What’s On Your Calendar

By Les-Lee Roland

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I know this has happened to you. You’ve just met someone, perhaps at a party, or at a private function, maybe a teacher in your kid’s school. Once they know you are a travel agent — they don’t know the new expression, travel advisor — the first question is “Do people really use travel agents anymore?”


You give your 2 minute elevator speech — “Oh yes, in fact using travel agents is now going to higher heights. It’s fine for people to attempt to do research on the internet, but they get the best information from a good travel agent”…yaddah yaddah. Or my favorite line, “When you go shopping for a car, do you pay the sticker price- that’s what happens when you book directly on your own.”


The next question they ask is “where would you suggest for a 1 one week vacation?” And then the awkward pause. Do I mention Dubai, or Iceland, or wine country, or a resort? No…I first say, “ to recommend the right destination, I have to ask you a few questions, more like a simple interview.”


Ninety percent of the time, I have captured their interest. The other ten percent were not serious anyway. For the majority, they say, go ahead, what do you want to know. Usually if I am in a place where we have time, I can ask a few questions. If they are the right questions, the possible new client likes to answer questions because she knows I want to recommend the perfect place.


I could spend the rest of this column telling you what to ask, but you, as a pro already, should have a grasp and the talent of judging the person right away. You can check out the physical look of the person, wedding ring or not, her age, etc. Is there really enough time to ask where she has visited before, budget, likes and dislikes, how many people and the rest. Usually, if someone has introduced me to this person, the person jumps in and says,” Les-Lee is the best, everyone uses her.” Whew. Perfect time to ask for that person’s phone number or email and give her your card. 


In the interview, what info do you have to accumulate, other than kids or grandkids and their ages. If the prospective clients work, what kind of work, is it seasonal. Teachers are great — you know when they can travel.


First, you should have a calendar and a database set up to input this data. My calendar — I really call it my bible — gives me ideas for when to buy group space and quite accurately lets me know what destinations appeal to my clients. You actually see your options better written on a calendar. Everything is also put into the database.


The next conversation is down and dirty. I can find out a lot. Start with the address — if I recognize the area, I can get info about their condo or home owner’s association. One couple booked a cruise, and it grew over 50 people at her country club. I had asked if there were any travel opportunities offered through the club, and found there were none. After this successful trip, they put my name and phone number into their directory for people to contact about travel. 


Birthdates are a given, but you have increased opportunities if you at least find out their birth month. Once you see how many people are born in March, you can be creative with group space for celebrations. Another offshoot of this is to throw a birthday open house for clients born in the same month. You get a selection of varied people, and go one better. Ask each participant to bring a picture or momento from one of their favorite trips. It’s a great opener for strangers to meet and talk to one another. You will be surprised by people asking you to arrange a new destination just because of what they heard at your gathering. It can be held at a clubhouse, your country club, or even your house. 


I show a picture of a lighting fixture I bought in Dubai, and brought back in my carry-on. I always bring an extra empty fold up piece of luggage when I travel to an exotic place. Thank goodness. I cannot tell you how many trips to Dubai I have sold based on that fixture. And I have always managed to fill that extra fold up piece of luggage.


Remember to always ask what is on their bucket list! This is one of your best ways to create groups. Think about it. If they say — Tahiti, perhaps that is one of the most popular destinations you hear. Add it to your calendar. When you have 3 couples — they do not even have to know one another — think GROUP SPACE and then PROMOTE.


How about a 6 month in advance listing on the calendar. Perfect timing to contact them about ideas for their wedding anniversary. Especially if it is a major one, like 50, 40, 30 years. Time for you to send out info on a travel opportunity or a family gathering or a renewal of vows.


I was lucky to have had a romantic husband who always wanted to plan something special for our anniversary. Perhaps because he proposed to me in Las Vegas and we were married one hour later. We didn’t even have witnesses- the locals who sit around were out to lunch, so the Justice of the Peace used a rubber stamp with their names on it. After a few years, he arranged other surprise renewed vows again — starting with once more in Vegas.


Another year, while escorting a group cruise, he arranged a day excursion renewal, at a Sandals. We had selected a pretty area to do the renewal on our own at 2pm. We had lunch and were at the swim up bar enjoying ourselves. All of a sudden we realized it was almost 2pm, and he said, I renew you and you renew me, bartender, drinks for everyone. Het told people afterwards, this renewal cost less than to have me shopping on the island all day.


Our last one was on a Crystal Cruise. The cruise was really special, over a Holiday and a clergyman was onboard as a passenger. Since we never had a religious ceremony, my husband arranged a surprise ceremony and he even invited passengers we had met that week. Word spread and the next morning, people stood up and applauded when we came into breakfast. He reminded me that at our first ceremony, we didn’t have anyone —not even witnesses. But on this cruise, we had everyone. A truly lasting memory.


Another memory that still makes me feel good. I met an aide from an independent living establishment who told me she really wanted to get away for a weekend cruise. I met with the administrator, laid out a program for the residents. I found, some who had personal caregivers who were interested in going as well. The result was a nice size group passengers with two aides along with caregivers for people who needed assistance. The caregivers were the most appreciative, since no opportunity had been offered for them all together. The establishment even provided all the transportation for the 3 hour drive to the port and back. One passenger who had dementia and no longer used vocal skills, was along with his wife and grown children. When we got to Nassau, they went to a seafood restaurant they had visited many times over the years. The man actually remembered the place and started speaking to his wife. By the time they returned to the ship, he was silent again. But in those couple of hours, they were the family of the past. 


This was a most unusual group and not all establishments will endorse it. There was a lot of paperwork involved with liability clauses, and the cost of the aides was split among everyone. But it’s what travel is all about — the MEMORY!


The most important question, always ask for referrals, That is your number one way to increase your client base. This is nothing new, we always value the referrals. But too many agents don’t know how to ask for referrals. For years I have always given my clients their invoice and at the same time, I give them a couple of flyers describing the trip or cruise and ask for them to share with others. This has turned into a no-brainer for me, and over and over again, I have had people ask me for more flyers to give out. I got a large church group- all because of the one couple who kept asking others to join them on a cruise. 


So go to a Dollar store, buy the Monthly Planner Calendar and it might become your best sales tool.