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Agents wake up! Drive your own future…check what this guy in the US did!

November 21, 2020 Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

Our friends over at Travel Weekly in the US published a really interesting article this week, which might give some Aussie travel agents some great ideas for how they can more than survive, btu also drive a rosy future.

The US Travel Weekly article tells the story of Michael Arnold, founder of the Tynan Travel Co. in Dallas, who had launched his agency in September 2018 but was just selling part-time, and he was at the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) conference in France with Keith Waldon, the founder and director of Arnold’s host agency, Departure Lounge, with just before his trip to ILTM, he made the decision to move to full-time.

He said he asked Waldon, “‘Keith, what are the biggest agents doing?”, “What does it take?”, “Is there a level?” “Because I always need some sort of target, otherwise I’m just going blind at this.”  In response, Waldon ballparked a figure saying, “The biggest individual agents were likely reaching $4 million to $5 million in annual sales”.

Arnold adopted that as his goa  and despite a global pandemic that has severely curtailed travel, he’s on track to eclipse $5 million in sales in 2020 with in October alone, he racked up $1 million, with Waldron laughing, “I should’ve gone higher,” “I should’ve said $10 [million].”

The article goes on to say that five million dollars in sales would be notable in any year but is nothing short of astounding in 2020, with an American Society of Travel Agents survey this last summer finding that 93% of travel agencies’ income was down at least 75% compared with 2019, with 78% of respondents reporting a plunge of 90% or more.

Prior to starting his agency, Arnold worked in private equity, a role he held on to as he worked part-time while getting Tynan Travel off the ground with Arnold saying his family had used various Virtuoso agencies for their personal travel over the years.

So, when he started researching his “passion project” of starting a travel agency, he came across an article in the Wall Street Journal describing Departure Lounge’s innovative nature and noted it was affiliated with Virtuoso.  Arnold said he connected with Waldon and was up and running 24 hours later, booking travel for ultra-high net worth clients and the day after he launched, he “booked the most expensive commercial aviation ticket available in the world, on Etihad”.

[Pictured from US Travel Weekly Tynan Travel Co. founder Michael Arnold working from the Greek islands]

Right from the start, Arnold rose up through the ranks of Departure Lounge’s top producers and he has stayed there, with Waldon crediting him, at least in part, for Departure Lounge being down only 37% this year.

The report goes on to say that the private side of the equation has gained during the past nine months, with early in the pandemic, Departure Lounge’s advisors pivoted to focus on private homes, studying what options were available and sharing that information with the entire team.

In the report Arnold says he is fascinated with aviation, and quickly established expertise in booking private flights, with before Covid-19, the average Tynan client would fly privately about half of the time, typically for domestic trips of around three hours in the air and they usually flew commercially for transcontinental flights.

Waldon added that the combination of private accommodations and private aviation resulted in a number of large bookings, with Arnold requiring clients to adhere to a minimum annual spend level and while that amount depends on the client, with initially, the bar was set too high to attract younger clients coming into an ultrahigh net worth lifestyle, Arnold said, all are at the Virtuoso Reserve level. (Virtuoso Reserve is for clients who rank in the top 3% of luxury travel spend.)

Arnold now has two assistants who work with him, and he recently brought on an independent contractor, with his goal for 2022 is to hit $10 million in annual sales and he believes his $1 million October bodes well for reaching that goal, using it to forecast that he and his team have the ability to potentially do even $12 million in annual sales.

Waldon said that month was the best month any Departure Lounge advisor has had in the host’s seven-year history, with Arnold saying Tynan has worked with a core group of clients since it opened and amazingly he says he has maintained a wait list of potential clients, starting to bring on some from the wait list, but is doing so at a cautious pace to ensure service standards don’t fall as he wants his business to be sustainable.

Waldon said Arnold’s $5 million in sales would have been at least 40% higher if the pandemic hadn’t happened and Arnold said he is also in discussions with Waldon about increasing Tynan’s partnership with Departure Lounge to open its network of the ultra-high net worth segment to other independent contractors.

Waldon, too, has his eyes set on the future as he used some of the pandemic downtime to develop host agency operations in Europe, which launched this month and he is also putting together a new preferred program, an invitation-only group of hotels around the world.

Waldon feels the willingness of hotels to join the program and Arnold’s decision to affiliate with Departure Lounge positions the host agency on solid ground when the pandemic ends. “We’ve been very fortunate,” he said.

Comments by John Alwyn-Jones

So, what are the messages from me form me and my views for Aussie agents?

  • Waiting for the Government or anyone else to bail you out is wasting time and probably not going to happen.
  • Working for a large multi-agency group has really become a mug’s game, as they will take their pound of flesh first and leave you with a pittance and when things go wrong, you will be gone.  The owners of the large chains are still very wealthy people irrespective of COVID – are you?
  • The agents that will succeed going forward are the ones that will drive their own business and future, creating their own clients, working from home, possible as part of one of the mobile agency groups or a small specialist company.
  • Forget commission as your key source of income, it is a bonus and no more and will continue to reduce until it disappears.
  • Value your services and charge the client for those services.
  • Forget selling travel that can be bought on line at a cheap prices.
  • Sell specialist, up market travel that needs your skills, knowledge and expertise and charge for it – if you do not have that knowledge, skills and expertise, you should probably not be in travel so probably best you go to do something else!
  • Become an expert!
  • Stop calling yourself an agent become a travel consultant or advisor.
  • You may not have realised this, but as an agent you are not the agent of your client, as you have no agency agreement with them, but you are the agent of the seller of the product.  So, turn yourself into the travel advisor or travel consultant of your client and provide them with the very best product for them, that they want, rather than your agency chain wants you to sell or is preferred, and charge a fee to your client for providing it along with your skills and expertise.
  • Make yourself invaluable and trusted for great travel.
  • If you are great at what you do for your clients, they will have no issue paying you – if you don’t deliver, then of course they will complain, they will not use you again and you deserve it!

So come on agent get off your proverbials and drive your own destiny and future as Arnold did!

An edited report from US Travel Weekly with commentary by John Alwyn-Jones

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. gnits says:

    ….it seems the government is not extending assistance to travel agents…well if they do it’s not enough…. travel agents deserve to get paid for their bookings with airlines, accommodation, tours, car rental etc… if suppliers are not keen to give agents commission the government should step in and pass a law that will entitle agents for commissions from suppliers…. I know suppliers will raise hell but hey look just pass it on to the consumer… if the public really wants to travel well too bad they have to pay more… and for sure they will complain but will travel anyway… trust me on this… we have to protect travel agents because they provide jobs and assistance to those travellers in trouble….

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