FEBRUARY 02, 2009

Top Tips on Selling America

Travel Agent asked newly appointed National Tour Association Chairman and CEO Michele Michalewicz for her thoughts on how travel agents can add to their bottom line during these tough times. Here, she offers her thoughts on selling domestic travel.

In today’s economy, it makes sense for agents to refocus on selling domestic travel, and tour operators are equipped to supply them with quality products. With fewer dollars in their wallets, Americans are taking more short-haul vacations, but certainly not forgoing their trips all together. Travel agents can profit by being prepared to meet this demand. Here are a few tips from tour operators on how to market America’s exceptional destinations.

Remind Americans of how traveling domestically can help the economy. By traveling domestically, Americans can do their part to stimulate the economy at U.S. hotels, restaurants and attractions. As the second largest employer in the U.S., travel will help spread economic gains to our country's destinations. According to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2007 domestic and international travelers spent $737 billion in the U.S. This generated 7.7 million jobs, $189.3 billion in payroll income, and $115.3 billion in tax revenues for federal, state and local governments. Beyond that, America is home to many national parks, historic sites, unique attractions, and diverse climates and landscapes. Help your customers see how they can rediscover a destination they thought they already knew by visiting any of America’s 50 states.

Connect with your loyal customer base. Reach out to your regular customers and continue to provide them with the quality service you always have. You know that old adage—it is always easier to keep a customer than find a new one. Customers who have traveled with you for many years trust your experience and expertise. They may be more willing to go to a destination based solely on your suggestion. Also, think creatively about how to help your customers extend their purchasing power. Give them more for their money by offering deals or special incentives to good customers. Along those lines, now is also a good time for you to look at the destinations you've always sold through a fresh lens. What ideas do your tour operator partners have for a new approach and creative activities for the same destinations?

Customize. Special interest travel sells, even in tougher economic times. Many tour operators are specializing in unique travel product like faith-based, culinary, gay and lesbian, and sustainable travel. Work with tour operators to create one-of-a-kind packages for your customers. Show them that they don’t have to take a trip across the globe to have once in a lifetime experiences. Another high selling tour type is generational traveling. More and more extended families are living together and traveling together. Some tour operators specialize in this area and this could be a whole new demographic market for your domestic travel business.

Develop new partnerships. You can’t be an expert in everything. Look for those tour operator who specialize in markets you are trying to attract and find a way to partner. Think creatively and look for new partnerships that will be mutually beneficial. With travel agents searching for new revenue sources and tour operators looking for new outlets for their packaged travel products, partnering is a profitable solution for both. Additionally, consider cooperative marketing. Agents, tour operators, and destinations can partner to promote a product, trip or destination. Marketing and promotion often gets cut during tough times and, instead, companies should find creative ways to keep their business, their services and their product at the front of the consumer's mind. Along these lines, host an open house with your partner operator and destination to get your customers excited about a trip. Your customers will appreciate the night out and your investment will hopefully pay for itself in bookings either on that trip or in the future.

Rediscovering America has many benefits, both for agents' bottom lines and for the U.S. economy. Travel and tourism is one of the country's greatest assets and there has never been a better time to refocus on that. Get started by rediscovering the country yourself so you can speak from experience. There are fam trips, trade shows and conventions were you can connect with destination representatives and tour operators, and magazines, such as Travel Agent, giving you the latest on the United States.

Visit www.NTAonline.com.