The travel industry is undergoing huge changes, especially with consumers using online services to plan and book their own travel, bypassing the traditional travel agent. That’s bad news for agents who resist the change, but extremely good news if you’re an agent who’s willing to embrace the opportunities. In fact, if you are one of those innovative, forward-thinking and flexible agents, the Internet makes it easier than ever to deliver better experiences to your clients, save time and money in research, and stand out from the crowd.
That’s easy to say, but how about some evidence (I hear you cry)? Here are five ideas for innovative travel agents to use the Internet to make a difference.
1. Use Jauntful to create a destination guide
Many clients will want to know your recommendations for places to visit at their destinations. Use the free service from Jauntful to create a customised city guide just for them.
The idea is simple: You choose a city, it shows you a map of that city, and then you add points of interest on the map, with notes about each. It’s just like a real city guide from a tourist bureau, except you have tailored it just for that client.
The guide is stored online, so you can e-mail a link to the client. But an even better option is to print it (it’s designed to be printed) and send it to them in the mail as a Bon Voyage gift!
2. Provide emergency contact channels through Skype and Viber
Sure, your clients might appreciate the money you save them or the work you put into organising their complex itinerary. But the time they will really rave about you is when you rescue them from a disaster during their trip. So make it as easy as possible for them to contact you.
Your tech-savvy clients will set up their phones with roaming or a local SIM during their trip. But they are the exception, and most clients won’t necessarily be able to phone or text you. However, if they can connect to a WiFi network, they can contact you via the Internet.
Show them how to set up Viber or Skype on their phone, connect with them before they leave, and show them how to call you in an emergency. Of course, you can also encourage them to connect with family and friends, so they can keep in touch with them as well.
Sure, it means they need to connect to a wireless network somewhere. But think about the times they are most likely to need your help – for example, at the airport when they need to change a flight, at a hotel that has lost their reservation. These are the places that do often have WiFi available.
Chances are they won’t need to contact you, but if they do, they will be eternally grateful.
3. Their phone camera is not just for tourist photos!
Your clients will probably be using their smartphone camera for their travel photos, but they might not think of it for other things. Just remind them that they can use it to get a handy electronic copy of other useful things as well – for example, their travel documents, the licence plate of their hire car, a taxi driver’s registration card, the hotel’s letterhead with the address and phone numbers, the place in the car park where they left the car, a bus or train timetable, and so on.
4. Create a photo album using Facebook and Animoto
Ask your clients to connect with you on Facebook, so you can watch their progress during their trip. Of course, not everybody will be willing to do this, but your most trusted clients will. And yes, that means you can’t post inappropriate things on your own Facebook feed!
As a special “welcome home” surprise, download some of the photos they post on Facebook and use Animoto.com to create a digital photo album of their trip. Make sure it’s a private album, and send the link only to the client (for obvious privacy and copyright reasons).
Here’s an example of one of my Animoto photo albums, from a trip to Europe:
5. Send a thank-you postcard
I said I would give you five ways to use the Internet, but I lied. This last idea is to use a postcard (yes, a real printed card sent through the post!).
I experienced this myself when I returned from a business trip to find a postcard from my travel agent, Kathy Millett, waiting for me:
This photo is quite small, so you probably can’t read the message Kathy wrote. But I can tell you it was definitely personalised for me, not a standard cut-and-paste generic message.
It was a nice and simple gesture, but really appreciated. I’m sure Kathy is not the only agent who sends postcards to clients, but I’m also sure most people don’t do it! And in an increasingly electronic world, a physical hand-written postcard really stands out.
What are YOU doing to make the most of these opportunities?
I’ve deliberately chosen things that are easy for you to do immediately and don’t cost you any money (OK, you might need to spend a few dollars to buy some postcards!). These are just the tip of the iceberg, and I hope these ideas spur you on to think of other ways to improve the client experience.