Travel agents are professional service providers who are valued for their expertise and knowledge.
The time has long passed that travel agents were mere ticket bookers; the modern travel agent is a professional consultant who will always negotiate the best options for his or her clients.
So, why are travel agents in Africa still so reluctant to charge professional fees? We chatted to Nolan Burris on his views on the matter.
“As an industry speaker and consultant, I am well-aware of the challenges and fears surrounding professional fees. It is a big subject that can’t be fully addressed through figures, averages and data alone,” he explains.
Why is it important for travel agents to start charging fees?
I truly believe adopting professional fees is critical to long-term success for many reasons. Chief among them is this: nobody thinks they NEED a travel agent anymore.
Any cheap smartphone can provide a reservation and find a deal with a finger-tap. Of course, this doesn’t mean the consumer will get the RIGHT deal, or an accurate reservation, but the perception is still prevails.
So, if they don’t believe they NEED us anymore, the only answer is to make them WANT us. This demands a very different strategy from simply being the most convenient option. That worked for decades, but now we have to be the most DESIRABLE option.
Fees matter because creating such a desirable, attractive, high-service, customer-centric model takes time and money. Yet, it is the only way to become something more than the human version of a reservation making app. We must become something so WANTED, that we truly are the luxury they now see us to be.
How can travel agents make professional fees a success?
To succeed with fees at ANY level, fees CANNOT be for bookings. This is why I prefer the term “professional fee” over “service fee”. It helps convey what they fee is actually for.
No app charges for making a booking. Bookings are seen by consumers as the least valuable part of the travel equation. Professional fees are for advice, guidance, support before/during/after the trip, connections with suppliers, ongoing training, advocacy if something should go wrong… and much more.
Even without fees, it is critical to market the value of the travel agency as a desirable “product” separate from the flight/tour/cruise.
What are some of the advantages of moving over to service fees for travel agencies?
First, there is the obvious financial advantage. I often put it this way: as long as commission is your primary source of revenue, you are placing your entire wellbeing in the hands of a third party that may or may not have your best interests at heart. Fees allow you to gain at least some degree of control over your own destiny.
I believe however that the most significant advantage is also the most important reason to charge fees: to fund creating a human experience no app or website can ever replicate. The only way to beat “the machines” is to offer something they can’t: human service.
Fees are also under your own control. YOU decide how to use that money. If you channel a good portion of it to creating an amazing experience in your agency, not only will you attract service-seeking clients, you’ll create a much more pleasant and rewarding place to work!
African travel agents often fear that customers will not be willing to pay for professional service fees. What has your experience been with this?
South African agents are not alone with that fear. I’ve seen it in every country, big city, and small town that has dealt with this issue. Even in North America, the fear is still there among those who have not yet adopted fees.
The harsh reality is that there are indeed some customers that simply will not pay a fee. However, that objection is often based on their perception and past experiences in dealing with travel agencies. If they think they’ll be paying for you to “book something” you don’t stand a chance.
This takes me back to my previous statement about becoming something more than a reservation booking service. You have to create a NEW superior, desirable experience beyond bookings. Many of the most successful fee-charging agencies have created fee-based service packages they offer similar to “gold / silver / bronze” levels. Some include restaurant research and reservations, activities research, and more!
Specific to the fears over fees, there is one statement I hear over and over from agencies that finally take the leap: I wish I had done this sooner.
The biggest barrier to fees is not our customers, but our own mindset. Thank goodness we are at least in charge of that!
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