Sphinx and pyramid. (Photo by author.)
Last Saturday a friend invited me over for a Mexican dinner. Our meal would start on the stoop with margaritas on the rocks with salt, along with fresh guacamole and chips. Yum…she didn’t have to ask me twice! She makes a mean margarita and a killer bowl of guac. I could make those things myself but why should I when those are two of her specialties. I had no doubt that the main course would also be superior. What does this have to do with writing and travel? A few things…
So you travel agents out there…do you have specialty? If so, do you write about it? Before creating this blog, I shared its main objective with an acquaintance that asked, “Travel agents still exist?” “Yes, they exist,” I answered. “Who uses them?” was his next question. It was easy to understand his perplexity. Most folks book their travel online, it’s where they think they’ll get the best deals. Sometimes they do and other times they get a raw deal. Most people use the Internet for a majority of their transactions these days. True, it can result in huge cost savings. It can also result in a lot of time spent in front of a computer, especially when it comes to booking travel. They don’t call it the “web” for nothing and even if you know where you want to travel, chances are you’ll get stuck, for at least an hour but probably a lot longer, trying to figure it out. Everything you need these days is just a click away but price doesn’t always equal value or a great experience.
Chalkley Treehouse experience at Lion Sands in South Africa. (Photo credit: Lion Sands.)
Whether it’s eco-tourism, safaris, cruises, hiking, surfing, cooking, or whatever country you can pinpoint on the map, if there’s a destination or travel experience out there that the customer wants, as a travel agent you’re in a prime position to bring them to it. So how do you get them to connect with you instead of spending hours at their computer looking for the best deal? Specializing gives you an edge. Use that edge and write about the destination or experience that you’re passionate about. Entice them. Show them what they’re missing and how you can bring that experience to life for them. Writing helps readers establish a relationship with you. It’s a way to communicate your knowledge and value up front. It’s about building trust through your expertise. It’s about letting them know that you’re still out there rocking in the free world of commerce. Show them your version of a mean margarita and a killer bowl of guacamole.
Tango dancers in La Boca, Buenos Aires. (Photo by author.)
“Two weeks ago I met a travel agent. I thought they were all gone. Shows you how crazy I am—I’m sure there are others like me out there,” said John Walsh, CEO & President, SightSpan Inc. He’s right—there are lots of others out there like him. Walsh travels extensively and books online, directly with the airline. Asked why he doesn’t use an agent he said, “I don’t use a travel agent due to lack of a relationship and it seems faster for me to book business trips and vacations myself.”
Understanding this point of view needn’t be a reason for travel agents to throw in the towel, but rather an opportunity for them to understand why it’s important to leverage their expertise and assets and market themselves through writing. Agents who specialize have a head start to differentiate themselves within the competitive marketplace to influence travelers and communicate their value. For readers who latch on to a specialist’s insights, they won’t have to think twice about how to book their travel the next time they want to explore options about a particular destination.
Ballynahinch Castle, Galway, Ireland. (Photo by author.)
When I asked Walsh if he’d consider using a travel agent he said, “I would, if their services were presented with a clear value proposition and cost benefit offering. Agents need to better state that they’re still out there and articulate their value. They need to reeducate people of why it’s best to have a human working with you when something goes wrong—and it always does.”
Bedouin riders at Petra, Jordan. (Photo by author.)
The best reason for using a knowledgeable agent is that they’re there for you when the unexpected happens and you have to cancel or change your plans because an ash-cloud exploded over Europe or because you fell off your scooter in Bermuda and landed in the hospital. I hope you never have to experience having to suddenly return home from a foreign land when you booked everything on the Internet. Any travel agent worth their salt will be able to turn you on to the best experience for your money or save you from having that “trip from hell” where perhaps your room isn’t reserved or your hotel is located in the wrong part of town. Agents who are truly connected to a destination or travel experience can dive deep for you. If you have any doubts, take a look at Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialists Collection or Travel + Leisure’s A-List: Top 100 Agents and you’ll see what I mean. After reading through a few of these specialists, you’ll be itching to escape somewhere.
So if you’re a travel agent or counselor who specializes, share your expertise. If you’re a traveler, think about visiting your local travel agency and get to know the experts.
Margaritas on the rocks with salt. (Photo by author.)
By the way, my friend’s margaritas and guacamole were excellent. But then again, I had no doubt they would be…it’s her specialty.