TORONTO — Steve Gillick, the president of Talking Travel, told travel agents interested in becoming specialists that developing solid relationships with suppliers in their chosen specialty is critical.
“Your networks are the gold in this industry,” Gillick said. “Networking is not an event, it’s not the next trip your doing. It’s the legacy of what you’re doing.
“These are people that are going to be in your virtual rolodex for many, many years to come.”
Gillick, led a seminar called Selecting and Mastering a Travel Specialty, at the sold-out Travel MarketPlace conference here. The conference, co-sponsored by Travel Market Report and the Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA), is dedicated to boosting the profitability of Canada’s agency community.
The process Gillick detailed the process agents should follow to become a specialist in one area of travel.
“You need an action plan,” said Gillick. “The most important part is the timeline at the end. You have to say here’s what I’m going to do and this is when I’m going to achieve it.”
And while specialties can be as unique as galactic travel or African safaris, the formula for becoming a specialist in a specific area starts with becoming an expert in that area.
According to Gillick, the process includes:
To sell specialty travel, you have to be an expert in your chosen area, Gillick said.
“You have to eat, sleep and breathe your specialty. You have to put 115% into what you want to do as a specialist,” he said.
Talking to experts and peers in order to get to know key words and understand the lingo in the specialty is important, as is researching through travel guides and travel trade articles.
Choose a specialty
While 32% of agents categorize themselves as specialists, many are still “jack of all trades, masters of none,” said Gillick.
To come up with an area in which to specialize, it’s important to look at what you’re passionate about. You want to “inspire yourself” to help others pursue a travel dream.
“It’s a two way street; your clients have to introspect what they want but you have to have something inside too. You should be jumping up and down about a specialty,” he added.
And while passion can lead to a specialty that excites, Gillick warned against picking something too specific. A specialty that’s too highly focused might alienate clients.
Review, consult and network
Being a specialist means always learning about what’s happening within your area of expertise—specialists’ job training isn’t done once they start selling, Gillick said.
“You’re always learning when you’re a specialist,” he said.
It’s important to develop contacts and a network within your specialty who can help an agent service their own clients, especially when they might be called on to sell a trip half way round the world that they know nothing about.
“You may not know everything, but you [should] know where to go to,” Gillick said.
Taste and try
Even though many companies offer specialty training courses that enable agents to get involved in a specific industry, if they truly want to sell a niche area they should experience that area personally, according to Gillick.
“You can’t just do it by theory; you have to do it through experience,” he said.
Taking a fam trip is essential but not enough, he added.
Anyone who takes a fam who is—or is working towards being—a specialist, has to be active on the fam, seeking out and connecting with suppliers and other contacts who are critical to their specialty.
Honeymoon and destination wedding specialists on fams, for example, should seek out the wedding venues that area offers as well as the local suppliers they’ll need to work with.
Analyze, interview, refine, brainstorm
While specialists may be knowledgeable in one area of travel, it’s still important for them to continue their education in that area.
“Just because you’ve done it doesn’t meant it’s over with,” Gillick said. “You’ve got to talk to your clients, talk to the suppliers, analyze the network.”