For Agents: Embracing The Learning Curve

Busy harbor on the island of.Hvar, in the Adriatic
Embracing the learning curve means identifying where your strengths and passions lie. (Sharyn Alden photo.)

By Cat Zuniga

When I first joined the travel industry, I was so excited about travel that I wanted to know everything about everywhere on the globe.

It didn’t take long before I had a reality check. Someone asked me about a destination I was quite unfamiliar with. Now, I passed geography, but that didn’t help me here. I pretended to know exactly what the client was talking about, but before long, I was contacting our suppliers to learn about this new destination and all it had to offer. It involved a lot of research and time.

This wasn’t the first time I had to fake it to make it in the beginning. I simply thought, “Well, this is how it should be — right? It’s my job to master the globe!”

WRONG! Not only are you doing a disservice to your clients, you’re also devaluing yourself. What if something goes wrong, or there’s an airport tax, or a travel visa charge that your clients had to pay, and you had said everything was included, and they got upset? There is so much potential for this situation to turn into a disaster.

farmhouse
If you choose a niche and then become an expert in that niche, even the most obscure destinations in that area won’t throw you. (Sharyn Alden photo.)

After that learning experience, I decided to embrace the endless learning curve of the travel industry, find a niche and become an expert in that niche.

As times change, so do destinations. Selecting a few destinations to master will not limit you but will make you an expert — which is what we should be. The expertise behind a recommendation for a specific destination differentiates us from online travel agencies.

It’s important to remember that anyone can research a place until they’re blue in the face, but that doesn’t make them an expert. What makes you the expert is the experience you’ve had in this destination and the relationships you’ve developed with suppliers, resorts, and destination management companies. You can offer a service that the big guys can’t!

Here are five basic tips to help you embrace the never-ending learning curve of the travel industry:

Be reliable. Focus on proving your expertise by actually being one. Get out there and talk to industry peers to know what’s going on. Being able to speak authoritatively on topics central to the industry is essential to building your knowledge.

Develop relationships — and hustle. The travel industry is very complicated, with many dynamics foreign to outsiders. So get out there and hustle! Take the time to meet people in the industry, especially within your special niche. Visit destinations and develop relationships with suppliers and hotels. Reach out to your BDMs (business development managers) and get to know what they can offer you, so that you can better stand out to your clients. These relationships are valuable for concept feedback, advisors and mentors – all of which can accelerate your learning curve.

Understand the history of the travel industry, and accept where it’s headed. While you may be a Millennial or think you know it all, I can assure you that you don’t. In fact, you may not even realize how far behind the learning curve you are. Your knowledge is useless if you don’t understand how the industry got to where it is now. On the flip side, if you’re stuck in the old ways of doing things, you’ll be left in the dust as well. This industry is ever-growing and ever-changing – and fast. The more you know about what went on and what’s going on, the more credibility you’ll have with your customers.

Be ahead of the game. Being disruptive is generally a favorable byproduct of the ability to change quickly to address shifting consumer needs and behaviors. After understanding the history of the travel industry, the next step is to lay out a realistic future of where it’s headed, with concrete steps to get there. What trends will shape your service, and how will your service shape the trends?

Sell the present. Don’t market the future. Demonstrate how your solution eliminates a pain point immediately, rather than later. What emotional hooks are available to you in your marketing? How can you address the shortfalls of embedded, decades-old technological systems? Clean, simple, elegant: these are the catchwords for an effective, emotional connection with the consumer.

So what will you take away from these tips? Will you embrace the learning curve, or resist the change?

No matter what you do moving forward, don’t forget to protect yourself and your clients with travel protection. There is no way to truly predict the future, especially when it comes to life circumstances and weather. Business trends are one thing, but the randomness of life’s events can catch even the most prepared. Better be safe than sorry!

Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her today at http://www.TarverdiTravel.com.