I have been a travel writer and marketer for years, but recently took the leap and joined a travel agency. The learning process has been interesting, and intense, but I have learned so much more about the travel industry than I ever expected. Here are some things I learned after booking my first trip as a travel agent.
Travel is a personal thing
Booking travel is very much a sales job — not in that you are talking anyone into anything, but because it is up to you to find your own clients. For my very first booking, it was a friend of a friend who had been referred to me.
He is retiring from the Army next year, and so he has traveled all over the world. He promised his wife a once-in-a-lifetime trip the year he retires, and she had always wanted to go to Ireland and Scotland — and their only request was to “see castles.”
For this couple, this trip is so important and I wanted to do the best I could.
Use Your Resources
Even though I have traveled a lot, as a new travel agent, I can’t possibly know everything about every place in the world. Even experienced travel agents can’t possibly know everything about every place in the world.
There are a number of resources you should be using to help plan your trip.
Your Travel Agent Coworkers
I work in a small agency of three full-time employees and a number of independent contractors, but every time I ask a question, someone knows the answer.
Whether this is the best itinerary to take in a certain country, the best hotel near a landmark, or even the best third-party vendor to use, the more experienced travel advisors in your office could be your best resource to help you through the process.
I love using third-party vendors to book a trip. While one of my passions comes from coming up with an itinerary and finding the best hotels for clients, I feel that having everything in one platform takes away some of the nervousness of booking, especially as a new travel advisor.
Third-party vendors I am talking about include companies like Globus, Trafalgar, Europe Express, and others. For this particular trip, I went with Europe Express and my advisor with that company was so helpful and patient with me. I put together the itinerary I wanted and the hotels I thought would be great, and the advisor booked those but then offered suggestions on locations or hotels she thought would be better.
They also book things like tickets (in this case, the Guinness and Jameson Factory tours) and airport transfers, giving the client a truly luxury trip.
In the end, the client gets an itinerary with every piece of information on it, and they pay their deposit to one company.
Facebook groups will be your best friend when it comes to advice. There are a number of travel advisor groups online, where you can simple questions like hotel or vendor advice or itinerary suggestions.
If you are affiliated with a travel consortium, they will likely have a Facebook group. But if not, there are plenty of generic groups online with a lot of experienced travel agents willing to offer you their experience and advice.
Don’t Assume Budget
These clients told me they had a “shoestring budget” — which could mean something different to every single person. As I was booking the trip, I did everything I could to keep costs down, even though in many cases I knew there was a nicer hotel I’d love to suggest.
When I came to them with my first itinerary, I was so concerned they were going to think it was too much money. Their response was “Is this per person? Because this amount is what we expected to pay per person — not total.”
You never know someone’s situation, so what you should do is book the best trip that fits their personalities and then go from there. I ended up upgrading some of the hotels this couple was staying at, and the final budget ended up being somewhere between the first itinerary I sent them and what they had budgeted.
It Is Nervewracking to Make a Decision — and that is OK
Because travel is so personal, it can be really nervewracking to choose their trip features and itineraries, because you want it to be perfect for them. I have been planning my own trips for my entire life, and if I make a mistake, the only one I have to blame is myself. But if I make a mistake on their trip, it could ruin their trip.
What my mentors have taught me is you can’t worry about that too much, because your expertise will plan them a great trip. Using your resources, listening to your clients, and reaching out to others who know the destination better than you are great ways to plan the perfect trip.
Here I am in Venice, Italy in 2018.
What I learned from this experience will help me for every future client, and I am so thankful for the experience. The couple is heading off to Ireland and Scotland for two weeks in June 2020, with a few days in Berlin at the end of their trip. They are staying in a hotel on the banks of Loch Ness, above a pub in Dublin, and they have their entire itinerary laid out for them.
I am super excited to have been able to book this dream trip for them and feel so thankful to have a place in this amazing industry.