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Realtors Should be More Like Travel Agents


I know you’ve heard the comparisons before. . .

“The Internet is going to disintermediate REALTORS just like it did travel agents.”  Such a comparison is easy to make, especially given the fact that the man who shook up the travel industry with Travelocity.com also started a site you might have heard of–  Zillow.com.

I am now of the opinion, however, that REALTORS should try to be more like travel agents, well the successful travel agents, anyway.

An eye-opening look into the travel industry

So the other night, Kari and I were watching the Bravo channel (when we watch TV, we almost never watch network television).  We came across a marthon of one of their shows, “First Class All the Way.”  The show is a reality show that follows the business of Sara Ryan-Duffy, and her company, SRD International. Sara is, guess what?  A travel agent.  She’s not just any travel agent, she’s an extremely successful travel agent, she’s a luxury travel agent.

As I watched episode after episode of the show, I started thinking about how many travel agencies went under after the popularity of sites like Travelocity grew, and I started thinking to myself, “how does Sara do it?  How come she is able to not only survive, but thrive?”  The cynic will answer “Her clients are millionaires. Duh.”

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I think there is more to it than that.

Service first

Throughout the show, it is obvious that Sara emphasizes one thing above all else– service to her clients.  Her entire business is dependent upon satisfying the needs of her clients.  She spends extensive time interviewing them about their vacation plans, she tries not just satisfy the needs that they express, but she uses her expertise and experience to plan for the needs and desires that go unmentioned.  It’s quite impressive.

The sale is secondary

The one thing that Sara isn’t, at least not overtly, is a salesperson.  Again, some will argue that what she is doing is sales. Fine, whatever.  I still maintain that while she is making sales, it is not the focus of her business.  The fous of her business is SERVICE.  She recognizes that she is in a service industry, not a sales industry.

This got me to thinking about other successful travel agents.  I went to Travel and Leisure Magazine’s 2008 Travel Agent A-List.  I plugged-in the website of the first name on the list, Lisa Linblad.  Now take a look at Travelocity.com.  Notice anything different?  Of course you do.

One site emphasizes the experience, the other emphasizes the transaction.
One site emphasizes the value, the other emphasizes the price.
One site emphasizes the culture, the other emphasizes the schedule.
One site emphasizes the journey, the other emphasizes the trip.

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I know what you’re thinking

You’re thinking, but these travel agents are working with rich people, people who can afford such luxury trips.  Doesn’t matter.  The successful philosophy doesn’t need to change just because of the customer’s bank account balance.  The reason that many travel agencies went out of business is because they placed the emphasis in the wrong place.  They tried to sell trips, not plan journeys.  They asked you what your dates were, and how much you wanted to spend, and where you might like to go, and they plugged it into a computer.  Anyone can do that.  Now, anyone does do that.

How can REALTORS learn from travel agents?

The most successful travel agents are now more valuable because these agents are able to deliver value to their clients and customers that can’t be replicated by a computer.  They put the needs of their clients first, and focus intently on meeting those needs.  Because of this, their services are more valuable, and people will pay more for them.

The travel industry was all about sales for a long time.  It was all about putting as many people as possible on the boat, or on the plane or in the hotel.  It commodified travel to the point that it turned itself into the middle man, and therefore made itself obsolete.  That is why the most successful remaining travel agents are so successful.  They are not a part of that commodification.  They understand the value that they can deliver to a person seeking to plan a journey, and they deliver on it.  Sure, they like to make sales, but they focus first on the needs of their clients and recognize that what they do is provide service, sales are the pleasant by-product of that service.

Seems to me that REALTORS could learn an awful lot from travel agents.

photo courtesy of CreativeSam via Flickr CreativeCommons

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Written By

I'm a REALTOR, basketball referee, happy husband, and Community Manager (in no particular order). I have a passion for the real estate industry and officiating, a passion that I try to turn into inspiration on my blog, The Real Estate Zebra. I am also the Community Manager at Inman News. When I'm not blogging here on AG or the Zebra, you can usually find me on Twitter.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Matt Stigliano

    December 4, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Daniel – My sister is (and has been for many years) a travel agent. Not only does your post ring true, but her company also found ways to shift their business to keep it relevant. They have always been more of a corporate travel agency, but became even more of one when personal travel slacked off. Now I’m not saying we should be corporate real estate agents (whatever that is), but what I am saying is we need to shift to keep things relevant. Benn covered it well in his recent post. Also, I am computer savvy and could easily book a flight myself. What do I do? I call my sister. Not because she’s my sister, but because I trust her and know she’ll take great care of me. Sound familiar? I’d rather pay her the added fees of booking with her, because I know I get value out of purchasing a ticket through her (I can call when I get stuck at the airport, I can change a ticket in the middle of Bulgaria, she’ll get me the best ticket price). Its really not much different. Maybe the masses will some day shift towards online real estate and we will be forgotten – by them. There will always be the people who see the value in what we do…as long as we demonstrate it to them each and every time.

  2. Missy Caulk

    December 4, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    This past summer we were going on a trip with lots of changes, we called a travel agent. It was great. I could have done it online, but the time to do it just didn’t make sense.

    There are plenty of models out there in RE if folks want to do it themselves, or some of it by themselves.

  3. Ginger Wilcox

    December 5, 2008 at 11:36 am

    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t feel like I can compete with discount brokers, so I don’t try. We offer two totally different services.

    Gorgeous picture by the way.

  4. Carson Coots

    December 5, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Revolutionary thought. If the value an RE agent brings to the table is service, then they should focus on that in their communications in a focused way. I don’t want an agent to “assist” me in finding the perfect home, I want them to find me the perfect home. I am way too busy. Instead of offering every bell and whistle on a site, simplify and sell the idea of the ultra-high level of service. I want to make a phone call and get you on the case. Lisa Linblad’s site copy and design is simple and makes it appear as a VERY personal level of service. It’s more comforting than any Travelocity type site. Many agent sites look more like Travelocity every day.

  5. Stephanie Edwards-Musa

    December 6, 2008 at 9:06 am

    That’s an Interesting thought. For a short period of time prior to 9/11 I had a travel agency and loved it. There was a small niche group of people that I marketed to and by word of mouth, because of service and finding exactly what they needed and generally at a price too good to pass up, I was able to focus on that niche.

    Sounds pretty much like real estate to me. 🙂

    Technology and internet presence has changed a whole lot since then. I don’t see the how the internet can completely take away a real person behind a business, but it sure does separate the pack. There is a really long story behind why the airlines and large sites such as Travelocity won out on that battle in the travel industry but the two industries are totally different in that regards.

    Homes don’t have frequent flyer accounts to email discounts to the masses. ;0) LOL. But it could certainly change the industry and raise the bar, which is not a bad thing. If we all focused on service and integrity, what a world of change it would make.

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