Peer-to-peer support can be the best support.
Travel advisors attending TPI’s (Trevello’s) 2022 conference, “Unlock Your Future,” this week in Cancun, Mexico heard from some of the network’s top minds at a panel discussion on Thursday (May 5) called “Unlock Your Power,” where front-line ideas, strategies and pro tips were shared.
Contributing to the chat on the main stage in the conference centre of Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres, where workshops, one-on-ones, and supplier presentations have unfolded since Monday (May 2), was Ste Anne, MB's Shirley Noel; Surrey, BC's Linda Dinsmore; Burlington, ON's Anne Barclay; Stittsville, ON's Jen Terzi; Toronto, ON's Carl Henderson and Iqaluit, Nvt.'s Victor Tootoo.
The experienced and diverse group tackled several pandemic-era topics that addressed real-life issues faced by travel advisors today.
Advice for newcomers
First up was a request for panelists to share their advice to travel advisors who are new to the industry.
It was fitting topic given that some 40 per cent of individuals attending Trevello’s conference this week are new to the trade.
Carl Henderson, a Tahiti specialist, urged newcomers to not spend too much time worrying about what their niche is.
“Let the niche come naturally,” Henderson said, advising new agents to focus on areas of travel that they are passionate about while also ensuring that their marketing stays active with fresh ideas.
Linda Dinsmore advised newbies to “spend more time qualifying clients than sending them quotes” – a piece of advice that generated a round of applause.
Pre-COVID, Dinsmore said she was guilty of spending precious time preparing materials for clients before actually speaking to them to learn more about their wants and needs.
“I’d send all of this stuff and then [clients] would get back to me and say, ‘Oh, I really need to be back on the 15th, and then I’d have to go back,” Dinsmore explained.
Now, to ensure she’s not doubling up on work, Dinsmore doesn’t prepare a quote until she talks to clients over the phone.
“You can learn so much more,” she explained.
Another tip Dinsmore had was to list all the benefits that are included in a trip, and show clients “what they’ll have to give up” if they, for example, select a mid to lower-range option.
And, of course, “include insurance in every single thing you do,” she said.
“Believe in it and you’ll cover your clients and save yourself time, money and hassle in the end,” she said.
Shirley Noel’s advice to newcomers was to “be a sponge” and learn as much as they can about the industry by attending webinars, training and taking time to read travel news each day.
“The more you know, the more you sell,” she said.
And do it with gusto, too.
“When you really love something, and you talk to someone about it, they’ll feel that passion,” Noel said. “It’s your own form of marketing. [Clients] remember it.”
Beginners should also not get discouraged when a customer changes their mind and a booking falls apart, Noel said.
“At first, you’ll feel like you failed. But you didn’t fail,” she said. “You’ll learn from it. Everything you did to get to that quote, you learned something. And when you start again, that knowledge will be your best stepping stones.”
“Perfectionism isn’t good”
The past two years have not been kind to travel advisors as the COVID-19 pandemic, at its peak, brought travel and tourism to a near halt.
Thursday’s discussion drew attention to an often-overlooked topic: mental health.
While her business was on pause, Jen Terzi used her downtime to “take a deep dive” into herself and invest in self-care and personal development.
“I feel the weight of the world is now off my shoulders,” Terzi told conference attendees yesterday. “I’m chill, I’m cool.”
Terzi’s personal success in recent months is owed to her shift in mindset. Prior to COVID, she would worry and lose sleep whenever a client would dump a problem into her lap.
“Now I understand it’s their problem, not mine,” she said. “If there’s something I did wrong, I apologize and fix it. But I don’t take it personal.”
With travel restarting and business picking up, Terzi said she is now “a completely different person,” which she attributes to learning how to let things go.
“Perfectionism isn’t good,” she said. “It’s an endless circle of beating yourself up for not measuring up, or trying to fix something, and failing. It’s not a good circle.”
Terzi also now recognizes that it isn’t sustainable to work day and night, all the time.
“I’m not a squirrel gathering every nut in the forest anymore,” she said.
“Just take the big stuff”
Dinsmore said she’s not going back to “working 10-12 hours at the computer anymore,” admitting that she now turns clients away if she feels she’s not contributing something worthwhile.
“I want to do stuff that I can really help with,” she said. “Things that are complicated [like bigger trips] where I can offer guidance.”
Given that most commission is made on land, Dinsmore may encourage clients to book their own air – a direction she went recently with one booking.
“[The clients] were actually happy about that,” she said. “They felt a little more in control of their booking.”
Her advice? “Don’t be afraid to give [clients] stuff to do,” she said. “Just take the big stuff. You have to look after yourself.”
Finding the right balance
That segued nicely into the next topic: establishing an effective work-life balance and knowing your value.
Victor Tootoo finds balance in knowing who he is and what his values are.
“My most precious commodity is time,” he said, “because we never get that back. I’m mindful of what I spend my time and energy on. I embrace the family I have that supports me, allows me to do what I do, and loves me unconditionally. Part of it is also being relaxed and calm. When you are comfortable in your own skin, you can chill.”
Terzi finds balance in focusing on one specific area of travel: Disney.
Her advice is to embrace referrals – meaning, if you aren’t a Disney expert, let an expert do it. Don’t try and do a complicated booking yourself.
“If you’re in third-year medical school, and you have a bit of knowledge about everything, you can’t be an orthopedic surgeon,” Terzi said. “Even if your orthopedic surgeon has lunch with you one day, it’s not how to become an orthopedic surgeon.”
“I am the orthopedic surgeon of Disney.”
Terzi told her peers that she’s happy to take on Disney bookings, without taking away the client, and return the favour with her “I wanna go to Mexico” clients.
“It’s a bit of tit for tat,” she said. “Your clients will love you for referring them to the orthopedic surgeon.”
Know your value
Understanding your value has also been a reoccurring theme during COVID.
Tootoo, based in Iqaluit, Nunavut, said his success is owed to his reputation for being someone who will work hard, roll up his sleeves and “do what other people shy away from.”
“[Clients] understand that I’m hard working, sincere and honest. And that I cannot operate in any other manner,” Tootoo said.
Working with a team that manages corporate travel, Tootoo noted how transparency, reliability, and client care can go a long way in demonstrating value.
Anne Barclay believes her value lies within her knowledge, experience and ability to be transparent. There’s also something to be said about belonging to Virtuoso.
“I feel it gives me that confidence I need,” she said.
Shirley Noel sees value in being a “caregiver” for her clients, which are primarily seniors.
“They’re like my parents and that’s how I treat them,” she said, noting how that approach can help build and establish trust.
And while Noel may not always get paid for going above and beyond for clients, defending them wherever things go wrong, her devotion pays off in the long term.
“[Clients] may believe I’m special because I’m connected,” she said. “I may not be that connected, but I know where to go, and they don’t. So that’s part of the value I bring to them.”
“As much as I give out, it gives back. To me, it’s all about relationships and trust.”
What comes next?
All week, TPI, which recently announced that will be rebranding as Trevello, has given its conference attendees multiple opportunities to learn, engage and plan out next steps.
It’s a lot of information to process. So what’s the best way to make sense of it all when the conference is over and real life returns?
“Take the parts that spoke to you and what you’re passionate about,” Tootoo advised. “Focus on that and you’ll be rewarded.”
Barclay said she’s going to switch off her phone and email for an hour each day to organize what trainings she wants to do whereas Terzi plans to make a playoff-like chart that will prioritize the best lessons she learned.
Henderson uses a program called Trello to organize his ideas, noting that ideas are always there to go back to, even if it’s a year later.
He also advised attendees to work with BDMs to develop business plans.
Dinsmore uses a visual board, where she pegs her future goals. “You have to see it every day because you’ll focus on it and stay true to it,” she said.
Noelle, meanwhile, encouraged attendees to stick to things that serve a purpose.
“Sometimes at conferences, we have all of these ideas, and we want to use them all, but maybe it’s worth just taking the key points that are most important and use them as seeds to grow your brand,” she said. “You can’t do it all.”
Stay tuned for more of PAX’s on-location coverage from Trevello’s 2022 national conference in Cancun, Mexico.