Monday, March 12, 2012

Are You Stuck in a Box?

Below is an adaptation of my latest Agent@Home magazine column which appears today, March 12, 2012 on

Earlier this month, while I served as a panelist at The New York Times Travel Show, I heard an amazing comment that has stuck with me days later. We were discussing the importance of branding yourself as a specialist, and the question came up as to how to describe yourself when asked what you do.

“The problem is many people couldn't find their way out of a box if given a box cutter," said John Peters, senior vice president-digital strategy at Rand McNally. Think about it: Do you have a short answer when someone asks you what you do? If you simply say you're a travel agent, chances are you may lose the person's attention quickly as their perception of a "typical" travel agent may be so very different from what you and I actually do.

I recounted a story during my presentation about how my perception of a "travel agent" growing up was the older lady we used to go visit twice a year to pick up our airline tickets to Florida. She worked in a busy office with others who seemed to be taking orders and printing airline tickets. Obviously, we all know that this is not what we do. But that lingering perception is a tough one to break.

For this reason, I have always held strong to my belief that there is nothing wrong with not having a short answer to what it is I do. I've also been striving to come up with a better term than “luxury travel” when asked what it is that I specialize in. The reason for this is simple: everyone has a very different definition of luxury travel and if I say that this is what I sell then I may risk turning off a potential client who may be prepared to spend a lot of money on travel...but who may not perceive himself as a “luxury traveler.”

As a follow up to a previous column, in which I described the changing demographic of today's “luxury traveler,” I can't stress enough how important it is to brand yourself as the type of travel professional your target clientele will best relate to. And when asked what you do, don't be afraid to follow my lead and say something a little different each time.

Depending on who is asking, sometimes I quote my Twitter profile, which states: “I am the go-to luxury travel planner for high-end business and leisure travelers worldwide.” Lately, I've been saying something more along the lines of: “I book travel for some of the coolest people on the planet.” It's simple, concise and sums up what I do on a daily basis.

This then leads to another conversation in which I can elaborate on the types of trips I specialize in (unique, exotic honeymoons; spare-no-expense celebration trips; pricey family vacations, and high-level executive travel for everyone from Silicon Valley execs to celebrities, TV personalities, Hollywood producers and successful entrepreneurs).

It all comes down to the idea that no matter what your profession, you need to come up with a creative way to position yourself or you will turn off potential clients. You wouldn’t go to a doctor who professed to be the absolute best at everything -- from cardiology to chiropractic care -- so why would you expect clients to trust you if you claim to be all things to all people.

I had an experience this week where a client asked me about a destination I have never been to, and probably will never get to. So instead of pretending that I could help him, I referred him to a fellow travel professional who actually lives in this part of the world. It makes more sense for me to focus on booking high-level, high-profit trips to places in the world I know well than to try to help someone who I know will be a drain on my time and who will cost me more time than I can afford to give.

At the end of the day, in order to gain the trust and the confidence of your clients and potential clients, you need to decide what it is you do best -- and then own it. After that, you need to come up with a creative way to tell the world what it is you do. In my case, I have no problem telling people that I specialize in customizing high-end travel experiences around the globe. This is more than enough for them to hear to know that booking cheap trips to budget hotels is not my area of expertise.

Please be in touch if I can assist with future travel plans....find me on twitter @EliteTravelGal or email me


  1. To be a travel agent and answer a question as to what one does is an opportunity to market and advertise. As such, it is really impossible to make a short answer to a question posed such as what you mentioned.

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