Travel Agents

“The days of the order-taker travel agent are over”: Penny Spencer

Penny Spencer

We asked Spencer Travel Group’s Penny Spencer what’s hot in 2018, what is cooling down and what’s icy cold. And boy did she deliver the goods.

Agents, you want to hear some cracking opinions? Well Spencer is your woman. Strap yourselves in, here’s what the trailblazer has to say about the year ahead. We couldn’t say it better ourselves.

Here we are in 2018. We’re still here. Thriving.

So what’s our secret? I don’t think there is a single recipe for success, but each of the businesses in the Spencer Group of Companies focuses on three things: Service, service and service.

Service is everything. I mean, literally, everything.

Every touch-point, every product, every bit of communication, every client and supplier interaction needs to be top-notch.

The days of the order-taker travel agent are well and truly over. In the corporate travel space, we need to add value at every opportunity.

Our responses to queries need to be better, more personal and relevant than Google’s – something only possible if you really get to know your clients.

Get close to them.

Even as online operators become more intuitive with each generation, can they really ever be as intuitive as someone who really knows you?

If I’ve learned anything through my career, it’s that your customers want you to remember them.

With staff-client relationships developing in our businesses over years, decades even, we get to know each other very well. We know precisely what our clients like and, more importantly, dislike.

We know which new hotels, airlines, restaurants, and spas they might be open to trying in a new destination. I hear those interactions every day in the conversations that take place around me.

“Hi Susan. Yes. Absolutely. I’ll book you to London. I know your preferred seat and meal requests, and I’ll get that driver, Don, to pick you up from home at 7.00am to get you to the airport. Would you like me to book that spa treatment in the lounge again? 8.30 sound OK? Done.”

We have a client who needs a room on lower floors because he’s afraid of heights.

Another survived a plane crash long ago and now has very specific requirements as to where she sits on different aircraft types.

We know which couples prefer a pair king-singles, even where to book the – ahem – mistress.

We have another who can’t stand those fiddly, locked-down coat hangers that some hotels have in their wardrobes. Needless to say, he’s never booked in one that has those.

Inhabit that personal client-space free from Google’s tentacles, and you’re well on your way.

More than ever before, agents need to have a niche and a unique selling proposition (USP). What do you want to be known for? What makes you different? Why should I book with you?

Think about how you can specialise instead of generalise. Know your clients, and know your stuff.

As an industry, we need to ensure that our best people stay with us. We need to train, up-skill and retain our staff.

This is a wonderful industry with opportunities aplenty but we should never take it for granted that people won’t move industries. Let’s work hard to identify and develop talent.

I’m a passionate advocate for mentoring and training, and I’ve been asked so many times, “But what if you invest in their training and then they leave you?”. My reply is simply, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

It’s inevitable that people will move around and across this fabulous industry. I love seeing careers develop and people soar, even if it sometimes means I lose a staff member.

As an industry, we have to view this as a good thing as brilliant people bring and add so much value to what we do.

We need to enhance career development opportunities and share our professional experiences with each other through mentoring.

See also: Travel Weekly’s new Launchpad event finally debuts!

Seek out a mentor, or invest in a program like the Travel Industry Mentor Experience (TIME).

If we don’t all work towards raising our standards and levels of professionalism, not only will our brightest and best move on, they’ll leave the industry altogether.


Do you have something to say about 2018? Get in touch with Travel Weekly Editor Daisy Doctor here to share your thoughts.

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