It’s all about travel consultants
And just maybe, finding the Next Big Thing
In the last of CTP’s three-part series on Merit Travel, Michael and Jason Merrithew (pictured above) talk about the future of travel consultants and their part in the ‘Next Big Thing.’
If you ask Jason Merrithew what travel consultants need to do to be successful going forward, he’ll tell you the following:
“The travel consultants of tomorrow need to understand that they’re dealing with consumers that have never ever been more informed than they are today. When someone comes through the door of your office or picks up the phone or sends you an email – they’ve already read articles online. They’ve already read hotel reviews. They already know the hot spots in town – or they think they do. And, if a consultant is just sitting there waiting to take instructions from a client, they’re not going to be a successful travel consultant.”
To be successful, Merit Travel’s president said that “consultants are going to take that initial bit of information from customers and they’re going to transform that into added value. They’re going to find newer places. They’re going to recommend modifications to the itinerary. And they’re going to bring additional value because today’s consumer is looking for more information.”
Because, Merrithew said, that’s what consumers want and “a consultant that doesn’t want to be a part of that information gathering process is not going to find a lot of customers very receptive to them.”
On the other hand, he said: “The successful ones are going to be the ones that want to have that conversation. Who want to be part of that consultative process. Who golfed at that resort. Who know how far it is from the airport. Who were able to check out that hotel.”
And then what they are going to do, Merrithew told CTP, “is take the basic pieces that go into anyone’s vacation – a ticket on a plane, a hotel room night, an attraction ticket – which frankly, today, is accessible to anyone online, and they’re going to take all of those pieces and they’re going to transform them by adding little bits and piece here and there. They’re going to turn a collection of components in a trip into a really meaningful experience for their customers. That’s what successful consultants are going to do.”
He points out as well that: “Among young people, we’re seeing increasing tendencies to book with travel consultants – which is really encouraging for me. These people really value their time enormously, and consultants are saving them time and, in a lot of cases, they’re saving them money.”
And, while there are different trips for different people and different people have different reasons for travelling and what they’re looking for in a trip, Merrithew told CTP that a consultant who can find a client that room with a view that looks incredible on Instagram and makes their friends jealous and annoyed that they didn’t go with them, that’s gold, so to speak.
“It’s by creating those types of experiences and that type of social currency among travellers that I think travel consultants are really going to excel at in the future,” he said.
Merit Travel’s founder, Mike Merrithew agreed, before adding: “I can’t speak to every travel agency as to whether or not they’re really progressing that way. If they’re not, they should be. And if they’re trying to do it without investing in systems, in training, in product knowledge – they’re not going to get there. They need to look at what investment they’re making in their people and in their systems – it’s not just about spending more money on advertising and marketing.”
He pointed out as well that: “The reality today is you can’t do everything well. So, hopefully, their strategy is such that they are developing unique expertise or specialties in certain areas. I really believe that and you’ve probably seen that yourself, you know, trying to be a generalist in the travel industry today – no way – it doesn’t work.”
With that said, Jason Merrithew is clearly excited about the role travel consultants are going to be able to play in the lead up to the booking process and “the role that companies like ours are going to be able to play in informing and encouraging people to travel. Not just injecting ourselves into the equation at the time when somebody is ready with the credit card. And I think that that’s the fundamental shift in how we do business and the way that we see the industry moving in the leisure space.”
And he continued: “We see those [leisure] consultants, those experts, being a bigger part of the total path to purchase versus [being there] just at the time of purchase, just at the time of travel. Whether that’s through content production and investments in content – be it blogs or be it video content.”
Merrithew points out that travelcuts has run a user-generated film festival that’s now going into its third year. In the first year, it generated 50 video responses from customers who created video blogs, while in the second year those responses increased to close to 100.
“That’s about Merit or travelcuts being a bigger part of encouraging people to travel to see the world a little bit differently and to get out of the, I want to say, the prepackaged ideas that they might have as to what travel needs to be by looking at new opportunities, new ideas, new destinations,” Merit Travel’s president said.
“I think we have a role to play in encouraging young people, middle-aged people, baby boomers, retirees to travel more,” he continued, adding: “I think we can do that and I’m excited to see the opportunities that, particularly, content is going to play for us.”
Mike Merrithew took up that thought, pointing out that “from a content perspective, we’re continuing to see really strong interest and good growth, in our case, with special interest groups. We’re creating product. Creating packages for [clients] reflective of, not just their special interest, but of the group that’s actually travelling. Things they want to do. Things they want to see. Things they want to experience.”
As an example of this, Jason Merrithew said: “Think about a [package for members of a] ski club that also golfs in the off-season. So not just fulfilling their one need, but looking at their holistic opportunities.”
Talking about what will make a travel consultant successful in the future, seems to naturally lead into the question of what they see as the “Next Big Thing” for the travel business.
“Well, I think it has to be about having the ability to anticipate your customer’s needs and being able to proactively propose things based on your knowledge of their interests in advance of them even calling you,” was Mike Merrithew’s response.
“I think the point about personalization is a really good one,” agreed Jason Merrithew. “I think that customers, particularly in the younger demographic, they’re going to start making decisions on where to travel and who to travel with based on the values of the people that they’re travelling with.”
It’s all about the things they care about, he pointed out, continuing: “Whether that is nature conservancy, whether that is climate change, whether that is social responsibility – whatever issue that is important to the traveller, they’re going to look for ways that their travel decisions will impact positively on the issues that they care about and minimize the negative impact to the issues that they care about. In short, they’re going to look for their travel experiences to reflect their own personality and their own values.”
In this respect, Jason Merrithew said that this has only become possible in the last several years “as information has become more readily available about the tourism business and about the different operators in the different countries.”
As Mike Merrithew notes: “There are many ways of doing a lot of these trips,” and consumers will choose the ones that reflect their personal values.
Jason Merrithew agrees, telling CTP: “I think that’s going to be a really big factor in the future and I think that we’re definitely going to look to make sure that we’re positioned very strongly as a company that’s going to make that happen.”
So what’s the take home to all of this?
“For us, I think, it’s a new start. We’re re-energized. We’re re-engaged. We are excited and enthusiastic about the future. And our perspective now, is not just Canada, it’s global. I can’t think of anything much more exciting than that for us right now,” Mike Merrithew said.
And Jason Merrithew added: “For me, it’s taking a step into the global tourism business and looking to take what has made the achievement of building Merit to what it is today and looking to amplify that not only just in Canada and North America, but all over the world.”
As for the upshot of all this, they concluded in unison: “It’s pretty exciting.”