Conventional wisdom says a good travel agent can arrange leisure travel or corporate travel, but not both. Even if it were true, there’s nothing to prevent the agency from selling both leisure and business travel — except believing conventional wisdom.
Leisure travel is leisure travel, business travel is business travel, and never the twain shall meet for travel agents. Except when they do.
“Mixing leisure and business travel is a great opportunity,” said Marc Casto, president and CEO of Casto Travel, based in Silicon Valley.
An Unpacking Bleisure Traveler Trends survey from Expedia, released earlier this year, found that 60 percent of business travelers combine business and leisure travel. That’s up from 43 percent in 2016. Business travelers from the UK, Germany, India, and China were among those blending business and leisure travel in a big way.
The agency that doesn’t handle both is not only losing out on business travel revenue, but is missing a chunk of easy leisure add-on sales as well, experts say.
The issue, Casto said, is that leisure and business travel come close to being different disciplines. The skill sets are similar, but the knowledge base, attitudes, expectations, and payment mechanisms diverge.
We don’t want to stereotype, but here are some tendencies.
Leisure travel advisors sell their time and expertise. In an ideal world, the more time and expertise they bring to the table, the greater their income tends to be.
Business travel is a transaction. The incentive is to get the transaction done as quickly as possible and move on to the next one. The more completed transactions, the greater the income.
Leisure travel is all about the romance, glamour, fun, and thrill of the travel experience. Business travel is more about getting to the right place at the right time in the most expeditious manner possible.
“For the leisure traveler, the experience is the whole purpose,” said industry consultant Bruce Tepper, who is vice president of Joselyn, Tepper and Associates in Scottsdale, Arizona. “For the business traveler, the travel experience is something to be tolerated. You might spend 45 minutes, or an hour talking with a leisure traveler about the best hotel where the business traveler just wants to get it over with. Time is money and they don’t have time to spare.”
Getting Chatty When Vacation-Planning
Good leisure travel arrangers tend to be detail-oriented and easy going, at least when dealing with the client, Tepper said. They can be happy, even eager to chat about the ultimate cruise or the most memorable hotel to usher the traveler into the right frame of mind for an upsell.
Business travel doesn’t have many opportunities to upsell. Good travel managers might tend to be Type A personalities, favoring quick conversations, quick responses, little time for research, and very little tolerance for errors or time-consuming activities.
“In both cases, you are meeting the needs of the traveler, but the needs are completely different,” Tepper said. “Individual personalities play a role, too. Most agents are very comfortable with either leisure or business clients and very uncomfortable with the other. Leisure is ‘let’s chat for a while’ and business is boom, boom, get it done. They are completely different mindsets.”
Many Companies and Some Agents Do Both
That’s not to say the same agent can’t sell both. But it’s tough.
Asking a business travel agent to create a customized, fluid, amenity- and location-rich vacation probably won’t work. Nor is a leisure agent likely to create a globally integrated, fully compliant, supplier-rich corporate program.
“No one really lives in those extremes, so it’s really just navigating the middle grounds between the two,” Casto said.
Flexibility helps. For the business traveler who is spending an extra night or two in the same hotel as the business trip, there’s no reason the business agent can’t handle arrangements. Bringing the family to Orlando for a weekend before or after a business conference should be a simple add-on for the business travel agent.
But start customizing the leisure portion, switching hotels, adding specific tours and activities, and some business agents will be out of their own comfort and experience zones. That’s why so many agencies create separate divisions for business and leisure travel.
Leisure and business travelers get their own specialists. And when clients move between leisure and business, the agency has an opportunity to service both pieces of business.
“The very first time a person had an expense account, they were probably trying to find a way to push that trip to the leisure side,” Casto said. “It’s not a new trend and it’s something we should all be aware of, and helping both companies and individual travelers with.”
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Photo credit: A traveler mulls his flight options at the airport in a 2015 photo. Many travelers these days are adding leisure trips to their business travels. Associated Press