On Saturday 15th February the writer had the opportunity to
attend a travel agency seminar organized by the Travel Agents Association
of Trinidad & Tobago (TAATT) The seminar was conducted by Dr. Robert W.
Joselyn, CTC, President and CEO of Joselyn, Tepper & Associates Inc, a
travel and tourism industry marketing and management consulting and
service firm. Having conducted over 2,000 management and training
presentations to virtually every highly regarded organization in the
global travel industry – a list that is a veritable who’s who of the
global travel industry - it is no secret that Dr. Joselyn is considered to
be ‘the authority’ on travel and travel agency issues. The
seminar was entitled: Market Shift ... Mind Shift.
The seminar attracted 32 representatives from 15 Trinidad agencies and
32 representatives from 22 agencies from the wider Southern and Eastern
Caribbean: Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada,
Barbados, Guyana, Aruba and Curacao. The attendees were addressed by the
Honorable Minister of Culture and Tourism, Pennelope Beckles, the
President of TAATT, Deo Maharaj and the Manager Caribbean Area of Amadeus
Global Travel Distribution, LLC, Ricky Jagessar.. Each address was a fit
and apt lead-in to the seminar with common threads being change,
diversity, competition, technology, and professionalism.
In previous columns we have addressed the issue of travel agency
survival – are they obsolete or essential? We have presented perspectives
on the future and how to choose a professional travel consultant. It was
therefore very comforting to spend the day in the presence of such an
esteemed individual as he spoke of the same issues while exploring the
paradigm shifts: the Mind Shifts that travel agencies must make to cope
with the new business environment they face; and to modify and improve on
a business model that has, at its core, remained fundamentally the same
for the last fifty years or more.
Dr. Joselyn spoke of the Markets Shifts in the travel industry: changes
in technology, changes in competition, changes in the consumer, and
changes in distribution relationships … all at an accelerating rate.
According to Dr. Joselyn, it should be clear to all who stop to think that
the path to prosperity in a changing business ecosystem is to change those
things within our control and to adapt to those that are not, while
preserving that which is the foundation of the value we bring to the
process. He had several recommendations for those agents present:
Recommendation: #1 It’s time to start thinking about a new industry
In the old (current) travel agency business model, our price was the
supplier price, the supplier provided our compensation, and we thought
this was something we could count on. We never asked the customer for
money … our services were free. We, the travel agent, undersold our value
… actually we never sold our value!
In two proposed business models Dr. Joselyn looked at (1) the travel
agency as a travel retailer … instead of merchandising commodities we
merchandise travel products, and (2) an alternative where the travel
agency as a travel consultant offers consultancy services, where the
agency gets paid for what it does, where the agency has control, where the
agency positions its value, where the agency is ‘customer-centric’ and
works for and in the interest of the customer.
Market Shifts have mandated that Mind Shifts must occur: Not only will
it be necessary for the travel agent to think differently, our customers
will have to think differently as well. Which leads us to Dr. Joselyn’s
Recommendation: #2: Be Realistic!.
If there is a service involved, Someone has to pay. Dr. Joselyn
advised: If there are those who don’t value what we can do enough to pay
for it, we should try to educate them. But in the absence of being able to
do so we must accept that they are not our market. In essence, we as
travel agents, MUST be willing to walk away from ‘public service’ and
toward the service business. The travel agency business is a service
business. The onus is on the travel agent to educate the customer about
the services they provide and the value of these services. Education is
the key to effecting Mind Shift.
Dr. Joselyn spoke of The Mind Shifts necessary to achieve
Mind Shift #1: The Shift away from thinking of ourselves as primarily
being commissioned salespeople for other people’s products to primarily
being professional facilitators of customer travel needs.
Mind Shift #2: The Shift away from asking yourself "how much can I
afford to give away the commissions we receive" to "what is the customer
willing to pay for".
Recommendation: #3 Reinvent Your Value Proposition
If we are in the service business we must meet the customers needs.
However it’s time to realize that what got us to the dance may not be what
keeps us dancing. As travel agents we must enhance the value we have
always provided while at the same time embracing our customers needs with
new and innovative value.
The new reality of today is that the primary competition for those most
likely to use an agency is no longer the agency down the block but whether
to use an agency at all. The consumer views travel as a high risk purchase
… intangible promises of future benefits to be delivered by people and
organizations half way around the world. To reduce this risk the consumer
will seek out personal reassurance from an expert … the professional
Ricky Jagessar of Amadeus said: "the future looks bright for
professional and competent travel agencies". The use of professional
service providers such as doctors, lawyers, accountants isn’t questioned.
Similarly if one is going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars, as
well as a good chunk of valuable leisure or business time, it makes
absolute sense to use a professional. All professionals charge fees for
their services. Fees vary from one company to another, from one individual
to another. The question is what service and value do you get relative to
the fee that is charged.
In today’s business environment, a professional travel consultant's
time and opinion are valuable, so be prepared to pay a fee for their
services. Today’s professional travel agencies, with trained, professional
travel consultants, should and do, charge fees for their services, which
should be viewed no differently to those of other service professionals.
Catherine de Gannes-Martin, Managing Director
February 27, 2003