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Slay in your lane: How Travel Advisors can win in the golden age of travel – AC Jones

Newly appointed Frontier Travel general manager, Travel Advisor and industry leader Ann Catherine (AC) Jones shares her mantra on how to "find your lane, stay in your lane, slay in your lane."

Newly appointed Frontier Travel general manager, Travel Advisor and industry leader Ann Catherine (AC) Jones shares her mantra on how to “find your lane, stay in your lane, slay in your lane.”

It has become very noticeable over the past few months that everyone is still at wildly differing positions in this recovery phase of our industry.

The international borders are open on the East Coast, but it hasn’t been the lightning in a bottle we had all hoped. We have been collectively impacted by the evolution of the pandemic, but this impact has manifested in vastly different ways.

Businesses are plugging away, busily and cautiously getting on with things, not understanding how other agencies still have yet to chat to a single client about travel.

It is equally shocking to those not actively booking that some businesses have turned a profit these past months. These are businesses whose clients have just ‘kept calm and carried on (travelling)’, navigating the complexities and the rollercoaster ride with their trusted travel advisor by their side.

For those holding on by their fingernails, there is genuine worry and concern from those who are doing okay and a feeling of helplessness on how to assist them out of the hole they are in. We have businesses in deeply traumatised cities and states like Melbourne and Western Australia, with client bases not willing to engage with any hope of travelling.

The industry is facing ongoing challenges. We all know the issues: domestic border closures, the moratorium on cruise, airlines slashing commissions to 1%, testing requirements changing at a moment’s notice; we have more and more clients catching Omicron. It is both ongoing and tedious.

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Where our industry was dynamic and fun, we have lost almost all of the joy over these long months.

While I am hearing a lot of negative noise about the challenges we face, sadly, I am not hearing enough positive noises about the opportunities that the pandemic has created for us.

Yes, the opportunities. Ever the silver linings seeker, one of the only ways I have been able to combat the deep funk that we have all felt at times is to see everything thrown at me as an opportunity.

Every phone call, every connection, every referral and even this opportunity to write for Karryon have been an opportunity to build something positive, so I can move forward.

Travel is traditionally an industry that innovates and adapts Its way through overwhelming adversity, and we have overcome so much these past two years. So I challenge you to stop for a few moments and look at the current status quo through a lens of opportunity.

Yes, we have vast and profound challenges, but how are you actually rising to meet them? What is the plan? We are a creative and dynamic industry that has lost its mojo over a prolonged two years of stop and start, but we have the ability to tap into this creativity and develop a new way of doing business.

Here is the current state of play: we finally have a market-ready to pay for service and understand the difference between a trusted travel advisor and a transactional travel agent. We have travellers too scared to book online (hooray!).

We have travellers ready to depart as soon as they feel confident in post-Omicron logistics. We have a market-ready to spend more than they ever have on living their best travel lives as soon as they can, as their bucket list becomes their to-do list. All the indicators are there, and we had a glorious six-week taste of it last October and November before Omicron emerged.

Yes, it was a total sugar rush, but it was a fantastic barometer of what will be once we really can see the light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel. We also have sleeker and leaner business models that will serve us well moving forwards and new technology to support us.

We have never had so much opportunity on the horizon. So, how prepared are you for the next phase?

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Let me barrage you with some of the questions you will need to address to rise and meet this opportunity.

Do you know where your clients are? Are you instilling confidence in your travellers, letting them know exactly how you can assist when they are ready to travel again? What clients do you want to deal with, and who aligns with your business, and inversely, have you identified the clients you are happy to lose because of past bad behaviour? 

Will you be prioritising traditional prepaid supply lines for products or heading to a B2B model in the quest for flexibility and better inclusions? Have you thought about the product you love to sell and how to package it up to increase your margin? What do you want to specialise in? 

Have you evolved your product offering to attract new clients outside of your old database? Do you have your service fee model in place? Have you worked out your strategy around the forthcoming reduced airline commissions? 

Do you really know how you want your business to look at the end of this? How will it be better? 

Or are you waiting for things to go ‘back to normal’?

Moving forward, business in 2022 and 2023 will not be the same as it was in 2019. It just can’t be, and it shouldn’t be.

Why? Because we need to future-proof our businesses so they can withstand any of the hits that completely exposed advisors and the way our businesses were structured.

Those waiting for things to go ‘back to normal’ will be left behind as the innovators and entrepreneurs – those who have both adapted and taken the time to work on their business – aim to seize the opportunities and have everything in place ready to go.

These businesses will be better and more successful because of the positive narrative they are projecting to their clients right now.

NOW is the time to roll up the shutters, drown out the noise and take the time to prepare for your business to be one that our travellers want to engage with and who they trust will have their backs whilst they get back out there. 

My mantra through this has been – find your lane, stay in your lane, slay in your lane.

The Next Golden Age of Travel is coming, and we are going to thrive, but only if we are ready for it.