I was recently contacted by a global travel publication to contribute to an upcoming article. They asked what advice I would give someone considering a career as a travel advisor. I'm Vice President of Marketing, not an advisor. I have always been a marketer, in a career spanning more than a couple decades, so why ask me this question? I do have the unique perspective of seeing what it takes to successfully connect our travel advisors, customers, and supplier partners (hotels, cruise lines, tourism offices, etc). I've learned from travel advisors who've been in the business for more than 30 years and stayed closely involved when we've brought in new advisors as fresh-faced college graduates. I've worked closely with our "second career" team members, coming to us after garnering vast business and customer experience in other industries and are now following their travel passion. I can unequivocally state, successful travel advisors are focused on the relationships they work to build and keep with everyone in their sphere of influence.
The most important thing to understand is that the travel industry is a relationship business. Like any career, you must take time to learn your craft and develop your skills to be taken seriously. You probably shouldn’t jet off on an exotic trip the minute you have a new email signature. In due time, with the right connections and tools, you’ll be able to expand your travel knowledge with on-the-job research by taking trips of your own. When you do, you’ll see and experience the journey in a whole new way -- through your clients' eyes. There are four key pillars to a successful and graceful rise in your new career as a travel advisor. If you start with these four areas as your foundation, you'll have smooth sailing and help to get you around the storms.
1. Don’t Go it Alone
The most important relationship you’ll need for a quick start in the travel business is a quality mentor who can help answer questions along the way. This mentor will serve as a key professional relationship, and even if you are a digital native, you still have much to learn from someone who has been selling travel and traveling the world for 30 years. The more questions you have, the better (and trust me, you’ll have a lot), so find someone who is willing to mentor you through all your crazy questions. Whether you are planning to be an independent contractor or an employed travel advisor, be sure the host agency or employer has a strong training and mentor program to ensure you can learn while you’re working.
2. Focus Your Passion
Decide where you want to focus your business to ensure your time and resources are well-spent in education towards your goals, then customers will trust you are knowledgeable and trustworthy. There are several ways of specializing in this industry, from types of travel to the types of clients you feel most comfortable with. The more comfortable and experienced you are, the more you will be trusted because relationships are built on trust. Complete an honest assessment of your interests and current experience or connections with against all aspects of the travel industry such as honeymoons, destination weddings, family, hotels, flights, cruises, or even business travel. What are you most passionate to learn and experience? This exercise will help cement your focus and determine the opportunities you invest your time and money into during the early years.
3. Master the Tools
Every career comes with a unique set of software tools, best practices, and glossary of terms that seems like a new language to learn. Establishing yourself as a trusted advisor by mastering these tools will boost your credibility, confidence, and motivation. You will also gain respect with supplier partners when you can “talk the talk”. Software tools from GDS and CRM systems to video conferencing and itinerary mobile apps, should not take the place of a task, but will make you more efficient. Master them so your customer service and detailed planning services can shine through. You will be their facilitator, mediator, and savior when challenges in the journey arise when you master the tools of the trade.
4. Travel with a Purpose
Traveling to experience the products and destinations you intend to sell will be your most important training and marketing tool. Before you take your first official “business” trip, be sure you have a good idea of how this trip will benefit you, your clients, and the travel supplier you are working with prior to traveling. Select the types of travel that you feel you can sell, want to sell, and are planning to specialize in. You want this opportunity to have a high return of investment for you and the travel suppliers who invest in you so that everyone will gain from your firsthand experiences. We are also generous in this industry, so don’t be shy about sharing your experiences with others. Your social media, blog content, and engagement with others online about the destinations and types of travel you are experiencing and selling will establish your credibility with customers and help to build solid relationships with supplier partners.
A career as a travel advisor is one you never have to retire from and it’s flexible enough to adapt to any changes life may bring you. The people you meet over your years in the travel industry will become trusted friends and stay with you forever, along with amazing memories of trips you’ve planned for your clients and experiences you’ve enjoyed yourself. I will finish my little piece of advice here the way it started, this is a relationship business. Connecting with people and cultures all over the world and helping them while they help you make a living doing what you love feels a lot like what we were put on Earth to experience. Best wishes to your long and fulfilling career in travel.
About the author
Sandy is responsible for executing all marketing and advertising for Travelink and its sub-brands, Employee Vacation Programs and Privileged Journeys (luxury/VIP personal travel). In addition, she maintains a close relationship with American Express Marketing in New York and their Preferred Travel Suppliers globally to ensure all marketing and advertising channels are delivering the high caliber of results for which the American Express brand is well known. Sandy also holds an advisory board position for Travel + Leisure magazine and the German National Tourism Office in the USA.