How Can I Make Working in the Travel Industry Easier?

As I sit at my computer and glance around my desk I am proud to say that outside of a couple of monitors, my cell phone and glasses I have very little cluttering up my space. I used to have sticky notes hanging off my monitor, to-do lists for work/home and highlighters of various colors so I could coordinate and determine what tasks carried more urgency than others. As a manager I would find myself chasing after various communications all day long to get them done so I wouldn’t have to remember them later. This constant interruption made me feel stressed and it certainly decreased my productivity. I have strong memories of copying/pasting/sending emails galore to customers to hone in on their exact itinerary needs and then later having to scroll through my insanely full inbox to find the one email I needed to back up a desire for a client.

Thank goodness for the cyber cloud of data, surrounding us invisibly and protecting us like a cocoon protects a forming butterfly. I have come to lean heavily on workspace applications in the cloud and have been able to clear my desk and my mind of all the clutter. These applications provide a space of virtual dry erase boards and cubicles where tasks can be assigned, data can be stored and communications specific to the area are housed. Platforms such as Trello, Slack, Basecamp and Buckets provide teams ways of communicating about specific projects on their own terms. For example if I am creating a new printed piece of marketing for an upcoming travel show, I can begin by working with just my marketing team to come up with the visual within a virtual marketing cubical. If I want sales to get involved I can share the visual with them in their virtual cubical or I can just invite one or two to step into the marketing cubical to share their opinions on the specific piece. This keeps everyone focused on their important tasks and keeps all of my managing organized neatly into virtual cubicles of space where I can step in at any time to oversee what is going on with the project.

These workspace applications are not new to IT professionals, teachers or financial advisors. The utilization of the Bloomberg Terminal has been available to the financial service sector for nearly 2 decades. It is a platform on which users can monitor and trade based upon real-time financial market data. Firms pay over $20,000 USD per user per year for the convenience of having all this data and trade at their fingertips. Teachers and schools harness the power and accessibility of Google apps for children to research, communicate, analyze and produce verification of their mastery in a subject. Often time’s students don’t even need to be in an actual classroom to attend school as this application makes it easy to work and learn virtually from home.

So where does it leave those of us in the travel planning world? Wouldn’t it be great if there were specific applications designed just for itinerary planning? Ones allowing travel agents the opportunity to work with various tour operators and yet create beautiful looking itineraries with a consistent marketing look and information? Wouldn’t it be great as a tour operator to have all of your information on a platform utilized by travel professionals in which the specifics of the itinerary are automatically searched for and dropped into the travel agent’s sales piece without a lot of emails back and forth? Yes there are back-office management tools already doing this but, for most small operators they are cost prohibitive. It is insanely difficult to compete with the online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and expect to be found online or through various travel agencies. What if all of the tools needed to run a successful travel business were all in one platform where you had access to customer management systems, inventory management systems, communication and calendar applications and other cloud based terminals designed to keep your travel business running efficiently and automatically? What if this platform also brought together the entire travel community on a social platform designed just for the various segments of the industry?

Well, I’m happy to say this platform does exist and is in the launch stage right now. PlanitEasy is ONE fully integrated platform for the travel industry to work together. The idea to design a platform to bring our industry the ability to connect and collaborate in one ecosystem was spurred on by all the great things found in the previously mentioned cloud-based data and workspace applications. I invite you to join PlanitEasy and look around. It’s free to be part of the community. The utilization of the various work applications are priced in a way so all size companies can belong and present extremely professional information to their travel cohorts in a consistent manner. I want you to join and get social on the social side. Get talking about travel and your trials, tribulations and celebrations as an industry professional. Look closely at the platform and give me your feedback. This is a platform for OUR industry. I want to make it something you want and will use. I believe PlanitEasy will better travel products worldwide and in doing so will increase the number of people traveling, thus making a bigger pie from which we each of us can take a slice.

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Transparency in the Travel Industry

Over the years, there have been countless articles promoting the benefits of using a travel agent, such as providing lower costs, to cutting down on hours spent searching through TripAdvisor and other booking sites, to having someone to call in the event of an emergency. There are plenty of great, compelling reasons to use a travel agent for booking your travel.

Yet, there is one argument for using an agent that is often left unsaid. What agents don’t promote, is when booking through an agent, the traveler not only benefits from their agent’s expertise, but also from the expertise of all of the people the agent collaborates with in the process of planning the trip. Whether it’s from the DMC the agent works with, the tour guides or the tour operators, this fact should be seen as a major win for the traveler, and, therefore as something that should be communicated clearly by the agent to their client. Yet, too often, it is hidden from the traveler. While this is not always intentional, often times it is.

Travel agents need not hide the fact that they work with other experts to plan their trips. Travel agents should be getting this information out to travelers clearly as it is a definite plus for the traveler. Who wouldn’t want three or four experts for the price of one! Agents need to start getting the message out that they have connections on the ground in locations only available to travel agents, explaining that they work with DMCs and tour operators, and that they have partnerships with suppliers that can benefit their clients.

We know what you’re thinking. With the internet, travel agent clients can easily look up the suppliers and then simply book direct, leaving the agent without a customer or commission. We reached out to Gonzalo Fuenzalida, co-founder of Chile Nativo, to get some perspective from the operator side with regards to relationships with travel agents and direct customers.

“The most important thing in a relationship between a travel agent and a tour operator is trust. Nothing but trust,” says Gonzalo. “If you can’t trust the tour operator you’re working with, then what kind of a business relationship do you have?”

When pressed in regards to the customer reaching out to buy direct after getting information from the travel agent, Gonzalo said he implements an agreement which he makes with the agent. “We have a rule we implement. The one who gets an email to us first is the one we honor. So for example if a travel agent contacts us about a customer and then after sharing our information with the customer, he/she contacts us directly, we know that commission belongs to the travel agent. We contact the agent and tell them their customer is reaching out direct but we have the time stamp of their email so we honor it. This is an easy way of keeping the transaction transparent. The timestamp is right on the email for all to see. The last thing we want to do is ruin the relationship with the travel agent and lose all future client referrals.”

We asked Gonzalo about pricing as well, noting the worry travel agents have of their clients getting a better deal going direct with the operator. His response was, “We offer the EXACT same price. Yes if they book direct with us we make more commission but we don’t offer a cheaper price.”

Gonzalo also shared how helpful it is for the travel agent to share the tour operator relationship with the client because often times the clients are dismayed to find the guides wearing Chile Nativo logoed shirts when they booked their trip with XYZ Travel Agency. “It does an agent no good to pretend that she/he has offices all over the world. Give customers credit for being smart. Transparency and honesty are always the best policy.”

PlanitEasy hopes to bring a new level of collaboration to the travel industry with its easy booking platform and its social network. Let’s make travel personal!

When Winner Takes All, We All Lose

At PlanitEasy, we don’t subscribe to the winner takes all mentality. We don’t believe in building walls; we believe in building bridges and partnerships. In fact, we consider ourselves disrupters of the whole idea of the zero sum game. We built our business around the idea of collaboration.

To many businesses this may seem too “pie in the sky” and an unrealistic model on which to build success. These businesses believe competition is key and the only way up the ladder of success is by stepping on competitors’ heads to gain leverage to the top. At PlanitEasy we challenge this notion with the idea of coopetition.  Coopetition is a term that was coined to describe cooperative competition. As Harvard Business School professor, Adam M. Brandbenburger, and Yale Management School professor, Barry J. Nalebuff, write in their book their book, Co-opetition, businesses that form coopetitions become more competitive by cooperating.

The travel industry has had coopetition forever without placing this term on the model. DMCs recognize they cannot take care of all the customers on the ground. They would be spread too thin handling all of the staff and equipment needs so they rely on ground operators. It is the DMC’s business to know which ground operators are the best in the areas they need. DMCs do not sell directly to the public because here too, they would need large amounts of money to pay for the marketing leverage to get to the general consumer, so they rely on travel agents to gain access and provide excellent face to face service for the traveler so as to make the sale and satisfy the traveler’s needs for the trip. This trio of businesses working together is a perfect example of coopetition.

Our platform is designed to enhance the entire travel industry by providing one place where all travel professionals can go to find the collaborators they need for their business. The platform provides all of the tools needed to create and manage travel itineraries in a consistent way so everyone involved is seeing the same format time after time again and thus making the process efficient. All communication is occurring live in the cloud so every partner is aware of the process for that client and can serve to the best of their ability. Eventually as more and more consumers work with the PlanitEasy collaborative community members, they will see consistency in how their trips are delivered thus creating a trust and brand awareness for the entire travel industry.

We understand this model can be scary. For years travel agents have worried about tour operators selling directly to their customers after the first trip was booked. Tour operators have become more and more wary as the internet levels the playing field and ground operators are able to market to the general public directly. Consumers are simply confused in the midst of all of this because there is no clear message and the learning curve is steep. Vacation time is short and expensive so making a wrong move for a consumer is devastating.

PlanitEasy strives to make the entire industry better by raising awareness to consumers of the cooperation that goes on behind the scenes, thus increasing consumers’ trust and confidence in their travel agent.  Big and small companies alike have more market to share and everyone wins.

Top 5 Tips For Rebranding Your Travel Company

Rebranding your company could be the key to re-energizing your current customers and attracting new ones. But let’s be clear, successfully rebranding your company’s image, message and culture isn’t easy. A successful strategy requires more than a new new logo and an updated website design. Consider these tips before deciding whether or not rebranding is the right move for your company.

Understand Your Target Audience: If you’re thinking about attracting a new demographic, do your research. Identify their likes and dislikes. Figure out what your new audience is passionate about and what drives their purchases. If your company can meet the needs of this new demographic, then incorporate those findings into your rebranding strategy.

Consider Rethinking Your Name: When Steve Jobs returned to Apple he changed the name from Apple Computers to Apple. This allowed him to expand the brand beyond computers to iPods, iPads, iWatches, etc. Maybe you’re hoping to expand your business beyond Italy, but you have the word Italy in your name. It’s probably time to think about dropping it.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Remember that there are parts of your company that work, and that your existing customers have come to love about your brand. Make sure you identify what is still working so you can be sure to keep those elements. Be sure to have a clear message to your existing customers explaining why the change you’re making is better for them. Let them know that you’re still offering the things they love, but now you’re offering more.

Be Authentic: Consumers, especially these days, are perceptive. They know when a company isn’t representing themselves authentically. Remember, that your strength is your authenticity. Make sure everything from your new logo to your new mission statement is a true reflection of your company and it’s culture. If you read through your material there should be nothing that sounds like something another travel brand can offer. Your customers are buying into YOU, so make it very clear that you are offering what only YOU can provide.

Take Your Time: You don’t want to rush this process. Take the time you need to research and strategize. It’s never a good idea to implement a rebranding strategy when your company is feeling pressure internally or externally. Rebranding is a big decision, you want to make it from a position of control.

BONUS TIP: Upgrade what’s average. By that I mean, when you look through your site, your mission statement, your About page, etc., if you think any of it is just “eh”, UPGRADE IT.  

http://www.PlanitEasy.com

Let’s Do This!

At PlanitEasy our mission is to turn competitors into collaborators. That’s why we’re asking that travel agents, tour operators, DMCs and all other travel industry professionals come over to our website and create a profile so they can join our growing community.  

The goal is to create a space where industry insiders can work together, seek advice from one another, and send requests to each other so that the entire travel industry thrives.  With all the competition out there these days we wanted to build a community that turns competition into collaboration. We don’t believe that it is a zero sum game.

Here’s how we think we can help each other:

1).Collaborate with other agents/agencies so you don’t have to lose a client. If you’re an agent specializing in a specific area but one of your favorite clients asks you to create a trip for them in an area you’re not familiar with, reach out to one of our fellow agents in the community who DOES specialize in that area and work together.  Decide how to split the commissions so that it’s beneficial for both of you!

2).Easily search vetted suppliers to work with and send requests directly to them.

3) Educate each other. .As fellow users share blogs, tips, resources, recommendations and itineraries we will all learn from one another.

4). Make referrals and introductions.

5). Promote your brand to your peers.  On your profile show the places you specialize in, the awards you’ve won, the certifications you hold, and the client reviews you’ve earned.  Let your peers see how awesome you are and let future colleagues see how you could be an indispensable collaborator.
Come on over if you’re passionate about travel, the travel industry, and your fellow travelers. www.planiteasy.com Or email me personally at alex@planiteasy.com with any questions.

How To Solve the Problems of Specialization

We’ve all read the headlines in travel media publications about how “specialization” is the key to thriving in the travel ecosystem.  From the step-by-step guides to “finding your niche”, to the personal success stories from agents who have made the shift from generalists to specialists, the argument in favor of specialization is very persuasive. For travel agents to stay competitive, they have to maintain their reputations as travel experts.

Yet, maintaining the status of “expert” is becoming more and more challenging with each new consumer travel app and travel platform giving consumers access to their sophisticated algorithms and databases at their fingertips.  Thus, specialization seems like an obvious solution.  If an agent narrows his/her focus to Italy, for example, the task of becoming an expert on all things Italian becomes much more doable.

While there is no question that specialization has worked for many travel agencies, my post today will examine some of the rarely-discussed challenges to specialization and will offer some solutions.

Problems with Specialization

1). Losing repeat customers.  There are only so many trips to Italy that a person will make in a year, or throughout their travel lifetime.  If you specialize in trips to the Galapagos, or in honeymoons, that number is even smaller.

2). Getting stuck in a never-ending search for new clients

3). Missing out on the joys of building relationships with customers. As travel agents know, the longer the relationship with a client, the more personalized and specialized the experience is that they can provide their client.

4). Turning down trip requests because they are outside of your “niche”.  Let’s face it, if a client who just returned from a trip of a lifetime to Venice, Italy comes home and asks you to book them a similarly thrilling $10,000 trip to Barcelona next summer, who are you to turn that down?!

Solutions to the Challenges

1). Find a tour operator or local expert (DMC) to handle any requests from clients that are outside of your expertise. This is already being done. The issue with this solution is that you can’t offer your client your recommendations at the destination from your first-hand experience. Because this is often the primary reason people are using travel agents today, this still presents a problem.

2). Develop a network of other travel agents to partner with whose expertise extends your reach. To build your network we suggest attending conferences, fam trips, and other travel agent networking events in and around your area. At these events, make it your mission to connect with other agents that cover areas outside of your specialty.

3). Discuss ways that you can work together to create the best possible experiences for your clients.

4). Suggest that you will help them if their client wants to travel to the area(s) of your expertise and vice versa. You can then discuss how you will split the commissions so that it is fair for both parties.

Clearly, there are real benefits to specialization and real challenges.  I’d love to hear from others about some of the challenges and/or solutions with specialization.  Email me at: Alex@planiteasy.com