Amid the troubles and turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, even the most seasoned travel advisors can hit creative road blocks when it comes to devising marketing plans that stick.
Signs indicate that travel is experiencing a slow and gradual restart, but many agents may be wondering what their next steps should be, especially as Canada’s travel restrictions and 14-day quarantine measures remain locked in place.
After all, how does one sell travel when many consumers have pressed pause on their travel dreams?
According to travel industry speaker, trainer and author Stephen (Steve) Crowhurst, the last thing travel advisors should do right now is go quiet.
In fact, now is the time to map out a marketing plan and “get as loud as you can,” he says.
“Stay loud, relevant, and positive,” Crowhurst told PAX in a recent telephone interview. “That will dictate how the sale is made.”
And Crowhurst is keen on helping agents get started.
The author has created a list of marketing ideas that agents can use – 332 of them, in fact – all of which are detailed in a new book Crowhurst wrote to gives travel pros that extra nudge they need to move forward.
The book, called Marketing Ideas for Travel Agents: 332 Ideas full of Tips, Tools & Techniques to Energize Your POST-COVID-19 Travel Sales, is a handy, desk-side reference, full of “street-smart, trade-savvy” tips that are reflective of today’s COVID-cautious world.
Supported by Crowhurst’s 55-year-strong career in the travel industry (and his quick-witted humour), the tell-it-like-it-is book urges agents to use 332 ideas as they see fit – either as in, revamped, or spun into a different concept that suites their business needs.
“What I do is give an idea and say: ‘It’s yours – take it, run with it, and own it,” said Crowhurst.
A timely release
You could say this book has been 36 years in the making.
Part of a long line of how-to books that Crowhurst has written for travel professionals, the book’s first edition (which started off with 100 ideas) was written on a typewriter more than three decades ago.
He published an updated version in 2010, which upped the idea count to 273.
The book of 332 ideas that you see today is Crowhurst’s latest edition – a version of which was ready for printing not that long ago, until COVID-19 hit, forcing the author to revamp all 520 pages so the content aligned with the current environment.
Talk about timely.
There’s up-to-date tips on commission mark-ups, agency names and claims, window dressing, banners to customer service, ethnic marketing, generational marketing, bucket lists and publishing guide books.
Crowhurst even addresses ways to support the things that are striving to make today’s world a better place, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and front-line healthcare workers.
Really, it’s content that anyone working in travel – whether it be retail agents, wholesalers, suppliers or departments of tourism – can relate to.
“All of these ideas are excellent, still good, and are concepts that work,” Crowhurst explained.
Be real, be authentic
While the book’s title alludes to post-COVID sales, the ideas are meant to be used now, in this moment, so agents have a plan ready to go for when travel takes off.
Agents should do everything they can to stand out during COVID-19, says Crowhurst, even if it means wearing a t-shirt with a giant QR code printed on the back alongside the words “SCAN ME” so people on the street (aka, potential clients) have a way to engage.
“You can go shopping for groceries and be marketing,” said Crowhurst.
But it’s important that ideas have a life online, too.
Routine posting on social media and emails should be at the forefront of one’s marketing plan these days, Crowhurst said, and within those realms, being as authentic as possible is key.
“Social media is effective if you’re real. You can’t be fake,” said Crowhurst. “Speak as if the client is sitting right in front of you. Don’t try and sell a trip you know they can’t have.”
And make sure whatever you’re selling will still be there for when the client wants it, he added.
“Some ideas just aren’t going to work”
But what makes a good marketing idea, good, anyway?
“Everybody understands their own terms of marketing, but the problem is, they’re blinded by it,” said Crowhurst. “They’re wearing rose-coloured glasses, thinking it’s going to work before actually testing it.”
This is where having a good accountant can come in handy.
“The idea has to be vetted by someone who knows how to vet an idea,” said Crowhurst. “Get the hard and fast numbers. Analyze it...Some ideas just aren’t going to work.”
But not all marketing plans have to necessarily break the bank. Some can be as simple as going live on Facebook, via video feed, to chat with customers for “three to ten minutes” to identify with people’s wants and needs.
“Regardless of what is happening, you have to keep putting yourself out there,” said Crowhurst, noting how most marketing channels, like Facebook, are easy to use and affordable.
“Their health is your wealth”
Marketing travel during COVID-19 comes with new responsibilities, too.
In this regard, Crowhurst has a simple saying: “Their health is your wealth.”
“As long as you work to keep your clients travelling safely, then you will make money,” he said.
The role of a travel agent hasn’t changed due to the pandemic, he said. However, the type of education that goes into being a trusted travel expert has.
“Agents have to be involved in health policies, know what’s happening around the globe, and stay on top of insurance,” said Crowhurst. “If a client asks: ‘Is it safe to go?’ and if the agent looks blank, then we’ve got a problem”
“The number one thing is for agents to understand the health and safety side of travel as opposed to telling clients about the weather in Cancun,” he said.
This is where getting out and experiencing a destination first-hand, to the best of one’s ability, can effectively boost one’s credibility in the marketplace.
“The agent has to physically do what they’re telling clients to do,” said Crowhurst. “Get out on a FAM and say, ‘Hey, I just went there, and it’s fine.’”
Crowhurst is confident the travel industry will bounce back – if history has taught us anything.
From the World Wars to SARS to 9/11: “We find a way through,” he said, noting how it's impactful marketing plans that have carried the industry through the toughest of times.
If anything, COVID-19 may push more agencies to build a business continuation fund – enough cash to stay afloat for six months to a year without income – so that “if something hits the fan” they can continue, said Crowhurst.
“Some people will get fed up and say, ‘That’s it. I’m out,’ which just opens up more clients for other travel agents,” he said.
For those agents out there who are still kicking, Crowhurst – in addition to 332 ideas – has two words for you: “Stay creative.”
Marketing Ideas for Travel Agents: 332 Ideas full of Tips, Tools & Techniques to Energize Your POST-COVID-19 Travel Sales is available on Amazon here.
For more on Stephen Crowhurst, click here.
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