This week's MAC Chat features our interview with MailPound's September MVP, Vivian Villena of MWR ITR LEISURE TRAVEL.
Why did you decide to become involved in the travel industry and were you in a different industry prior?
With a father in the military traveling was not unusual. My mother had a passion for travel and adventure. One of the greatest lessons I learned from my mother is that wherever you go don’t look at what’s NOT there to see look at what opportunities to see that this location has to offer you with regards to history, entertainment and education. Because of that I have never been somewhere that I didn’t find something to see or participate in during my visit or stay. However, my original plans were to be an outside sales agent to work from home while I focused on a full time music career. I allowed “life” to get in the way and put my music career aside. Although I am still involved with music it is not to the extent I had originally planned and my passions are with offering my travel services and experience to our military community.
What was the biggest obstacle (if any) that you had to overcome in the beginning of your career as a travel professional?
The biggest challenge early in my career was lack of knowledge and experience. I was just about to turn 20 when I started my career so I was always referred to as the “new kid.” In addition, we didn’t have the internet accessible to us like we do now. So, finding resource information was attending seminars, meetings and asking questions of my colleagues. Now, I can practically “Google” everything. However, I still rely on the knowledge and experience of colleagues to help me in areas I am unfamiliar.
What is the best marketing technique that you use to reach your clients and how do you get them to become repeat clients?
There really is no “best” since our clients our constantly in transition. Most military installations have a representative available to assist them on their leisure travel plans. Although I have the ability and opportunity to continue working with clients even when they transition our focus is to promote the local facility at their new base to assist them. This maintains a level of teamwork and shows our military families and community that we are not trying to compete for business against our sister bases.
Most of my clients do not contact me unless something has gone wrong. In that sense, I’ll consider the expression, “No news is good news.” The other way I know my customers are happy with my service is when they come back again or they pass the word to a friend/family to contact me for a booking. Anytime I have had customers ask if they think they can find a better price elsewhere, my answer always, “YES.” However, I follow it by explaining to them that they have the choice of having themselves a few extra dollars at the sake of losing valuable time in their life to do other things they would likely enjoy more. By allowing myself to handle their travel plans tells me they are happy with my service and expect a great value for what they have paid, based on what I sold them.
What is the most challenging aspect of this industry for you?
One of the great lessons I have learned to take on is focusing on looking an opportunity versus a challenge. People may view the fact that we do not have a CRS to book airline reservations for customers where I see the opportunity to offer air tickets in conjunction with a package. By doing so, I am able to earn commission for hotel, car, added options and insurance. The nice thing is when that happens is the customer tells me they were trying to piece it together themselves online and now they don’t have to worry since I did the work for them. The only challenge I see at this point in my career is when it comes time for my soldier to transfer to another base is whether or not that installation has an opening for me to continue the job I do now as I can truly say that it is the best career I have had till now.
What do you enjoy the most about this industry and what is your best advice for travel agents just beginning their career?
The opportunity to sell the world! J
My best advice to agents starting their career is one I’ve taught many agents starting their career, “Learn to answer the customer’s questions before they even know what is the question.” A good example is when it comes to a customer choosing to purchase the air offered by the cruise line explain to them why they should consider choosing an air deviation. The explanations I have given many a time over are in their ability to know what airline they are confirmed on far enough in advance to obtain seat assignments which may not normally be available to them until approximately 30 days prior to sailing. In many cases, 30 days prior the seat choices are limited and can cause an even greater challenge when people want to sit together. Another example is when a customer calls asking for the “cheapest” room type or category you can easily upsell them when you explain what “cheapest” may mean and what the price difference is to them (most times breaking it down to a daily or per person cost) allows them to see they are getting a great value with the upgrade. Most people really don’t want “cheapest” they want the best value that their money offers them.