Travel agents will drive value for their customers by selling experiences and showcasing their expertise in 2011, according to VAX VacationAccess’ president Kathy Fitzpatrick. Agents offering unique product choices and utilizing technology to provide exceptional service will succeed, she says.
 
“2011 will set the stage for the travel agent business moving forward,” said Fitzpatrick. “Successful travel agents have recognized the need to move away from commoditization and toward creating memories and fulfilling dreams. Businesses will succeed when travel agents can leverage their unique advantages.”
 
VAX VacationAccess is the largest online distribution platform for leisure travel agents and gives vacation suppliers a variety of ways to reach qualified travel agents. Now in its 10th anniversary year, VAX develops innovative technology to help travel agents and agencies become more productive and profitable.
 
Agents must showcase their expertise to survive

According to Fitzpatrick, traditional travel agents should resist playing the price game, attempting to compete against online travel agents. Instead, expertise and service will provide opportunities for growth.
 
“If agents haven’t evolved, they may be left behind,” said Fitzpatrick. “Gone are the days when travel agents are expected to simply price product. In today’s competitive environment and economy, travel agents will grow by becoming specialists in experiences, destinations or customer segments, while making indispensable contributions to customers’ travel experiences, before and beyond the booking stage. Ultimately, it’s trust and loyalty that brings customers back.”
 
Utilizing training and technology resources, travel agents can specialize in segments such as all-inclusive or family friendly, or destinations such as Hawaii, Mexico or Europe. Education and sales tools, including VAX VacationAccess’ new ‘Vacation Experience’ hotel filter, enable travel agents to shift their approach.
 
“Travel agent expertise is worth so much, and the value they provide in terms of destination knowledge and service cannot be achieved in a self-serve environment. Therefore there is opportunity to close premium sales if travel agents lead customers toward the right experiences and communicate the additional customer service they can provide,” said Fitzpatrick.
 
Agent population growth powered by entrepreneurs

VAX VacationAccess recognizes the importance of new entrants to the travel agent profession to maintain the industry’s viability, particularly experienced sales veterans from other industries, and recent graduates who view travel product and service as exciting and fun to sell.
 
Those with sales backgrounds and established business networks may find leisure travel selling attractive. They will benefit from quality products and services from a variety of suppliers, and the tools to learn the profession quickly. Young, entrepreneurial college graduates may not have the sales contacts developed, but can bring the passion and technology savvy to move the travel agent business forward. By educating and providing tools, booking platforms can help these individuals learn to sell.
 
“We have met many new entrants at trade shows and seen new users within VAX VacationAccess,” said Fitzpatrick. “VAX can make it easy for them to get started with training and access to suppliers.”
 
Further validation of this trend came from recent market research conducted by VAX VacationAccess, which revealed that most users not booking cruise vacations are new to the travel industry and in need of resources.
 
“We think numbers of new entrants will grow in 2011 as business models evolve and travel enthusiasts see the industry as a viable option,” said Fitzpatrick.
 
Diverse, agent-friendly suppliers drive evolution

Loyal, trustworthy vacation suppliers are paramount to providing value, says Fitzpatrick. Travel agents are encouraged to work with those that focus on delivering unique experiences rather than just low prices.
 
“Agent expertise provides access to creative features and amenities, of which consumers may not be aware. Agents should capitalize on their knowledge and experience using other resources and tools including destination convention bureaus, proven tour operators, and creative hotel, cruise and escorted tour providers,” said Fitzpatrick.
 
VAX VacationAccess delivers exclusive supplier relationships, product and content to travel agents that is more comprehensive than their customers can find themselves. 
 
“Fragmentation adds layers of complexity, time, frustration and ultimately cost,” said Fitzpatrick. “VAX VacationAccess enables agents to spend time selling experiences rather than pricing.”
 
An important value of the booking platform for travel agents is the ability to access a full complement of product and options without switching between platforms. In 2011, for example, VAX will add cruise content and the ability to book cruise vacations alongside other vacation products.  This is a way agents can manage their product offerings in one tool.
 
2011 agents to capitalize on technology opportunities

Technology enables travel agents to access broad and deep supplier content, and allows them to further promote their value. 
 
“Innovative booking technology creates efficiency, as well as opportunities to upsell in ways that delight and encourage repeat, return customers,” said Fitzpatrick. “In addition, travel agents should use all the marketing tools available to them to reach their customers when and where they want to be reached. Social media, mobile-enabled websites, rich media and images, and internet telephone systems should all be in the travel agent’s outreach plans.”
 
VAX VacationAccess has been committed to the leisure travel sales professional for ten years and will continue to invest in technology and training to support them.
 
“With the right people, tools and commitment to providing value, I believe travel agents will lead the way toward delivering life-enhancing travel experiences to Americans,” said Fitzpatrick.