Should Travel Agents Say the “B” Word?

May 2, 2019

The jury is still out on whether or not travel agents should say the “B Word” when they’re qualifying a client. It’s the elephant in the room. The dynamite about to go off. Yes. *GASP* It’s your client’s budget.

I was working merrily along on an article on qualifying clients, when lo and behold, a question exploded into my mind: What are delicate ways you ascertain what a client's budget is for a trip?

So I asked. I was surprised to find out that agents in our Think Tank Group on Facebook were divided on the issue. The thread was so passionate that rather than just summarizing into a sentence or two in our article on qualifying clients, I decided to write 3 ways travel agents can address the “B Word” when they’re qualifying clients.

Three Ways of Addressing Budget When Qualifying a Client

Should Travel Agents Say the B Word? (Budget)

1. The Straight Shooters:

Some agents go right out and ask. “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” Well, okay not really. But they’re straight shooters, asking their clients what their budget is right up up front.

Here’s their advice:

  1. “I simply ask for a price range because that's what they think their trip should cost. I will then quote a trip for exactly what they want and one that fits their budget. It's a learning experience for some clients and not even necessary for others.” (Rochelle Lardy Zemke)
  2. “I address it with honesty and a punch of humor. I’m pretty straightforward and ask what their realistic budget is, and explain that it isn’t a trick question—I just need it to get a baseline.” (Jacob Marek)
  3. “I ask on the travel planning form clients fill out. Proposed budget is how I word it . . . Sometimes the trip they describe does not meet the budget they set. Then it is a matter of increasing budget or decreasing the trip.” (Judi Faas)
  4. “I just come out and ask. Do you have a max price you are willing to invest toward your dream vacation? Is that per person or each? Is that inclusive of Air/ Hotel/ Food/ Auto-transfers/ Specialty Drinks / Entertainment etc. Because a lot of times, I'll get $2500 And I'll have to ask if that is for one person or both — and then they get nervous, but then when I ask if that includes any of the following, then they start to get flighty like they will hang up . . . and I have to remind them none of this means no to their trip, it just means I need to do some heavy research and look for great deals.” (Anthony Cooper)

Pros? Straight shooting is the most efficient and gets to the point. If you’re a straight shooter, there is clarity and less chance of sticker shock when you propose itineraries.

Cons? Especially with newer travelers or group trips, some clients might not even know what kind of budget to expect (unless they’ve done a ton of price shopping). So you might be met with a blank stare or radio silence. If that’s the case, you might want to try the method of the investigator!

2. The Investigators:

The investigators try to ask qualifying questions so they can get a sense of what the client’s budget might be. Here’s what some investigators had to say:

  1. “I do try to talk to them about their last trip to get an idea of what may work. Some just don’t want to provide a budget.” (Rhonda Macier Lathen)
  2. “. . . talk about past trips to get a sense of where they stayed and what they liked and didn't (aka Aman or Holiday Inn)” (Inga Kalinichenko-Cenatiempo)
  3. “. . . I also ask if they’ve checked online prices at all and what kind of pricing they saw.” (Jenita Howard-Lawal)
  4. “What types of hotels have you stayed in before? Cruise: Which lines do you prefer? What airlines did you use on your last vacation? Where is your dream vacation? (this one actually gets you a lot of information because they'll give you chapter and verse with little prodding as to why they can't afford it.) Where do you work? (This gives me an idea what industry they are in and I can guess gross income.) How many kids do you have? How old are they? (College age kids mean extra expenses.) How much do you want to spend? (the most direct question I ask, and much later in the process than most people would go.” (Dale Page)
  5. “I don't ask! It should be uncovered in a comprehensive qualifying session. And I have multiple reasons to justify this approach...too many to elaborate on here. But it works!” (Jason Coleman)
  6. “Finding out what type of vacations they've taken in the past should give some idea of what they are used to spending. Also, If they mention looking for ‘best value’ or ‘deal’ will help qualify.” (Tom Sheely)

The pros of being an investigator is that you’ll spare yourself awkward silences, and hemming and hawing. The con is that there is more room for error on misjudging a client’s budget.

3. The Wordsmiths

Is budget simply a “No No” word for you? Are you a wordsmith who doesn’t want junior running around the playground asking his or her friends sensitive financial questions?

Wordsmiths find ways to communicate “budget” without coming right out and saying it. These agents have a more roundabout approach of addressing budget with clients without saying the B word.

Here’s a list of euphemisms for (and some of them close cousins to) the word budget:

  1. “. . . we liked to inquire about the price range they were looking to stay within as it could seem off-putting for some to hear the word budget” (Marah Troullier)
  2. “per person price range that they are comfortable with” or . . . “ask about [preferred] resort level (moderate, superior, luxury)” (Tammy OH)
  3. “I ask how much they are looking to spend on their vacation. I don’t use the words ‘budget’ or ‘price range.’” (Nancy Greco)

Things to Consider When Addressing a Trip Budget

There’s no right way to talk about budget. It may depend on your style, your client, or your mood that day. But here’s a few things to consider when addressing budget with clients:

  1. Are they newer to travel? If so, they might not know what to expect to spend on a trip. They may not know whether or not you assume the total budget includes airfare, food, transfers etc. These clients might need you to channel your inner investigator.
  2. Qualify your client: Take the time to qualify a new client. This will go a long way into helping you understand what “budget” means to them!
  3. Don’t reinvent the wheel for returning clients: If they’re a returning client, just ask what their budget is and be clear whether or not you mean per person or group total. That said . . .
  4. Don’t assume clients will always have the same budget: Even if you’ve sold to a client before, they may not expect to spend the same amount. Consider 1.) Who they’re traveling with (maybe grandma Millie is coming and is willing to foot the bill) 2.) Is it a special occasion where they might be willing to shell out a little more cash? 3.) If they have a new partner that likes the finer things in life 4.) Did they get a major promotion or switch careers?
  5. Don’t sell to your own pocketbook: This piece of advice always comes up at conferences: but don’t accidentally assume that what is “budget” to you is “budget” to your client.
  6. Establish a baseline: You want to know their minimum budget then work from there. As Erin Cook said in the FB thread linked above, “I don't do anything without a budget that I can spend ALL of. Otherwise we play the ‘hmmm...can we get cheaper?’ game. No thanks.”
  7. Offer a few itineraries in client’s range (and possibly outside it): Sometimes clients don’t know what’s possible. Be sure to offer clients an itinerary that’s exceeds what they’re asking for, even if it’s outside their budget. Even if they decline on this trip, it may plant the seeds for future trips.

Go Forth and Embrace the B-Word . . . Regardless of How You Say It!

Do you have thoughts on how you approach budget with clients? Do you have other nifty tips on what to do/ not to do when discussing budget with a client? Share your wisdom in the comment section below! We want to hear from you!

About the Author
Mary Stein - Host Agency Reviews

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.