becoming a distraction, your time is likely better spent doing something else.



General Session (a Few Tips on Chatting with Suppliers)

At conferences, I'm kind of a sucker for the early morning inspiration to help rev up my motivation for the day. Here's a few great soundbites from the speakers, Charlie Sylvia, Vice President of Membership and Trade Relations, CLIA, and Marilyn Cairo, Director of Retail Sales North America, Karisma Hotels & Resorts:

What is the worst thing an agent can say to a supplier at a trade show? According to Charlie Sylvia, it's "How can I be expected to sell your product if I’ve never experienced it myself?"

Charlie reminded agents that going to trade shows is much more than taking home tsotchkes for your clients, and brining home supplier materials for honing your expertise. At the end of the day, it's about developing strong alliances.

He advised advisors to take a deep dive and develop a marketing strategy with the suppliers with whom you resonate. What to say when you find one of those supplier? Charlie advised agents to end your conversation with, “I’m really interested in your product and I’d really like to take a deep dive and move the sales number in your product.”

Marilyn advised agents that from a supplier perspective, it doesn’t matter what agency you represent. She only cares about who you are. “When you meet with these suppliers you are not representing ABC travel, you are representing yourself”

Marilyn encouraged agents to soak up the opportunities at the conference, and applauded attending agents who were at the session for showing up for their business.



What You Need to Know Before Selecting a Host Agency

HAR got to represent at the Travel Agent Forum this year . . . and by "HAR," I mean Steph Lee! She hosted a panel on what you need to know before choosing a host agency. Check it out in its full glory!



Technology, Change and the Law (with Laurence Gore)

Presenter: Laurence Gore, ESQ

Phew! Laurence covered a lot of ground in this session! If you're not seeing something you're looking for, you'll want to refer to our handy dandy list of travel industry lawyers. You can also take a shortcut to check out my notes from Laurence's second session here.

As always, I hope it goes without saying that I am not a lawyer! I am merely paraphrasing what an actual lawyer, Laurence Gore, talked about at the Travel Agent Forum. So if you think this constitutes legal advice, I hate to say it . . . but you are woefully wrong.

Let's dive in, shall we?

client agreements: What It can Include

  1. Jurisdictional clauses: As if getting sued isn't bad enough, it can become even more complicated if you are being sued from a client/person who is out of state. To protect yourself, consider using a jurisdictional clause in your client agreement.

→ Sample wording: "This agreement shall be governed by the laws of the state of [state where your agency is located]"

  1. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): ADRs are much less costly.

→ Sample wording: "if a dispute, controversy or claim arising out of or relates to this contract, or the breach thereof, the parties agree that said dispute shall be submitted to mediation administered by the [mediation company]"

  1. Specific Responsibilities Clauses. According to Laurence Gore, "If you put 3 or more aspects of the trip together, you are reliable for the trip in Europe. In the US system, you can be partially liable."
  2. If You're Selling Travel on the Internet: If you offer online booking, you may want to include a jurisdiction internet clause. Your best bet is to put the clause on your homepage, and have clients click on it to demonstrate their understanding. At the very least, have it written on the first page of your website.

→ Sample wording: The customer agrees that the use of this website for the booking of any travel shall limit the jurisdiction of the filing of any lawsuit or legal action whatsoever by customer to the courts of [county, state]. The applicable law shall be be that of the State of [your travel agency's state], county of [your travel agency county] or applicable Federal Law of the United States of America"

  1. Terms and Condition Statement
  2. CC authorization
  3. Disclaimers and Waivers
  4. These are not effective in cases of willful negligence. Some states do not allow waivers, so be aware of that.
  5. Waivers must be voluntary
  6. They must be clear and unambiguous
  7. Booking and Deposit info:
  8. Provide in writing when reservation is taken
  9. GDPR Compliance: If you're selling to European clients, you must be GDPR compliant

Agreement of Consent to Use of personal Information

Waivers and disclaimers can also include agreement of consent to use personal information—which agents need to book travel! The risk is what happens with that info when you pass it along to suppliers. To protect yourself, here's a few things to consider:

  1. Use the personal information only for booking trip.
  2. Agent retains the right to pass on client information to 3rd parties for the purposes of booking the trip
  3. Agents are not responsible for what 3rd party does
  4. Client agrees information is accurate.

SCAMS to LOOK out for

People like to steal personal information! Fun times! It's your responsibility to keep all that juicy data from your CRM under lock and key. Here's a few scams that Laurence talked about in his session:

  1. Fake a public wifi signals: People can create fake public wifi signals in order to get people to sign on in order to steal the data from their cellphones. For example we stayed at Paris, but their public wifi was under Caesar's Resorts. Would I know if someone made a "Paris Hotel" public wifi signal? Honestly, maybe not.
  2. Booking fraud and fake websites: Be careful when you go online that the entity really exists. Check the phone number on the site. Check the url and make sure it's what you think it is.
  3. Cruise Medallions: It's important to make clients aware that substantial personal information is available on the medallions and could be subject to theft.
  4. Email phising scams: People can create fake email accounts mimicking a corporate entity that look very realistic.
  5. Passport information: According to Laurence, this too is a major target:Used to track movement and blackmail.

In some cases, a data breech is enough to be considered harm—and if you gathered the information you could be sued. If something happens, do not try to cover it up. Tell client and pursue legal support immediately if information has been stolen or breeched, or if there's been an instance of fraud with a client.

A Blockchain is one potential protection against having your clients' data stolen from your devices. It's a cybersecurity platform that connects devices in a secure way, where each new device is recognized by providing a unique digital ID. While blockchains provide security, they are now getting hacked (especially with cryptocurrency).

We have totally geeked out on fraud before. Geek out with us here.

ADA Compliance

  1. Check ADA compliancy when you're booking with a supplier.
  2. If you have a storefront, you should look to be ADA compliant on your website according to the WCAG standard. (Home based agents are not held to this requirement)

Q & A

Q: What are the best e-signature digital capture systems?

A: "I can't tell you there's a best platform, but they have to comply with the federal digital signature act or a state digital signature act. But they are out there, and they are recognized."

Q: What is your legal opinion on resort fees?

A: "That's a huge controversy. Some states don't allow it. They have to be disclosed beforehand. If it was not disclosed at the time of the booking or in their advertising, then they can't charge the resort fee." . . . If a hotel is committing fraud (advertising one thing, but charging for another), "send them a letter saying you will report them to the state. Then report them to the state [if they don't respond]."

Q: Can you explain how a DBA works in terms of taxes and website protection?

A: You are allowed to use the DBA, but you should say somewhere on your site, "DBA of [name of corporation]' Otherwise, a DBA doesn't provide any sort of legal protection. It's basically an advertising vehicle.



Successful Group & Contract Strategies

The Panelists

  1. Anita Pagliasso, President & Founder, Ticket to Travel
  2. Alicia Steuart, Senior Director of Sales, Key Accounts & Carnival Independent Agent Team, Carnival Cruise Lines
  3. Janet Mosley, Owner, Leisure Lady Travel Agency
  4. Douglas Colon, CEO, DDT CSI
  5. David E. Rezaieh, Vice President/Airline Relations, Downtown Travel

Where do you find group business?

According to Douglas Colon,"You don't sell the business, you sell the feeling." This was something that many of the panelists touched on, emphasizing that you are selling the experience of travel. Anita mentioned, "If you introduce yourself properly, you can possibly sell them travel"

Janet, owner of Leisure Lady Travel Agency, used to work in a clinical setting. After she booked a trip for herself, many of her colleagues came to ask her for guidance and her groups business blossomed from there: "My clientele now is probably about 50% physicians and nurses. That evolves the groups. They send me groups. When you're taking in information, your CRM, and they tell you their hobbies . . . you target their yoga studio or you target those places."

How you find a pied piper?

Doug used to work in organized crime (ahem, fighting it :) ), and he jokes that he organizes his business similar to mobsters, setting up pied pipers in multiple large cities in order to help him grow his business. Doug incentives his friends with free travel to encourage them to help him grow his groups business.

Janet reminded the audience that potential pied pipers are not always motivated by free travel. During the panel Janet mentioned, "I don't go into it saying they're going to be paid. A lot of times they want the notoriety or visibility. We talked about me giving her the visibility and professionalism to plan a group."

Alicia added the importance of clarity,"Be clear in what a group leader can expect. You have to be really clear. Let them know exactly what it means. Don't oversell and give them something you don't have to. Identify expectation and have an incentive. If you don't 'have group business,' do you have someone who just loves to cruise? Talk to that person and plant a seed of an idea. If you get someone that loves to travel, loves to cruise, loves to fly, start there.

David also reminded the audience that being the leader isn't always fun and games. He said, "The group leader should not only be motivated to travel, the ticket is the free ticket, but you have to pay for the tax and facility charge or resort fee. You're not on your time, you're on group time. You wake up early and go to bed late. It's a lot of responsibility."

What to do When People Want to Tire Kick

Doug encouraged agents to "let clients go early on. If you find people who are [fishing for information], let them go early on. Let them know your time is valuable. They will drain your time, changing their itineraries, asking for new quotes and taking it to other agents or shopping it online. The basic thing you can do for yourself and your best state of mind, let them go and wish them well."

Janet told the audience a story of a group member who wanted to book her portion of the trip via an OTA, asking Janet to match the OTA quote, which did not include essential components of the trip such as transfers, excursions, fees etc. Janet referred to this kind of quote as a "naked quote," and said she doesn't provide them. She said, "All of your guests need to understand that you have a stake in this as well. Janet doesn't provide "naked quotes" — basic quotes that don't consider transfers, excursions, fees etc. Janet stated, "You have to stand your ground. I charge a fee before I even start a group."

On price matching:

Anita encouraged agents to remind their clients of their value. She mentioned that if a client comes with a lower quote, "you can tell them that you have fabulous connections with your BDM and ask them if they can meet it or beat [the quote]. Usually if you explain them the value you add, they won't come with an OTA price comparison."

Alicia reminded the audience of making your group incomparable, in order to establish your value as an agent. She said, "You can always ask for sponsorship money for larger groups. Providing sponsors, speakers, can make the event special and "incomparable" in terms of price matching." She gave an example of a craft cruise that contacted crafting magazines to sponsor on-cruise events for the group—something that could not be found online.

Janet reiterated the importance of creating your own value as an agent, "Leverage the highlights of your trip: if your trip has great biking, you could go to local bike shops to see if they want to sponsor, put up and add or do a trip on board. "You own the product. The product is you. The brand is you."

Janet also reminded agents, "Your BDM is your best friend." Janet asked her BDM to attend a meeting with multiple potential pied pipers to create a larger group, and the BDM helped make the sale.

Contract tips

Alicia talked about the importance of requesting special adds to suppliers up front; "If you're bidding out and talking to different suppliers, ask for those things from the get-go. If you wait until a few weeks before the trip, asking for a cocktail party, it will be too late."

Janet reminded agents that when it comes to contracts with suppliers, "Everything is negotiable. Don't just immediately sign the contract. look it over."

At the very least, David said, "If you do nothing else, make sure if you have attrition built into your contract." Attrition is a contract touchpoint that can be negotiated. Anita suggested, "If they come back with 10% attrition in a contract, ask them for 20%. Negotiate the number of free rooms. But make sure you do it right up front and get it writing. Be careful they are not quoting you a net rate. You want the quote to reflect what the clients will pay."

At the end of the day, when it comes to contract, read them, don't weep!

Keep calm and carry on

It can difficult for agents when/if groups wait for the last minute to submit their deposit for a trip. The panel talked about the terrible silence from groups that is bound to occur before a deadline approaches. According to Janet, "With family reunion groups, there's a panic that sets in when the deadline comes. You need to make it clear that they have a deadline. It's a group type that will lollygag . . . they're hoping that a rich uncle will pull out the card and keep the group together."

When this happens, Doug reminded agents to manage their expectations and not take it personal, "You have to remain professional. Don't get in your feelings. Keep in mind, everyone wants to go. 50% will really try. 15-20% will really go. Don't be emotional when they're giving you silent treatment. Don't take it personal. It's not you. All these things happen in your mind. You just keep it going."

Anita reminded agents to generate enthusiasm about the trip, "Create FB pages for your group to get people excited about it."

on Leading/ Escorting Groups:

Escorting a group trip is a far cry from a vacation (despite what your family and friends think!). Janet reminded agents that, "Leading a group is never your vacation. Structure the group by providing clear hours that you're available to travelers—a set time and place." Someone struggling with a lost luggage? Have a service issue with their room? Janet encouraged agents to delegate some of the leadership tasks to the pied pipers. At the end of the day, "You want to be the person that they want to travel with."

Don't forget to utilize resources and incentives available to you. Anita said, "Utilize hotel meeting planner programs. If they have one, sign up because you may get points for particular rooms.

A Random top tip on web content from janet:

Janet had a fabulous idea that provided clients with a major value-add to their vacation as well as great marketing fodder for her site. She offered a photography package to a group that traveled to Greece. With this benefit, she was able to create a huge value add for her client, but also use those customized photos for her website (with permission, of course!)



Converting Leads to Happy Clients

2019 Travel Agent Forum: Converting Leads to Happy Clients
A Paparazzi-quality photo of the panelists (listed below from left to right)

panelists:

  1. Richard Earls (Facilitator), Publisher, Travel Research Online
  2. Holly Hauser, District Sales Manager, Insight Vacations
  3. Marco Fernandes, Owner and Senior Vice President, Sagres Vacations
  4. Joe Jiffo, Vice President of Business Development, NEST
  5. Ron Gulaskey, Associate Vice President, North America National Accounts & Trade Associations, Celebrity Cruises

Building Trust

  1. Marco: "If you do a thorough job of communicating . . . if you see an article about a destination your client is going on, you can send it on. Or something about the ship they'll be sailing. You build trust by showing you're a real human being and doing things you can't get from an OTA."
  2. Joe: "Small details make a big difference. It's important to stand out. We mail postcards to customers for their birthday. As a specialist in Portugal and Spain, we're always looking at special events that are happening in those destinations and send them to clients so they can post them on their social media. It's key to offer suggestions. Your job is to offer suggestions because they may like an idea but never thought it was available. You have to think outside the box."
  3. Holly: "For me it comes down to one basic thing. I got into this industry for a passion and love of travel. That's one of the greatest trust-builders, sharing that passion. We're in the greatest industry in the world, and we get to make those dreams."
  4. Marco: "We sell based on experiences and try to appeal to five senses. Hopefully at the end of the day, we'll provide a customer a connection to one of these senses. We're selling an experience or a compilation of experiences."
  5. Ron: "You are a storyteller. If people come focused on the price in particular, if you show the excitement and passion vs. them reading on about it on the Google webpage, you'll be able to sell the experience."
  6. Holly: "Find out why they want to go to these places. How long have they wanted to go? This helps them to realize their passion and where it's coming from . . . it makes it real for them."

approaching the concept of value with clients

  1. Holly: "One of the things that we try to teach is the concept of benefits and features. You can look at a package, and say 'oh look, it's a balcony'—that's a feature. But what's the benefit? So it's about drilling down what the features are, but showing what the value of that feature if so you're making them understand the value."
  2. Ron: "The difference between you and a website is how you explain what it is. The size of a balcony doesn't mean anything to someone that's new to cruise. But if you explain what that sizes means, and what they could do to that space, that means a lot more."

Qualifying clients

  1. Ron: "If you put them on the wrong cruise ship, it comes back to the cruise line and they may never go on that brand again."
  2. Marco: "It's important to ask select question and [gauge] their interest level. Ask them what they've done on other vacations. Active listening is important. When they tell you about their past experiences and what their kids like to do, you begin to understand the experience they want."
  3. Joe: Find out the demographics of people traveling with them. You learn a lot from their past vacations. What did they like about their vacation? What didn't they like?
  4. Marco: All of us are not experts on everything. Use all the resources available to you. Your reps and BDMS.
  5. Holly: "Your rep for each company is invaluable. I love it when [agents] email me and asks me questions about our product. To me it's an opportunity to engage with the clients. Please don't hesitate to call [your BDM] with questions."
  6. Joe: "What I've seen agents do that's been very successful . . . the minute they come back from the vacation they just went on, send a welcome back basket and start to talk about their vacation and learn what they loved about it."

Establishing Expertise

  1. Marco: "Provide options. The more detail you provide on options, the more advantage you'll have over the internet and also over more agents who aren't doing their homework. Giving detailed information where you come out to be the destination expert within that region, hotel or whatever it is. It will make you stand out and start building that relationship."
  2. Holly: "We try to focus on the concept of time. Just tell your clients, 'you can spend 40 hours looking at this stuff online and come away just as confused as you started. But using my expertise and knowledge will give you some time in your life back and streamline the experience of your vacation. I'm going to help you get some of your time back.'

how to utilize resources of supplier

  1. Marco: "It's important to communicate with BDM and suppliers because things change. You want to ensure the accuracy of the information. You don't want it to be misconstrued, you want it to be clear. And you want it to be as niche as possible. You want to be accurate before any information leaves your office because it's a reflection on your agency."

How often to reach out to client?

  1. Joe: Stay in contact with them as much as possible. Don't let them go a couple weeks without hearing from them. In terms of the prospecting side, stop using weak words like, 'just checking in.' I'm a victim of that myself. But the point is, tell them why you're reaching out to them; 'we talked two weeks about about an Alaska Cruise on Celebrity to chat about your budget . . .' Get rid of weak words, 'just checking in' or 'how are things going.' Get to the point."
  2. Holly: "It's okay to set a timeline of expectations. 'I'm going to give you this information and follow up with you in two days.' Then do that. Then keep building a line of expectations through timelines. That's part of your checking in process. But it's being clear and up front that you are going continue talking about this until they're going on this trip, or they're not."
  3. Marco: "People will be impressed by your being more efficient and getting back to them quickly. If you come across something on the news, the wires, or on social media, send it to them. It will show them you are doing your homework, you care about your trip."
  4. Ron: "Figure out the way they want to communicate. Ask them. Just because they're Millennial, don't assume they don't want to call you. When you communicate, make it personalized. Don't send the same boilerplate email and change the name. Don't send them info on the same vacation they just took. Find out where they want to go next."
  5. Joe: "Provide a sense of urgency if there really is one. If prices or going up or if spaces are filling up."

Different touchpoints in different phases

  1. Marco: "Agents can utilize client social for their own promotional materials. Another thing that's important is the service at the end of the tour. You might have thought that everything went well from planning and booking, but now the client is back home and the client can attest to the reality of the tour. That information is priceless. The customer service part of it never truly ends because if you do it right, that customer will be a lifetime customer for you. If something went wrong, work with suppliers and BDMs and try to remedy it via a voucher or something. More and more today, people are looking for that attachment."
  2. Joe: "Don't let them go on board and buy things that you could earn a commission on. Try to book [amenities] before they go on. It's a 12-month cycle."

Other Tips

  1. Holly: "Don't sell out of your own pocket. It's okay to start with higher premiums if it's going to meet their expectations more." To avoid sticker shock, break down upcharges, upgrades per day per person. Saying a charge is 8$ per person per day extra, is lot less scary than quoting $8,000.
  2. Joe: "Tell clients that whatever they offer you [onboard] you can match. It's all a part of the communication process up front. Tell them, 'you're going to get approached by a person who is going offer you what sounds like a good deal. I can do the same thing for you.'"



It's the Law

Presenter: Laurence Gore, ESQ

2019 Travel Agent Forum: "It's the Law" with Laurence Gore
Laurence Gore, ESQ

Liability for home based agencies

  1. With new tax laws, you may want several LLCs to cover different parts of your business.
  2. The conduct causing the injury, was it related to the tour or what it something that happened on their own?
  3. What promises were made on tour brochure? Courts will assume you have knowledge of the supplier.
  4. e-signatures have the same legal standing as pen and paper.

INsurance (things to consider)

  1. Always offer travel insurance. Have clients signs a document if they want to decline insurance. You should not include travel insurance and have them "deselect" it. NJ, FL, And CA have a ban on automatic travel insurance when booking online.
  2. Do you need to offer medical insurance? This is particularly for elderly or ill clients. As an agent, you need to know your clients' abilities: If they can't do the activity you're advertising, ask for a doctor note.
  3. Do you need to provide adventure activity (higher-risk travel) insurance? There's Extra liability if you're selling adventure travel. Adventure travel won't be covered by conventional travel insurance. If there is an adventure component to client travel, include a waiver specific to the type of activity that they'll be participating in as a part of your tour (mountain biking, SCUBA etc.) Also, If a license is needed for a certain sport or activity, the client needs to be aware of this requirement. Here's a few tips on benefits of Adventure Travel Insurance to communicate to your clients:

→ It provides refunds for cancelled flights/ trips

→ It's affordable. 5-8% of total trip

→ It includes lost baggage protections

→ It includes lost wallet or passport protections

Manage Risk with Forms & Waivers

  1. Always offer clients travel insurance (yep, it's worth repeating)
  2. Use a medical waiver if client is subject to health conditions
  3. Make sure language in waiver is clear (not too broad)
  4. Consider using and ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) clause with clients: (Arbitration is not recommend for small claims, but above that, Laurence recommends mediation)
  5. Terms & Conditions
  6. Not responsible for act of suppliers
  7. Not responsible if suppliers don't follow ADA act.
  8. Client needs to understand consequences of travel
  9. Assumption of Risk
  10. acknowledges they understand risk of travel
  11. releases the operator of responsibility
  12. You may be held responsible if you didn't inform client of a risk you knew of.
  13. Risk must be relevant to scope of activity: agent won't be responsible for personal injury (falling on ice outside hotel) if the scope of the activity was SCUBA diving.

State Requirements:

  1. CA has the strictest regulations. (Laurence told a story that CA went after an agent to provide state taxes for a trip for a CA client that was a part of a large group. The agent didn't realize the client was from CA.)
  2. After CA, FL's restrictions are strictest.
  3. With some state requirements (in FL or IA), if you're not targeting clients in that state, you don't have to register. If your office isn't in that state, you don't have to register. Make sure you understand different states' SOT requirements
  4. Be careful where your sub agents are located. If you have a sub agent located in a state with SOT requirement, you must be licensed under that state.

Independent Contractor Classification & Contracts

  1. Is there a non-compete clause in the contract? You can't technically prevent an IC from going with multiple hosts.
  2. "If an agent has developed a client list, it belongs to the independent agent."
  3. If a host give agents leads, it should be covered in the IC contract who the leads belong to.
  4. You cannot have any specified hours in an IC contract. If you want ICs to be available at a certain time, put up a sign up sheet for ICs to volunteer what time they'll be available to ensure you have the coverage you want.
  5. It should be stated in the contract who tour conductor credits belong to. The IC or the agency?
  6. While IC contracts can't specify the amount of time, where they work or what hours they work, it can specify mandatory trainings, meeting etc.



Suppliers Share: Do's and don'ts of Great Travel Sellers


2019 Travel Agent Forum: Supplier Do's and Don'ts for Great Travel Sellers

The Panelists

  1. Tom Varghese (facilitator), Chancellor of Travel, Travel Tom
  2. Sam Combs, Senior Director, Corporate Sales, Apple Leisure Group
  3. Jacquelyn Krueger, Business Development Manager, Palace Resorts
  4. Julia Swenda, Brand Ambassador, GOGO Vacations
  5. Randy Epstein, Regional Sales Manager Mid Atlantic Territory, Celtic Tours World Vacations


The Do's of qualifying suppliers

  1. Sam: "Don't just shop suppliers on price. Check out what will provide higher commissions and provide the best value. Find the supplier and operator who sells a majority of what you sell yourself. If you sell Mexican and Caribbean, find a supplier that focuses their products in those destinations."

the do's of Building Relationships:

Building relationships with BDMs (Business Development Managers) is important, and hosted agents will want to be sure they create an opportunity to foster those relationships. Jacquelyn mentioned the important of building strong relationships with a supplier's field team (BDM, regional manager or groups desk supervisor). Don't have those connections already? Suppliers can introduce you to those people.

Here's what the other panelists had to say on building relationships with BDMs:

  1. Tom: "Pick 2 or 3 suppliers/wholesalers to do all your business with to focus and build your relationships."
  2. Julia: "Use BDMs. Use us. If you want to get out of one sector or product and into another, ask us for contacts to help you build relationships."
  3. Randy: "Make sure you're up to date on what your competitors are doing. What are you doing that they're not? You need to leverage your BDMs to help you grow whether it be to do a training or event or to help you sell a trip."
  4. Tom: "If you belong to a host agency if you're not in a meeting area, can you build a relationship with a local BDM in the region you're working in? . . . Ask BDM's what's new. How are they spending their marketing dollars and what's going on at trade shows?"
  5. Sam: "Host BDMs work in conjunction with local BDMs."
  6. Randy: "As agents, whether your hosted or not, you want to stay up to date and you want to network with your other agents in the local area. If you are working with a national rep, and you don't get to see them that often, the local BDMs do local events. It will help you build up camaraderie and leverage BDM relationships."
  7. Tom: "Sometimes agents don't know everything. BDMs can sometimes help you close a sale."
  8. Jacquelyn: She ran into an agent at a networking event who was booking air and transfers for a corporate client, but learned they booked an incentive trip to the Ritz Carleton. She walked the agent through point on selling the trip to the client and connected her to a BDM to get a quote, and they booked a 75-person trip.
  9. Randy: "If you haven't experienced a destination, utilize your BDM to understand a destination that you'd like to sell but have never been."

DO's on Consortia Relationships

How can your consortia help you? Even if you don't directly belong to a consortia, your host likely has a consortia relationship you can leverage as an IC.

  1. Tom: "Use consortia relationships to leverage your buying power."
  2. Randy: "You are able to use what they teach you . . . and it will only help you learn different products and sell destinations. It will help you get outside the box and be creative."
Want to see what consortia have to offer? Check out our list here. Want to learn more about consortia? Read this.


Do's on Training

  1. Julia: "All suppliers offer road shows, or conferences or webinars. Then we have access to all these different travel agent forums . . . contact your local BDM to find out when webinars and trainings are. Do a webinar for your office or your agency. We have tons and tons of trainings for you. Especially for the new people. When you contact the companies, we're your personal assistants." Julia recommends to resist doing all research online and use your BDM's to learn products and destinations.
  2. Sam: I know it's a busy time and everyone says they can't stop to do training. what I encourage my BDM's to do is to set aside some time in their week to take a webinar. When you're out in the market, you need to explore the products and market. It also goes into building that relationship with the tourist supplier or BDM. Even when you're on conferences—take the time to learn the destination and products. If you happen to be on vacation, take a day to do site inspections. Connect with your BDM to set up site tours.


Do's on FAMs

The panel spoke about the importance on selling the experience, which is what individuates you from an OTA. Tom mentioned he makes sure he visits destinations his clients go to so he can make recommendations on shows and restaurants to stay current on what's available.

Do's on Booking

Tom advised agents to do a proper qualification of clients, recommending they follow the 5 Ds

  1. Dates
  2. Duration
  3. Departure airport: a price on a package will depend on where you're flying from. Is there flexibility?
  4. Destination or Experience: What type of experience are they looking for?
  5. Dollars: A lot of people are afraid to ask the question. It's controversial. Tom said, "I don't want to waste their time, and I don't want to waste my time."
Want some direction on qualifying clients? Try out the free Travel Interest Survey in this article!

Here's what the other panelists had to say about booking!

  1. Julia: "When I started as a travel agent, I never knew what questions to ask them. We provide different quote sheets for different destinations. Ask your tour operator or BDM if they have quote sheets. Definitely qualify your clients before contacting your supplier. Are they beach people? Adventure people? Do they want to relax? Are they culinary? Ask the questions so the supplier will be able to help you with what they need."
  2. Randy: "Leverage a destination. Your res[ervation] teams are going to ask you the same questions you ask your clients. But don't be afraid to ask them questions for recommendations regarding itinerary or route. The res teams now better than anybody that certain cities or hotels are more available certain days."
  3. Sam: "If an agent makes a mistake, the supplier will know after time. If you make a mistake tell them, 'I booked the wrong name, date, hotel . . . what can I do about it?' Suppliers will do a lot to help especially if you're building strong relationships with suppliers."
  4. Julia: "If you made a mistake, be honest. And always tell your clients ahead of time to tell you right away when you get to the destination if they have any issues. It's a nightmare if they don't tell you until they get back."
  5. Sam: "If a customer never registered a complaint with the site while they're on site, it's very unlikely they will do anything for the agent's client."

Do's on legalities

Jacquelyn talked about the importance of staying up to date on travel laws. This is particularly important in states with seller of travel laws. Here's a few other thoughts on legalities:

  1. Jacquelyn: "Years back in CA, they came out with a new law and you could no longer sell insurance as a travel agent directly to your client as a travel." (Agents would have to go CA and get licensed to sell insurance.)
  2. Julia: "Be sure you are protected from fraud. We're here to help you, but you have to protect yourself. Make sure you're protected yourself. Whatever consortia, host agency you're working with will help educate you with that."
Here's an article on fraud to help you school yourself and protect your agency!

Do's on Business Metrics

Suppliers set metric and track the return (ROI) on marketing dollars spent, and travel agents should do the same from their agency. What metrics are you setting for yourself? What is the return on the money your agency invests on marketing? Here's a few soundbites panelists had to say about setting metrics:

  1. Sam: "Set a metric and track results"
  2. Tom: "Measure where you're spending the money"

Don'ts on Booking

The panelists touched on one popular "don't" when it comes to booking travel: Don't Sell from Your Pocketbook. Here were a few other words of warning they offered:

  1. Randy: "I'm here for you to grow your business. I'm not here to be the intermediary between you and your res staff."
  2. Sam: "If you're simply and order-taker then you're no better than an online booking site. Don't be an order taker, use your knowledge and experience to guide the client to their perfect vacation"

Don'ts on FAMS:

  1. Julia: "A lot of people see FAMs as a bucket-list vacation. Don't go on a trip just because you want to do it at a lower cost. Do FAMs because you have a market for the destination. Because otherwise you'll be taking away that opportunity from someone else."
  2. Randy: "Make sure the FAM is a right fit for you at that time . . . You don't want to go and do if it's not something that you can leverage with your clientele . . . Don't do it for the sake of doing it if you have no intention of doing anything with it."

Don'ts on expectations

  1. Tom: "Don't have unrealistic expectations around commission levels or perks without appropriate production."
  2. Julia: "When you do have high expectations of commission or perks, you have to bring something to the table as well"
  3. Sam: "There's always the metrics we look at it from the supplier standpoint. We can't give everything to everyone so we have to pick and choose where our investment money will go. We monitor and track sales whenever we invested some funds. The worst thing you can do is ask for co-op money and not produce. The seed money is like fertilizer. You put something out there to make it grow. Be realistic to what kind of return you think you can get on the investment."
  4. Julia: "We're here for you, you can ask those questions. But come to the table with something to offer. If you have zero dollars of business with us, but have a book of business you can bring to us, we can work with you."

Don't on qualifying suppliers

  1. Jacquelyn warned agents about looking for suppliers who operate their business exactly like agents operate theirs. She said, "Do your research. They are not all created equal in terms of their policies and processes. You may come from a certain point of view where it should be done a certain way." But Jacquelyn mentioned that even if they're not doing it the way you would, "a company may be working for you, but do it a different way." Jacquelyn suggested to stay patient with partners that may have processes you're not accustomed to. "Don't get frustrated. Pick 2 or 3 partners, but they may not all do things the same."



How to Scale Your Business for Success

  1. Speaker: Jenn Lee, VP of Sales & Marketing for Travel Planners International

In interest of full disclosure, I need to admit that I arrived late to this panel! But I swear it was just a lunch that ran late, not the slots! But Jenn Lee of Travel Planners International gave a very energized talk on breaking down income goals, offering tips on how to scale your business to meet your income goals.

First things first:

breaking down your commissions goal

Jenn encouraged agents to focus on centering their goals around commissions rather than sales. She encouraged agents to set a personal financial goal. The example she offered was a goal to earn $64,000 in commissions. In order to see how close you are to reaching your personal goal, she suggested you check your income from the previous year and determine (numbers are hypothetical):

  1. Total Commissions From Previous Year: $25,000
  2. Total number of transactions: 50
  3. Average commission per transaction: $500
  4. Goal: $64,000

In this hypothetical scenario, the earnings is $39,000 shy of the total goal, which would mean (on average) making 78 more sales to achieve that goal.

Jenn offered a few suggestions to help bridge that gap:

How do you hit your goal/ scale business?

  1. Add associate agents/ sub agents: "[Sub agents] are people who you bring on board and you keep a portion of their commission. 1/3rd of TPI agents are associate agents . . . Look for someone who is selling a product that you don't specialize in." (i.e. if you sell Disney, bring someone on who focuses on Royal Caribbean).
  2. On Board Sales: "Cruise lines will try to sell the next cruise. Tell your client ahead of time. Tell them to go to the cruise next desk and let them know you can book their next trip and you will service them along the way . . . Call and set up and appointment for your client with the desk. Give your client your card. The best time to make a sale is right after a sale."
  3. Travel Insurance: "You should be pitching and selling travel insurance to everyone that travels with you."
  4. Transfers to the airport: "If you tell them it's good for them, they will do it. If you ask them if they want a transfer, they'll say no to the close ended question. Tell them you're building it into the pricing."
  5. Group Sales: "If I were to open a travel agency today, I would find an off-the-wall unique group and market to them." Post on social media that you're booking a group and get ideas.
  6. Hire Help: Jenn suggested using an intern from a local university if this is available to you. This way, there's the potential to groom an interested student into becoming a sub agent.
  7. Focus: "If you're doing everything, you're doing it wrong. Pick something you are really excited about, a 'lead dog.' For the next month, talk about nothing else except the one lead dog. You will be calls for everything but the one lead dog, but after awhile you will learn that you can start to say no."

Q & A:

Q. How would you train a sub agent?

A. Start with Travel Institute to have them pay for their own training. Most hosts also have their own training to walk them through. Ask yourself what kind of training they'd need to do to increase their comfortability selling cruises.

Q: If you pay someone to help you, how do your work the tax stuff? I'm intimidated by the 1099s

A. If it's a nominal amount, you can pay cash. consult with your accountant. You can get a tax write-off. Don't let logistics trip you up. Call your accountant.

About the Author

Mary Stein

Mary Stein has been working as a writer and editor for Host Agency Reviews since 2016. She loves supporting travel advisors on their entrepreneurial journey and is inspired by their passion, tenacity, and creativity. Mary is also a mom, dog lover, fiction writer, hiker, and a Great British Bake Off superfan.