Price is a pretty consistent topic of conversation on travel agent forums. I have many times heard a travel consultant say that the only thing their clients care about is price. In fact, there is more consistent discussion of price, discounting and rebating than perhaps any other topic among travel agents. As a result, price too often becomes the lynch pin on which every other aspect of the travel planning process depends: if the price is not lower than the competition, the transaction does not occur. Consumers armed with keyboards and 19-inch monitors compound the problem, researching every pricing possibility Google can uncover prior to ever speaking with a travel professional.
It is natural for clients to focus on price – they are lay people, civilians, who do not fully understand the components of value in travel. It is not, however, OK for travel counselors to treat price as if it is the centerpiece of the transaction. As the consultant, the travel counselor needs to assist the client in better understanding that price is only one component of value.
This is true: when you go shopping for groceries, you are not upset when you spend $100 – you are upset that it all fits in one bag! If you received a truck-load of groceries for your $100 you would be ecstatic. Price does not matter as a primary concern. What matters is what we get in return for what we pay. Naturally, people have budgets. But that is different from making price the central issue in travel planning. A value-centric approach to travel planning emphasizes first what the client will receive for their investment: your expertise, the quality of the supplier, the location of the hotel, the adventure of the trip, the romance of the setting. Once these components are clearly understood, the price will seem a natural consequence of the value.
To have the luxury of working with clients on this level requires a relationship. It is highly likely that the client who runs through your door with a ‘deal’ in hand from an online discounter and challenges you to match it is not the client that you will be able to counsel correctly unless you can slow down the process a bit. No one component of travel counseling can be separated from all the others. The relationship is a necessary aspect of the value you bring to the table, and without it it is difficult for you and client to place pricing in its proper perspective.
Clients will try to drive to the bottom line each time. Don’t let them do it. Maintain control of the relationship and tutor your clients on the concept of value. They will travel farther and better for it.
‘Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.’