It’s more often that we hear and read about the sweet and bitter experiences of a traveler. Reading their stories, learning from their experiences we make our opinion and choices about a travel agent. But it is often unknown what a travel agent might have to go through to earn that reputation, that clientele. But there are some things that a travel agent minds. I often say that “a tested travel agent might be seen like a family doctor”. You should rely on his instincts, his advise as much as you do on your family doctor. Following this, you can achieve a rapport that is not only convenient but also beneficial to both the sides.
I’ve decided to write on the challenges that comes our way, as travel agent, restricting us to help our guests in the appropriate manner. In nearly four years of experience in the tour operation business, I have personally encountered many incidences where we, in spite of our willingness to help our clients, are disallowed, not by our professional limitations, but by an attitude of our client. Which means, a traveler becomes ignorant to his most obvious need – of being served.
There are three sets of clients that we deal with, in broader sense.
Type A- Clients that contact through Internet
Type B- Clients repeated or referred
Type C- Clients through walk ins.
Every set presents its own peculiar kind of challenge, that is, we have to address each of these concerns in a very careful manner, to establish trust.
Let me put it this way. Our challenges are most for type A, who have never seen or met us, then Type C, who happen to know a little, and Type B, who are familiar with our working and our delivery of promise.
Allow me a further classification that exists with in each of these sets.
1. Clients that are more sensitive to price
2. Clients that are equally sensitive to price and service.
3. Clients that are most sensitive to service.
4. Experimental clients- they don’t mind trying, unless they are convinced.
For me, I’ve found it hard to deal with the number 2 types. They are the ones who consume the most of your time, and would offer changes till the last. To convince them could sometimes be a nightmare. Such types are sometimes not accepting of the fact that the best price and best service (many times) don’t go hand in hand. All they do is sit on internet, surf innumerous sites, confuse themselves and consume our time. They would take months to decide, and consequently, end up spending more also eating into the travel agent’s margin. Unrealized, they blame all that on a travel agent, and not on their own inability to trust and decide.
The clients that come through reference pose another kind of challenge. And that is, they overrate the ability of their travel agents. They think that since they are referred or repeat, they can claim everything. Some of them could be too tempting to avoid, but you might have to shell out your margins to meet that sky high expectation of them. Another aspect is that you can not be straight forward with them, since they hold a special command in your guest list. Resulting, you have to invest your money, time and future in them, for relation and reputation.
I too agree that some of the wrong practices observed by our counterparts in the industry attribute to the mistrust of our clients.
The travelers who are not able to trust their instincts and want extra care, must book their trips through a locally tested travel agent. This helps overcome fear of being cheated or misguided by a person. A traveler must research about the destination, look at the reviews or may ask for reference of guests whom the agent has served recently. This has helped us a lot. Whenever a query comes via Internet, we make a call to the client and after exchanging rates, we offer them the contact numbers of our guests, more preferably, from the same area. This helps to go one more step in creating much needed trust.
Trust is the most important factor in agent-client relation ship. Creating this trust is initiated by travel agent and must be nurtured by client. As professionals, our advice is based on our experiences, daily research and the competition. A travel agent surely knows what he can do and what he can not. He knows his limitations well, and his strengths too. If a client is clear about what he’s looking for, the agent is surely sure what is deliverable and what is not. The trust is strengthened by the client’s wish to give clarity to his agent. The most honest agent will also fail in lack of clarity on client’s expectations.
There are times when certain expectations are hard to meet owing to time, price constraints, peak season challenges, etc. This is time when a client must listen to his agent and accept his advice. No one knows the scenario better than an agent who deals with hotels, transport and people day in and day out. You may clear your doubt with a doctor, but you can not challenge his expertise. Therefore, it is good to clear doubts in the beginning and not after the tour is started.
One doubt that a client may have is that the agent can control anything, even when the booking is made. With out realizing that an agent is like a consultant who knows where and how to book. He is the one who figures out the best combination for a client considering price, service, time and other concerns. So he is just a seller, not the manufacturer or owner. Ownership lies with hotels, transporters, government or department. Ownership lies with nature. So an agent would not be able to help if the hotels refuse to drop prices, or amend cancellation policy. An agent can not control fuel hikes or security aspects. He can not foresee nature’s adversity. In this case, client must understand the limitations of the agent and not demand for undue favors. You can blame the agent for the negligence of the predicable, but not for the occurrence of the unpredictable.
The most important aspect of creating a better understanding with your agent is to consider the fact that his primary motive of serving you is earning. Don’t expect the agent to compromise on his income after he gives you his precious time, guidance and service. Negotiations are expected. But forced negotiations might upset the agent’s promise to deliver.
It is also important to respect your agent’s time and money he spends on following up with you. I’ve often seen that type A clients do not respond to our call or repeated e-mails after receiving proposal. It is okay to say no or be clear on what you want. This saves time and energy on both sides and spare that embarrassing encounter that you may have later.
I’d just summarize all that could fill the gap between a traveler and a travel agent
1. Know your needs. Traveler must be clear on their needs and expectations from an agent.
2. Collect information, research. Basic research is good to save time on both sides. This brings more clarity to number 1.
3. Don’t delay decision. Once you have sufficient information and received proposal, you must not delay much. Many times, delaying leads to dissatisfaction on both the parts.
4. Trust the advise. You must learn to trust. A travel agent who’s invested time, mind and money in learning is worth listening to.
5. Don’t over expect. You must understand limitations and professional hazards of an agent. He is more of a seller than of an owner.
6. Service has cost. Understand that an agent is selling his expertise to you. Don’t force disagreed negotiations.
Being service industry professionals, we would always try our best to meet the client’s expectations. But a wise client makes it easier and quicker.
I thank all who have been patient enough to read through the post.
With deep regards,
A travel agent
The post has been written by Purnima Manhas. She has been working in industry for more than four years, as active managing partner for Enjoy Unlimited Holidays.