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Sat 9 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Sealing the deal

ATN's training expert explains why "selling travel without service disappoints" and offers tips on "selling travel across the front line.

ATN's training expert explains why "selling travel without service disappoints" and offers tips on "selling travel across the front line.

Some people enjoy cooking. They like to plan a menu, choose recipes, and experiment with different ingredients. Others think cooking is a boring chore and avoid it whenever possible. Similarly, not everyone likes to sell. But there is a major difference between cooking and selling.

If you don't want to cook, you may be able to get someone else in the family to do it or pop a frozen dinner in the microwave, but virtually everyone in the travel industry engages in some part of the selling process and whether you like it or not, you need to know how to sell.

Helping clients realise their dreams can be deeply satisfying.

The rewards of selling travel are many - helping clients realise their dreams can be deeply satisfying - and of course, the products - destinations around the world - can be fascinating to experience or just to learn about. But if selling is so rewarding, why do many people not want to sell?

One myth holds that selling is boring and repetitive.

In fact, the variety involved in travel selling far outweighs the repetition. Every sales situation is a little different and each customer has different needs and expectations, so how you meet those needs must also vary.

This variety makes selling a challenging and sometimes frustrating job, but also an exhilarating one.

A second myth says selling is manipulative and tricks people into buying. Certainly, there are manipulative salespeople, but in the long run they are not likely to succeed. The goal of selling should be to help clients find the product or service that will meet their specific needs.

The best salespeople are the ones to whom clients keep coming back, and clients will return only if salespeople are helpful.

Another myth claims selling is a low-level job that people do until they find something better. It is true that many organisations start people in sales positions, but it is also true that if you are a skillful sales person, selling can be a very rewarding career.

Furthermore, people who move into managerial roles often find that selling is still an important part of their job.

Unlike many types of selling, travel selling involves many transactions and to a great extent, deals with intangibles. Both characteristics open the way for errors and misunderstandings in dealing with customers.

Furthermore, each transaction often involves several people, ranging from suppliers to tour operators and travel agents.

But whether the sales person works for a supplier or for an intermediary, the job of selling is to identify and meet the needs of the client.

Selling steps and tips

Selling is a process that can be described in terms of eight steps: identifying customers, establishing rapport, determining client needs, selecting a product that fits the clients needs, presenting recommendations, dealing with obstacles motivating to action and following up to ensure after-sales satisfaction. Sometimes, steps must be repeated, and sometimes steps a can be skipped.

Ideally the sales person keeps repeating this cycle because the customer keeps coming back for additional purchases.

Practicing transactional selling in a travel agency can create a disaster as it provides the client with lots of information to help them make the decision to book. But in travel, it actually gives them all the information they need to book elsewhere where they think it will be cheaper (i.e. online).

Consultative selling may ultimately involve creating a transaction (a booking), but the manner in which the sale takes place is entirely different. A consultant works on behalf of the client where as in transactional selling, the sales person represents the product or service providers.

A consultant's role is to decide on the product that truly suits client requirements.

They make recommendations based on their understanding of the client's needs and of the quality and value of the suppliers.

Never assume a client knows what they want: when a prospect tells you they want to book a cruise to Alaska, that decision is based on their understanding of what an Alaskan cruise is all about. But what if they are completely wrong and mistaken? You could win a sale and lose a customer.

In a travel agency you are the product. Cruises, tours and tickets are available anywhere but you are only available in the agency where you sit today. You have the skills, now get our there and sell!

Selling value-adds

By now, most travel agencies in the Middle East will have realised that airline ticket sales are no longer lucrative as airlines worldwide increasingly adopt a zero commission policy.

The traditional travel agent model - with a high dependence on air travel and airline commissions - is now becoming obsolete. Instead, agencies are being forced to be creative when selling travel, whether corporate or leisure.

Travel agents are not only being advised to enforce service, management and transaction fees, but to specialise in niche markets and products, to put together packages, and above all, to add value.

Sundar’s selling tips• Look the part

Dress appropriately for your specialty. Are you a luxury travel specialist? Can I tell by your attire? Do you specialise in high-adventure? Where are the hiking boots? Is Hawaii your thing? Put on the flowered shirt!

• Be confident, not cocky

A real pro communicates their knowledge with confidence and can offer reasons to back up their recommendations. A cocky attitude actually conveys compensation for a lack of confidence in your skills.

• Practice Practice Practice

Keep improving your skills and learning. Ask for client feedback and take criticism with a smile.

• Focus on presentation

Great information presented poorly seldom wins a client. Of course, bad information presented well won't either, but in these days of web-savvy travel shoppers, you have to stand out. Pay close attention to the quality of the information you give your clients. Watch your grammar, check your tone of voice and use spell-check.

Sundar Vasudaven, is principal consultant at Dubai-based TRS Consulting (www.trsplus.com ), an IATA strategic partner, and a Travel Industry Professional Certifications training provider. TRS Consulting is a licensed training centre and distributor of The Travel Institute, USA and represents the Nolan Burris e-seminar workshops on CD. E-mail trs@bc.kv.ae or call +971 4390 2256.

Selling travel insuranceTips from Holidayguard's Norman Cloke:

• Ask "have you purchased travel insurance?"

• Find out the traveller's nationality; some require insurance when they travel.

• Study the destination; does the destination country make travel insurance mandatory?

• If you sell insurance once to a customer, record it in their profile and set it up as a "reminder" field

• Get to know the product: rates and policy details

• Always offer travel insurance and highlight the benefits: i.e. the premium is a fraction of the total travel cost, but coverage is for millions in the case of unfortunate incidents, such as lost luggage, delays and medical services.

• Emphasis should be given to medical coverage - emergencies are costly (Holidayguard coverage is up to $5 million). Travel insurance gives peace of mind.

• HolidayGuard covers up to US $5000 per person for cancellation charges. If agents emphasise at the time of booking they are almost guaranteed a sale.

For more information: www.holidayguard.com

One of the key advantages of packaging is that ancillary products such as car rental and travel insurance pay good commission rates. Selling cruises can also be lucrative given the agent remuneration policies of most cruise companies.

It’s the easiest thing to ask a customer is if they want to hire a car during their trip.

ATN asked a selection of travel suppliers to offer selling tips and to highlight the benefits of selling their products and services in today's competitive environment.

Travel insurance

Nusrat Ahmed, the manager of the travel insurance division at the Middle East branch of insurance giant AIG, laments that many agents in the region are "still fixed on selling airline tickets" and are yet to "realise the revenue potential from selling auxiliary products" like travel insurance.

At a recent meeting staged by the Dubai Travel Agent & Tour Group (DTTAG) she revealed that only 3% of agents in the Middle East actually sold AIG travel insurance.

"Travel agents don't ask [their clients] the basic questions or explain the benefits [of buying travel insurance," she says.

"However, this has improved over the last three years and we are seeing 100% growth year on year.

Ahmed stresses that selling travel insurance adds value to the customer experience and is an easy revenue earner as commission payments range from 15% to 20%.

And selling AIG policies couldn't be easier, she says, as the company has partnerships "with all the top GDS systems".

"Travel agents are now able to sell travel policies while simultaneously issuing air tickets for their customers," she explains. "A reminder to offer travel insurance to the customer is incorporated at the end of every booking, taking the agent directly to the insurance booking option, on all GDS."

HolidayGuard's Norman Cloke advises agency managers to set separate targets for insurance sales from the targets they set for other sales in order to encourage staff to sell the product and enforce the message that offering insurance can help them close a sale.

"The agent's hardest job is to get their customers to part with their deposit, but they can explain that a good insurance policy can cover cancellation charges if certain circumstances prevent them travelling," he says.

HolidayGuard, for instance, covers up to US $5000 per person for cancellation charges and like AIG, is available on the GDS system.

Car rental

Agents also lack confidence selling car rental, according to Naz Musa, managing director of Holiday Autos Middle East.

"It's the easiest thing to ask a customer is if they want to hire a car during their trip, however in most cases, this just does not happen," he says.

"This could be due to lack of product knowledge, which is a historical issue, or simply because the staple sale income has always been the flight sale.

He says that good agents "actively sell car hire alongside any flight".

"They talk to the client about how they plan to get around while at their destination and suggest that a rental car would give them flexibility," he adds.

Musa says agents should highlight the cost benefits of car rental. i.e., a cab to central London from Heathrow will cost a client approximately $110, but for less than $70, they can have a car for 24 hours.

Holiday Autos has made selling car hire easy by streamlining the online booking process, which can be completed in "just three clicks".

"The client pre-pays everything and receives a voucher that can be e-mailed to them covering everything they need," he says.

Holiday Autos pays 15% commission, which means that on an average booking of $400, a travel agency can make $60, Musa notes.

Selling cruises

Tips from Royal Caribbean's Debbie Summers:

Why sell a cruise holiday?

•The cruise industry is young and growing rapidly

• High commission levels

• Popularity with Middle Eastern guests

• High repeat business

• Untapped market"

• Highest consumer satisfaction amongst all segments of travel industry

• The complete vacation: contained costs, floating resort, flexible, safe, multiple destinations, value for money

• User-friendly online reservations system: www.cruisingpower.com.

Who to sell cruises to:

• Long haul vacationers

• Families

• Honeymooners/anniversaries

• Double Income No Kids (DINKs) and empty nesters

• Corporate / Incentives

Visit www.royalcaribbean.com

Selling car rentalTips from Holiday Autos' Naz Musa:

• Don't be afraid of asking the question ‘Do you want car hire during your trip?" The worst case scenario is that they say no.

• Think about what the client will be doing overseas and work out if a car would be of use

• Be confident selling car hire and your clients will be confident in your recommendations

• Highlight the cost-saving benefits of renting a car

Visit www.holidayautos.ae

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