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The future of travel - the agent's survival guide

Big things are shaking the world of travel. And although change in the industry is nothing new, the latest round of challenges is taking on a futuristic form.

Big things are shaking the world of travel. And although change in the industry is nothing new, the latest round of challenges is taking on a futuristic form.

So what does the future hold for travel agents, and should we be frightened or excited?

It wasn’t that long ago that the arrival of the Internet saw doomsayers predicting the end for bricks and mortar travel agents. And while that hasn’t come to pass (yet, anyway), the agents that have stuck it out have had to adapt.

But, even if you’ve weathered the latest round of digital hailstones and technological typhoons, don’t get too comfortable. Everything will change again before you have even had time to put the kettle on.

Here’s our guide to surviving the storm…

 

1. Change your identity

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More than just a job title, the word agent has the power to pigeon-hole you. Think of yourself as something bigger than simply a sales person – you’re a retailer, a consultant, an advisor.

At least that’s the opinion of Travel Counsellors General Manager David Hughes. Speaking at the company’s annual conference last month, Hughes highlighted the importance of superlative care and customer service combined with a universal culture of ideas and innovation.

Group Managing Director, Travel Counsellors – Steve Byrne reiterated the view. “We’re not travel agents,” he insisted.

“If you think like a travel agent you’ll be out of business in five years. We will win by caring more than anyone else”.

Group Managing Director, Travel Counsellors – Steve Byrne

 

2. Harness the power of online

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Take Flight Centre’s “blended model” as an example. Australia’s largest agency chain revealed a plan to pursue the hybrid strategy back in 2013, enabling consumers to “seamlessly” switch their booking between on and offline.

While the shift seems to be working pretty well for FLT, rival Helloworld has had less luck with its own digital endeavours, ditching its partnership with Orbitz last month in favour of a more agent-friendly approach. What that will look like remains to be seen.

Then, there are the other players like Travellers Choice which use online as a “digital shop window” – a way of inspiring people to get in contact with an agent.

Whichever route you choose, make sure you do it well. A crappy website that isn’t mobile friendly is definitely not a good look in this day and age – think of it as your business card.

 

3. Know your competition

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The best way to understand who your rivals are is to really understand yourself. If you have a clear service offering, then it makes it easier to see how you compare.

As Travel Counsellors’ Hughes recently said: “Your customers want to deal with you and get the incredible personal service that you offer and they love dearly. And they want to tell others about it too.”

“People who shop around are not your customers, just as Flight Centre, Helloworld or online travel agencies such as Expedia are not your competition.”

If you’re offering something that nobody else has, i.e your dazzling personality, then you’re already ahead of the pack.

 

4. Get social

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It’s likely that you’ve already heard the spiel about the benefits of social media at least a hundred times before. You’ve probably taken heed, opened up a Facebook and Twitter account, maybe even dabbled in a little Instagram.

But just whacking up the odd post when you remember just ain’t going to cut the mustard. You need a strategy – consistent posts and engaging content.

Struggling to find time? Then discover the delights of scheduling, and tap into the pool of user-generated content – this has been shown to be the most influential travel resource for those contemplating a trip, and it will also make your life easier. It’s a win-win.

 

5. Watch out for the next big thing

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Just as soon as you get to grips with Instagram, Snapchat comes and pulls that comfy rug right out from under you, while Periscope is knocking at the door.

Get used to the constant shifting, keep your nose to the ground and go with the flow – you don’t want to be late to the party.

That said, it’s impossible to be amazing at everything all the time, unless you’re Beyoncé. So, it may suit you better to pick a platform and do it really well.

For example, Tourism Australia, universally touted as a social media leader in the tourism space, isn’t bothered with trying to stay on top of all of the new. Social media whizz Jesse DesJardins thinks focusing on areas where you can deliver the most value is the recipe for success.

What are your tips for navigating the future of travel? Share your thoughts below.