Last week’s first annual national meeting for The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) in Cancun kicked off with a series of presentations and workshops, including a surprise guest speaker: Meredith Hill of the Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE), a U.S.-based organization that has recently partnered with TTAND to provide members with special access to its membership and resource products, all in the name of helping agents monetize their passion for travel.
PAX had an opportunity to sit down with Hill to discuss the organization, which was founded on a belief that although there has never been a better time to make money in travel (due in part to retiring baby boomers and a cultural increase in the demand for tangible experiences over material goods), there is also a significant lack of resources available to agents looking to build a brand for themselves.
“Our focus is on teaching agents to be business owners, not just sell travel,” Hill told PAX following her presentation. “It’s about how to attract the right kind of client, how to build a business, how to grow it, and how to have the right mindset to be a successful business owner."
Boasting more than 500 members,GIFTE was founded in 2011 out of a need for business-related support and tools within the travel industry, a missing component which, according to Hill, remains limited to this day.
“There really is no other organization out there right now that teaches long-term, sustainable paths in marketing and profitability to businesses that sell travel,” she said, going on to clarify that while anyone can become a travel agent, the best chance for success exists with an understanding of how the industry has changed in the past few decades.
“Even though there’s a lot of the same people selling travel in today’s industry as there was 20 or 30 years ago, the amount of people doing what they do has now multiplied,” Hill said, pointing out that travel agent curriculums taught in colleges tend to be outdated, teaching students how to sell travel, but not how to sell themselves.
As Hill explained to TTAND members, selling product is the easy part, since there is no shortage of options these days for would-be travellers. Often, clients know what they want before they even approach an agent, but they seek a professional to validate – and provide insight to – their choices.
As such, instead of simply booking packages and tours on behalf of clients, Hill said that the role of today’s agent is to guide people toward the right products, and to become an expert advisor.
“The difference between a travel expert and an agent is that an expert takes ownership of their client’s itinerary,” Hill explained to TTAND members during her presentation. “An agent never really does that, they’re more focused on selling [and making the booking]. Sure, agents can survive in today’s world by simply selling travel, but they’re going to struggle.”
Enter GIFTE, which offers its members benefits such as personalized Q&A sessions, access to expert marketing presentations, and a private Facebook forum for members to find support among peers. GIFTE's signature online training program, Blueprint, is a toolkit comprised of learning modules that walk agents through the process of designing, building and selling their services using a five-step system:
Step 1 – Update your business model
Step 2 – Create a core compelling message
Step 3 – Establish a marketing foundation
Step 4 – Establish your marketing system, with list building and relationship building
Step 5 – Adopt a marketing mindset.
While the steps may seem rudimentary, Hill said it’s not something members of the travel trade often consider when first starting out.
“A lot of people will skip right to Step 3, thinking they need business cards or a website,” Hill said, explaining that this means they skip creating a business model and developing their core message. “This leaves them with a language in their marketing foundation that speaks to everybody. And when you speak to everybody, you speak to no one.”
At the same time, Hill also warned that although following the Blueprint is the cornerstone to making money selling travel, there’s really no formula to success, and that achieving it has a lot to do with believing in one’s self.
“I think the number one thing [travel professionals] are doing wrong,” Hill told PAX, warning that her statement would be frustrating to a lot of people, “is not having the right mindset. They just don’t believe [in their own success], and you get what you expect in life.”
Indeed, a large part of Hill’s presentation centered on the power of confidence, whereby the entrepreneur explained that selling and product skills forming only a third of what it takes to succeed in business. The other two thirds are business building and having a positive mentality.
“It’s about finding your niche and establishing your value, yes,” Hill continued, “but you have to own that first. Clients aren’t going to come to you if you don’t own your value.”
For more information, visit: www.travelbusinessu.com/.