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I have worked for every size business, from my father’s lumberyard, to Virgin Atlantic Airways, to Fortune 500 corporations. While business dynamics vary greatly by size, success today relies on one very important unifying practice—a personal connection.

Travel agents who succeed and thrive, do so because they have formed personal client relationships that transcend a flight, a destination, or each Instagrammable moment.

These agents know their clients at a level that’s very difficult, if not impossible, for large competitors to replicate. This connection goes deeper than whether your clients like the window or aisle seat, red or white wine, or Cancun for New Year’s Eve. Truly successful travel agents make their client feel at home, even when that family is traveling thousands of miles away from it.

I thought about this in August as my middle child departed for college—Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a 12-hour drive, without I-95 traffic.

Based in New York’s Hudson Valley, we chose to traverse the eastern half of Pennsylvania, through the Maryland panhandle and West Virginia, and then down the Shenandoah Valley to my sister’s farm in the Appalachian foothills. After an overnight visit in Virginia, we drove the final leg to Myrtle Beach, crossing diagonally through North Carolina.

Before our 4-day trip to drop Chris off, I tried to find interesting places along the way by looking at Google Maps and digging deeper into the tourism websites of places on our route, but I was so overwhelmed.

Should I save something like Gettysburg for a longer, more leisurely trip? What are the hotel options in and around Charlottesville, and how does seasonality and the University of Virginia impact rates? When does the ocean start to cool off in Myrtle Beach?

The fact is, there’s too much information out there for a single dad like me to digest. And family travel can be complicated when you’re trying to satisfy multiple wishes.

Big travel corporations try to anticipate a family’s wants and needs through loyalty programs, artificial intelligence and web tracking. But I don’t think they stand a chance against a motivated travel agent fortified by a good customer relationship management (CRM) database.

CRM software today allows travel agents to take all of their customer “data,” and uncover the personal reasons why someone might be traveling soon. It assists agents in recommending a special milestone trip. It connects the dots between a client’s comments about missing elderly parents in another state, and the opportunity for a multi-generational cruise of a lifetime.

My trips back and forth to visit Chris, pick him up and drop him off, won’t produce lucrative agent commissions. But they do afford a great agent the chance to get to know me during a significant milestone in my life—my son maturing into his future self, and our family trying to manage this phase of our evolution. It’s also a chance for me to reconnect with my sister in Virginia, and three brothers in Greensboro.

With the right technology, a great travel agent would be aware of this transformation and think about how they could help us traverse these deeply personal and emotional times, and win a lifetime client.

For more tips on selling family travel from the Family Travel Association, click here.

Recommend magazine has partnered with the Family Travel Association to bring you monthly columns to help travel agents sell family travel. This column was written by Richard D’Ambrosio, communications director of Family Travel Association. 

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