Last updated: 04:00 PM ET, Fri May 13 2016

Travel Agents: Here's How to Get Ahead of the Game

Travel Agent | Virtuoso | Janeen Christoff | May 13, 2016

Travel Agents: Here's How to Get Ahead of the Game

PHOTO: Following these tips, you can be a hero for your clients. (Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

Travel agents – there’s an app for that. Yes, as we’ve opined and reported, travel agents are about to face some new competition in the form of Lola, a new app that aims to put a travel agent in travelers' pocket. But as they have proven time and again, travel agents will not be rendered obsolete. There’s no replacement for human interaction and, while there are a team of real live travel consultants behind Lola, it can’t replace the real thing. It’s just another challenge in the world of technology that travel agents will need to face.

One way to face up to the digital competition: Staying on top of your game. Sometimes, everyone needs a bit of a kick in the pants to get their butts in gear. So, if you need a little bit of a pep talk to recover from the news that an app is working to successfully replace your bread and butter, take some time to consider this new research from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) that states that travel agents save consumers approximately $425 per trip on average. The results are part of an independent study funded by Carnival Corporation called “Best of Both Worlds: Quantifying How Travel Agents Save Consumers Time and Money.”

READ MORE: Do Travel Boycotts Really Work?

The entire study will be released by the end of the month, but ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby said in a statement: "We couldn't hold back the good news, and that is that travel agent usage is at its highest level since we began commissioning independent consumer research three years ago.  At this point, consumers have tried it all. They've booked online, they've gone direct, and they've used a travel agent. This study dispels the myth that booking direct with suppliers or spending hours online yourself gets you a better deal, or gives you a happier travel experience. Consumers told TNS Global that if you want a better travel experience, use an agent."

Adding to the good news rolling in for travel agents: A new Virtuoso study revealed even more upbeat analytics for budding travel advisors, including that the organization saw a 26 percent increase in the number of travel advisors in 2015 and that growth has been consistent over the last five years. Virtuoso predicts that this growth will continue. According to the research, 79 percent of Virtuoso agency owners expect sales to grow this year and 68 percent of them intend to staff up.

So, it really is a good time to be a travel agent but, in order to make money, you need to be a great. While demonstrating that the industry is on an upswing is a win, how should agents take advantage of the growth? Once again, Virtuoso has come to the aid of the travel advisor with “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Travel Advisors.” These tips were curated from proprietary research conducted with individuals who were new to the profession, new to Virtuoso and highly successful. Here’s what makes them tick and the tips you can use to boost your business.

Engage in networking: Virtuoso research found that this group of advisors was twice as likely to attend its Virtuoso Travel Week conference, where advisors participate in “speed-dating” with preferred suppliers in order to build relationships.

Participate in professional development: Virtuoso’s research showed that its top advisors took 75 percent more training classes than the average advisor.

Utilize marketing: 83 percent of these advisors participated in Virtuoso’s marketing initiatives, which ensures that more than 70 percent of their clients receive customized marketing vehicles that direct consumers back to them.

Connect through social media: Time and time again, travel advisors are advised to get out there on social media and Virtuoso found that more than 90 percent of this group were active on multiple social media channels, using it as a means to communicate and inspire their clients.

Present themselves as professionals: Eighty percent of these top travel advisors created a bio that includes their areas of specialization, the countries they have visited and when, and a professional headshot.

READ MORE: ASTA and ITN to Create Travel Agent TV

Encourage feedback: More than 40 percent of these Virtuoso advisros have clients who have submitted reviews and recommendations on their profile page — nearly four times the network average. These advisors thrive on the feedback.

They follow up: Following up is another tried and true tip for success so it comes as no surprise that this group of advisors knows that follow-up, particularly after the trip, is essential to building the foundation of a successful advisor-client relationship.

So, with the travel market poised for success, app or no app, there’s really no replacing the value of a good travel agent.

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