Can We Talk? - The Future Of Relationships In The Travel Industry
In the first part of her series exploring how relationships in the travel industry will be conducted in the future, Sarah Arane hosted a panel of respected industry relationship managers for an entertaining and no-holds-barred discussion about how the role of the ‘rep’ will be conducted in a post-lockdown world. When the industry begins its recovery, head office will undoubtedly be looking for greater returns on investment. Will sales calls ever be the same? Can they be done over Zoom? Was the industry due for a shakeup anyway? Joining Sarah for this in-depth discussion was a selection of experienced BDMs (Business Development Managers) Tenille Hunt, Kate Foster, and Walter Nand.
How Did You Keep Delivering Value During Lockdown?
As the owner of two newly launched businesses, Walter Nand found himself in the unenviable position of having to essentially pull the breaks on his growing companies. However, despite the initial emotional impact of this decision, Walter was able to look on the positive side and towards the future, and decided that this abundance of time was the perfect opportunity to work on the foundations of each business. In doing so, Walter identified the value of social media marketing to keep within the view of his clients, with a particular focus therefore on the medium of Facebook. Furthermore, rather than simply telling his clients that they should travel, Walter undertook the process of storytelling, to build dreams in the minds of his viewers about his wonderful products. The very nature of the products themselves provided the perfect scaffold for this, with weekly campaigns being formed around weekly travel itineraries. For example, the adventure of each day on a 7-day river cruise would form the daily posts for each day of a week of lockdown.
Walter was wasn’t the only panelist diving deep into social media, as Tenille Hunt was also determined to cut through the clutter with a series of fun yet sometimes educational videos. For example, one saw Tenille pretending she was in Antarctica all from an almost-equally-cold Melbourne pier, dressing up in all of her harsh weather gear
What Will The Future Look Like For Sales Reps Post-Lockdown?
While specific details are difficult to predict, the panel was able to agree on some broader likely outcomes. Firstly, with many companies recently downsizing, it is highly likely that they will be employing fewer sales reps than usual, at least during the recovery period. This would likely result in this smaller team of reps needing to cover a greater area than before to sustain all of the current and prospective clients and partners. While sales reps typically love to promote their products to as many people as possible, stretching their time resources too thinly would most likely result in their presentations being too diluted and rushed to truly express the value of their products, and sales will likely be harder to secure as a result. The argument therefore arises whether companies will decide to focus their resources more strategically, to only pursue the most promising of leads, of whether they will continue to focus their efforts on quantity rather than quality. It is likely that finding a balance between these two alternatives will yield the most positive result for the industry and the hard working BDMs within it.
Another trend that had been observed by the panelists was the growing need for BDMs to be multi-skilled, in areas including social media, marketing and potentially even finance. With smaller teams working for each respective company, these skills will become indispensable to BDMs.
New Considerations For Communicating Post-COVID
While its become expected that we’ll need to communicate hygiene and safety practices more than ever to consumers, the same principle also applies to travel agents and BDMs. As we enter the new world, in-person events and expos will begin to resume, and as they do, it will be the responsibility of hosts to communicate that their guests will be safe as they attend. At present many potential event attendees are too nervous or hesitant to go, so they will require a certain level of assurance to make them feel that it is safe for them to attend. This may not be as difficult to achieve as one might initially assume, however, as many sanitisation and safety practices are already in place underlying many businesses. The only necessary action is to bring these to the surface and make them highly visible to clients so that they can see the effort you’ve made to ensure their safety.
Walter's Survey Results
Recently, Walter conducted two national surveys of both BDMs and Travel agents, receiving results from 84 agents and 122 BDMs. These surveys provided two important insights:
Firstly, in the industry it is common practice for upper management to ‘shake-up’ BDM and agent relationships, for fear of them becoming stale, thereby forcing new BDMs to make contact and reestablish connections with agents. Walter’s surveys reveal that the vast majority of agents and BDMs view this as an unnecessary and inefficient practice, as they feel their connections were enduring and as strong as ever, without any need for such a shake-up.
Secondly, survey results indicated that if social distancing measures were implemented 80% of travel agents would be willing to attend in person events and expos once again. While online communication tools will continue to be useful, in person events will therefore likely continue to be an enduring part of the sales process.
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