Take five or ten minutes and write down your memories of your all-time favorite vacation. Now do the same thing for the local merchant you most love to patronize – even though there’s a big box retailer or online company that sells the same thing(s).
Now read your notes. Did you write sentences, bullet points? Did you scratch the surface, or did you take the time to go deeper about your fondest vacation, your most treasured local shopkeeper?
I have interviewed hundreds of travel agents and entrepreneurs in the 30-plus years I have been a public relations professional, writer, and editor. While each and every one of these individuals has been different, there has been one common thread that linked them all.
They all had a compelling personal narrative that made them who they are.
Now mind you, finding that narrative wasn’t always easy. In fact, I would tell you it was downright difficult. That’s why I get paid to uncover these incredible stories. Very simply, I was blessed with the knack of asking good, revealing questions, and have developed the ability to see that story lift itself out of my notes, and onto the published page.
Now, running a business like a travel agency, you might wonder, “What does this have to do with my success?” The answer to your question appears on several pages of Dan’s book, “Get Your S.H.I.P. Together.”
“That motivation has to be there for the long run, long after the initial spark of inspiration has faded,” Dan writes on page 36, where he discusses finding the sense of purpose required to be successful, “the why in why we do what we do.”
The “why” is at the core of your being, and most likely is rooted in those life’s experiences that shaped your personality and belief systems. For me, my desire to become a reporter, to understand the “why” of everything and anything, comes from being a voracious reader as a child and being fascinated by the movie “All the President’s Men.”
Digging into the truth, enjoying the feeling of a story coming alive, shaped me. So now, I love asking questions:
The answers found in your personal narrative are foundational to your business’ success because most of us want to do business with people and companies that reflect our values, our sense of purpose. Are you able to see why you patronize the local merchant you will pay a premium to, versus the big box retailer down the street? If so, that is what we need to do for you.
To make that narrative powerful, I start off by asking my clients to fill out a very simple, three-page questionnaire broken into: 1) them and their company; 2) their industry; and 3) their clients.
Most scratch the surface of their narrative. I estimate about 90 percent of the questions come back with one-word answers, sometimes 2-3 words in bullet point form. Occasionally there are a few full sentences. There are rare, blissful occasions where paragraphs tell a story.
Then I visit my clients’ websites, their social media platforms. There, most agents describe what they sell. Some use wonderful adjectives and adverbs. Most repost content from supplier and destination websites. And pretty much all of them wonder why they struggle to find new customers.
As entrepreneurs curating travel experiences, you face a daunting task attracting new clients outside of referrals. Online travel agencies (OTAs) spent more than $9 billion on advertising in 2017, and countless hundreds of millions hiring smart people and marketing consultants to find clients through savvy search engine optimization and other digital tactics.
Their story is they are big corporations, have grabbed all the best prices, have the widest selection of options, and can package nearly everything for a traveler’s trip at their site. While that is the strength they play to, it is also their vulnerability, and your opportunity, if…
I’ll be frank with you. I am a professional consultant because most people don’t have the ability on their own to see the compelling story inside themselves that attracts people to them.
In fact, most times, I feel more like a psychotherapist than a consultant.
After reading their returned questionnaire, I interview them like a reporter, for at least an hour, and typically more like 90 minutes. I dig deeper, going on a journey with them, gazing at snapshots from the photo albums in their minds.
That’s when the magic happens. I ask questions like:
If you scratch the surface, I won’t tolerate it, because I know that won’t help you elevate your brand above the OTAs.
So if you tell me that millennials are your best customers, my follow-up questions are “Why? Who specifically is your favorite? Tell me their name, their traveling companions, what trips they book with you. When you debriefed them about their last trip, what did they rave about? What did they complain about?” I do the same for their top suppliers.
Like Dan says in his book, you need to “paint a picture” of your ideal customer. I really like that image, because what I find is that most travel agency clients and suppliers tend to do business with their favorite travel professional because they know, like and trust them. It’s human nature.
Step boldly into being you
Anyone who has ever visited a therapist knows that getting to those deeper truths about who we are, what we do, and why, most often takes some serious prodding. But when we arrive at our truths, we are set free to be our best, to chart our course, to thrive, fully confident in the uniqueness of who we truly are.
For you to be successful, you need to match who you are with the suppliers and clients who are looking for that unique, wonderful, glorious you. In his book, Dan tells us, if you don't have that focus, you are never going to sustain the energy you need for the long haul.
So I ask you -- have you truly gotten in touch with your own personal narrative, the one that comes easily to you based on your life's story? Is your life story something that you find positively defines you, the suppliers you like to deal with, the clients you attract and want to serve?
Your business, your happiness, depends on it.
Richard D'Ambrosio is a noted travel industry busienss writer.
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.