My name is Pat Woodard. My business name is Woodard Enterprises Cruises & Travels. I’m based in Dallas, GA. I’ve been a travel agent since 2004. I didn’t intend to become one, but I’m glad the opportunity came my way.
It was introduced to me by a life-long friend who felt that since I was putting together a cruise for an all female group I was a part of, why not get paid for it!?? When I called the agency I was told to contact, I was given a lot of information, some books to read, forms to complete and a commission percentage.
The industry name for the agency is “host agency”. The reason is because they “host” us through their credentials. These credentials are necessary to book air, cruises, car rentals, rail, accommodations and other types of travel, and get paid for booking through those “vendors” or businesses. You’re bringing those vendors business. Those credentials are the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), International Association of Travel Agents Network (IATAN) and other major credentials. Therefore, because you are using the host agency’s credentials without having to pay the annual renewal fees they must pay, they are “hosting’ your travel business. The percentage they receive from your work, anywhere between 10-50% in most cases, helps them pay for the annual renewal fees for those credentials. Those credentials can run over $1000 combined per year to keep them renewed.
I started out at a 70% commission rate. The reason for that, I was told, was because I seemed to pick-up the content of the business quickly and they were very happy with my performance. In the meantime, the cruise I was putting together for my group continued to grow.
As the group grew, my host agency felt it was necessary to give me a “promotion” of such. That promotion was in the form of a percentage hike. That’s when I started receiving 80% of the commission. My host agency would receive 20%. Although it was basically a fluke, my first experience as a travel agent was the best paying experience I had and I was hooked from that point on. I knew I could do this business from my heart. It became my passion.
The business made me feel good. Why? Because I was helping people enjoy parts of their lives. My belief is that life is very, very short and rather than cashing in your leave, take it! Enjoy your life! Make the best out of it! We all live in this world, and we should know where we live….
While I was in the Army, I traveled on the Government’s money from one duty station to another. Each time I was stationed overseas, I took that opportunity to do USO tours which were very inexpensive. I experienced different cultures and gained many friends around the world. It was the greatest high I’d ever had. That’s what I want for my clients. A big high that stays with them forever in your memory.
When my clients return from a vacation I’ve created for them, I request feed-back about their trips. The feedback allows me to understand them better and their needs, and what problems occurred, if any, while on their vacations. I take that information and apply it towards other clients wanting to experience similar vacations, and make sure those negative things don’t happen to them, nor future clients.
I grew in knowledge and I spent many long hours researching hotels, restaurants, car rental businesses and other businesses that my client wants to incorporate within their travel plans. I give suggestions from my experiences. If I’ve been to the vacation spot they want to travel to, I give them information about it. And I work within their budgets, if they are reasonable.
I love my clients and I make them feel loved. I make sure they understand that I, too, am a consumer and I will not send them to any accommodations I would not want to go to myself. I don’t just take the “wording” of a hotels write-up about the hotel, I go on various websites to review comments of those that have been to the accommodations. I don’t just look at the pictures the hotel has on their website, they may not be up-to-date, especially after this recent recession. I look at pictures the travelers have posted while making their comments about the accommodations and surrounding areas. These are true and honest. And really should be taken into consideration when researching for your clients. This type of caring gives me repeat clients. They also tell their friends and family to contact me. And thank God, over the years my clientele has grown.
Granted, the personalities can sometimes be nerve wrecking, but it’s still worth it. Why? Because it teaches you patience. It teaches you customer service. And it teaches you to learn more about your business. And when your clients contact you once or twice a year with more and more people in their travel entourage, the more money you make and the more clients you continue to gain, as well as friends and family. They tend to become your family. I sometimes call them my “babies”. I’ve got love for them and they’ve got love for me. There’s a mutual respect. Giving and doing for others is very rewarding. You may not get the pay in this business that you deserve. But you do receive more than you expected in other ways.
Research is a very long and tedious job. If you want to give your clients the very best, you must go through the research procedure to ensure you’ve hit the best marks possible, given them the best accommodations for the money and ensure that the accommodations are in safe areas and close to all of the amenities they need.
I’ve worked on the computer for over 12 hours straight doing research for clients. A lot of times, the time is spent making sure that I am staying within their budgets with the best accommodations possible within that budget. But at the same time, you are learning your craft. And even though you are not getting the amount of money you deserve with the amount of hours you’ve put in, you still make money. But more than that, you have a satisfaction of knowing that you did something great for someone. Your biggest reward afterwards is when they return and tell you how fantastic the vacation was, and you know it was because you put your time and passion in it. Most times, that’s a large pay-day for the soul.
Since we’re talking about budgets, that can also be a thorn in your side. Many people who contact a travel agent do so because they’ve already searched the internet for what they want. They want certain things for a certain amount of money and they aren’t able to find it, exactly…..If they do find something comparable to all of their needs, they contact a travel agent. When the agent asks them about their budget, they don’t give the agent the amount they originally had in their minds during their research, they give the agent a lower budget amount. However, during the conversation phase, you discover that they’ve searched for what they want and they saw the rates that were advertised and want the agent to give them the same for less. Unfortunately, they believe that travel agents are magicians!! They may be mind-readers, but they are not magicians. They believe we have the ability to give them everything they are looking for, but for less.
Unfortunately, we don’t have control over the rates that businesses charge. For instance, cruises. Cruise lines set their own rates. If a client sees a cruise they want after their research, and contacts an agent, we must go to the cruise line web page to get those rates and present those rates to the client. We don’t have the authority to lower the rates.
What the cruiser does not know is that, not only can we not give them a lower rate, they will need to pay more. Why? Because the cruise line advertises a cruise based solely on their cruise line rate. They are not giving you a “full” rate which includes the taxes, fees and other charges that makes up the entire “full” rate of that cruise. it’s a separate rate the cruise line has attached to that particular cruise based on the cabin type. Other considerations for their pricing is fuel, food, liquor, amenities, employee salaries, utilities, route, longevity of the cruise and other associating factors.
For instance, if you see that a cruise to Jamaica is $250, that rate lures in the cruisers (and they want the travel agent to lower it even more!???). What they don’t know is that added onto the $250 is anywhere from $75 to $200 in taxes and fees, sometimes more, but that’s not done until you begin to book the cruise. So when the travel agent gives them the “full” rate for that same cruise, they are presenting it higher and the cruisers think that the travel agent is not properly doing their job. Furthermore, the lowest advertised rates pertain to the least expensive cabin type which is an interior or “inside” cabin. Ocean-view or “outside” cabins, and balcony cabins are much higher. But you are lured in with a small amount advertised because they are a business. And that rate brings them in because everybody wants something for nothing, or at least, close to it!
Most times, the cruiser then goes back online to that cruise web page. After they’ve finished creating the reservation and paying the immediate deposit, they don’t seem to understand that they’ve paid the same thing the travel agent presented to them previously.
However, there are travel agencies that are able to advertise lower rates for a particular cruise because they “bought” those cruises when the rates were first presented to the public by the cruise line. When the cruise line rate goes up, the travel agency that “bought” the cruises now have lower rates than the cruise line. They then advertise those cruises and get a large amount of business for those particular cruises.
By “buying” them, they “lock-in” those lower rates. It shouldn’t be done, but it’s done all of the time, mostly by travel agencies that have many employees working in an office. Very seldom by an at-home travel agent. When I say “buying”, I mean that they actually pay for a certain amount of cabins. They pay the full rate to the cruise line for a variety of cabin types. Once the cruise line rates go up for that particular cruise, the travel agency then advertises the cruise at a much lower rate for each cabin. They charge a slightly higher rate that what they bought from the cruise line, but they are still able to give cruisers a lower rate when they “buy” and “lock-in” those cabin rates.
As a travel agent, you must explain to your clients, especially your new clients, the ins and outs of their travel and who you are as a travel agent. A travel agent must have above-board integrity and know how to give good customer service. That entails providing good advice and insight about the type of vacation they want to take.
It’s never a good idea to be a travel agent that has no passion for the business. An agent has to always remember that even though they wear the hat of an agent, they too are consumers. An agent should never feel as though they are above anyone that is not in the business just because they know so much about the business. You’re not just a travel agent, you’re a teacher, a consoler, a mind-reader and a provider. But more than anything, a travel agent must be a person with good integrity, good character and be honest. Otherwise, what’s the point???
Well, the next time you hear from me, I’ll explain some things about group travel. If you’re a person interested in becoming a travel agent, you may want to keep in touch with me through these blogs. You can learn a lot. Until then, happy vacations!!!