August 5, 2016 | By Ali Moffitt
Welcome back to Andavo Travel’s blog series, “How to build a successful home-based travel agency.” Each month, we interview one of our Andavo-affiliated travel advisors, in hopes that sharing their success stories will prove useful to those travel advisors new to the industry.
For our fifth interview, we spoke to Donna Peacock, an Andavo Travel advisor located in Birmingham, Alabama, and member of the Andavo Travel President’s Club, which recognizes those with top sales in our network. She has been in the business for over 30 years, and specializes in the South Pacific, adventure travel, and the Caribbean due to its fishing and scuba diving.
We asked her the following questions:
1. What is your #1 tip for a travel advisor just starting out in the industry, on how to build a successful home-based travel agency?
Learn to be a good listener. Our first inclination is to throw out ideas, like “You should do this or you should Itdo that,” as far as a destination or a resort. However, you can gather more information if you listen before you speak. I believe being a good listener is the most important thing a travel advisor can do overall.
2. In your early years, how did you build up your clientele?
I was lucky that I was hired into an agency where the business was there for me, but I put a lot of effort into the family aspect of the clients I was given. And luckily, I still do their travel today – only now its their grandchildren, weddings, and multi-generational trips for clients that I started with 20-30 years ago. Part of my personality is that I genuinely just want to get to you know you personally, in addition to where you want to travel.
I made a concerted effort to try and make friends with my clients. If they had something going on in their lives / families, I would make detailed notes to myself about kids’ names and grades and ages so that I could come back next time I chatted with them and follow up and ask about their families and jobs. I’ve developed those relationships over the years and have been blessed that they stayed with me. And now all these years later, I’ve gone to weddings and funerals and consider them all friends. It does take time to nurture those relationships and have them trust you and feel comfortable talking to you about their family/friends/careers.
3. Why do you think you’ve become so successful? What keeps your clients coming back to you over and over, vs. using the internet or a different travel advisor?
Relationships. Its just a trust. It’s the fact that I’m talking to them two days before they leave to make sure they have everything, that they feel comfortable with everything they’re about to do, and then following up with them after the trip to make sure they were happy and get any feedback on what they might have changed. I think my success is strictly due to relationships – my clients know I care about them having a really great experience every time they travel.
4. What are some of the behind-the-scenes things you do, that the client doesn’t even know about, that make the trip seamless?
I try to always contact the hotel, resort or tour operator in advance of my clients’ stay. I’ll shoot the manager an email and say “Hey, these are special people, just take really great care of them,” and explain any special circumstances they may have. As a result, sometimes my clients get met by the manager upon check-in or get special amenities, but sometimes they don’t. Regardless, it takes me three minutes to send an email to the management of the property, and 9 times out of 10 they respond and do you what you ask them to!
On that note, I’ve been a part of Andavo for about two years now, and thus a part of Virtuoso, and I’m noticing that my clients are finally starting to really understand the benefits of booking Virtuoso suppliers through me. I’m starting to see them come to me for smaller hotel stays where they might not have in the past, just to say “I’m thinking of booking this hotel for a weekend stay; are you able to get me anything through your Virtuoso membership?” And often times, I am!
5. What technology do you find the most useful in building your business?
I’d love to say social media, but I’m “technology impaired”. [laughs] I just love and employ all the usual things at my fingertips – my email, GDS, Virtuoso.com. But I feel that all technology is just a tool to get back to the relationships.
6. What personality trait do you think all successful travel advisors have in common?
Being a good listener. Who wants to sit there and have a travel advisor tell them everything they should do?
7. If you had to go back, start over, and build your business again, what would you do differently?
I would be even more aggressive about specializing in a particular destination. You can’t know the whole world, even though you’re expected to. I think there have been some trips in my past that would have been better handed off to someone else who was more knowledgeable. Of course its easy for me to say now, at this point in my career when I’m not so desperate for business, but I’ve learned to hand off trips – because in this day and age, its just not fair to the client to pretend. You’re expected to know more than they do, and if I don’t, I hand it off. There’s nothing worse to me than just trying to wing something I know nothing about, and I would rather not fake it.
8. What do you do to close the sale?
Through the years, I’ve learned to let the client close the sale themselves. To sell yourself enough in the planning process that they want YOU to do it, instead of someone else; that you can offer them something that somebody else can’t. I can’t even think of an instance where I’ve had to ask “Can I book this for you?” I try to end conversations with, “Let me know if you need more info; I’m very familiar with this destination, and I think I can make it a great experience for you.” I’m into people who want me to create an experience for them, and value my expertise, rather than those bargain shoppers who are hoping for hand outs with a small bottom line.