Starting your own personal travel agency is an intense business workout. Every day you are either hustling to get clients or hustling to serve clients. You may be talking to dozens of suppliers and venues at once, comparing prices, and arranging for those special little details that clients care about most. Among the most challenging aspects of being a new travel agent are managing your time and staying organized with all those details and data to keep track of.
Fortunately, you're not the first to blaze this trail. We've put together a few travel agent best practices to help new agents quickly master organization and personal time management to start rocking your schedule instead of constantly scrabbling for your notes.
1) Download Some Helpful Apps
A good place to start is with your tech. If you think we're about to promote a special all-in-one travel agent app, think again. There are some great consumer apps made to help organize your time and your files that are all you need. In fact, because they're commercially competitive, they're fire-tested and guaranteed to serve. We did not include a personal organizer, as everyone has their own preferences for scheduling and time-tracking. But the following are darn useful for any travel agent:
Evernote is a handy app that lets you collect files, article links, notes, scans, and documents so they are quickly organized and searchable. Most travel agents will hype Evernote as an ideal way to keep track of individual trips and reference things you've worked with before quickly.
Scanbot is your mobile scanner and fax machine. It can scan everything in high quality then save it as a PDF or JPEG to drop into your Evernote collection. It also faxes, for those venues that are still living in the 1980s and somehow making money.
Dropbox is like a more formal version of Evernote and pairs perfectly to back up all the files stored locally on your computer as well. Consider Dropbox like your data safety net.
Toggl is an innovative little app that labels and organizes your time. It's a quick stop-watch style time manager that lets you name, tag, and organize each segment of time you spend. Toggl can help you quickly track time and change tasks, then enter everything into your planner later.
Grammarly is key for making sure your spelling, punctuation, and general professional demeanor in communications is as professional as possible. This is not just for phone typos, but for sentence structure and all that jazz as well.
2) Schedule & Track Your Time
For our first serious tip beyond downloading apps, keep control of your time. Don't just track it, plan it. In the morning (or even at night before you sleep) plan out how you will spend your time and stick to that schedule. Part of planning your time is blocking out which businesses are available for calls and emails at specific hours, depending on time zone and their business' open times.
If something comes up and a client needs a few bonus hours, that's fine. But otherwise, stick to a plan. This will help prevent time from running away with you. Set goals and timers, then switch tasks when it's time so that nothing gets neglected. Anything that takes longer than you predicted can have that extra time at the end of your day instead of pushing everything else back.
3) Keep Detailed Client Notes
Maintain some kind of CRM (Client Relationship Management software) to keep detailed and readily available notes on each client. You need more than their names and travel plans. You need their plane seat preferences, their favorite colors, how big their family is, and whether they prefer hotels with room service or fast wifi.
Have these client notes almost instantly available when you need them, with a quick-reference system to look up everything you might need to know. Then link each client account to your files on their trips, past, present, and planning.
4) Organize Each Trip
Naturally, you will also need to keep detailed notes on each trip. This is definitely where Evernote comes in. Not only do you need an itinerary that will fill itself out, but you also want to have references to every relevant piece of information and resource related to the trip.
Have the customer service numbers for every venue and service you book with. Have bookmarks to their most important web pages, and a screen-cap or link to your receipt so that if they ask, it's on hand. Keep everything related to the planning of a trip and organize it so that each piece of information will be available quickly when it is most relevant. Or in case you need that info in an emergency.
5) Stay Alert During Active Trips
When a client of yours is traveling, keep your phone by your side. Part of being a superb travel agent is being ready to rescue no matter what time a client might get into trouble. Don't lose sleep over it, but be ready to jump out of bed as needed.
To stay organized during this state of alert, keep your trip monitoring open on your phone or computer for each client who is currently away from home. Be ready to reference their information at any time and keep tabs on the schedule so you know approximately where each client is and what they are doing in the moment. Just in case they call and say something like "I just got here and there's no driver" you need to know where "here" is and which driver they were expecting.
6) Cultivate Your Best Suppliers
Know your suppliers. Build supplier relationships with airlines, hotels, restaurants, and car rental or chauffeur services. Then keep track of how good the deals are you can get and how well they treat your clients. Keep detailed notes on every supplier you've ever worked with, then start prioritizing suppliers who provide better deals and more satisfactory or value-added services.
When customers rave about a particular hotel line more than once, prioritize them. If an airline blows you off, look for an alternative with better service.
7) Track the Finances Carefully
Last but absolutely not least, track your finances with absolute precision. File and scan every receipt. Create dedicated folders and spreadsheets tracking every expense, every refund, and every commission. You will probably want to start working with an accountant soon to make sure your books are in order and stay in order. This is the best possible way to secure your full commissions every time and provide the best values for your clients.
Staying organized as a travel agent can seem like a huge task in the beginning, but soon you'll have a routine that works perfectly for you. For more insights into growing your own personal travel agency business, contact us today!