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Realtors Should be More Like Travel Agents

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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.”

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.

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

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.

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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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Business Marketing

Canva is catching on to content trends, launches in-app video editor

(MARKETING) Canva launches an in-platform video editor, allowing access to their extensive library of assets and animations to create high-quality videos

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African American woman working on Canva Video Editor Desktop in office setting.

Video content consumption is on the rise, and the graphic design platform, Canva, took note of it. The $40 billion Australian startup has entered the video business and announced the launch of its video editor, Canva Video Suite.

The end-to-end video editor is an easy-to-use platform that anyone, no matter the skill level, can create, edit, and record high-quality videos. Best of all, it’s free, and it’s available on both desktop and mobile platforms.

The tool has hundreds of editable templates that you can use to create videos for several online platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Some templates can be used to create workplace and business videos, while other templates are perfect for personal videos. There are playful themes you can use to create that spooky video just in time for Halloween or make a laugh-out-loud video to send to your best friend! With a wide range of selections, in no time you’ll start creating your very own video masterpiece with Canva.

Caucasian man holding iPhone showing Canva video editor on mobile.

What else does the video software offer and what can you do with it? Well, let me tell you:

Collaborate in real-time

Having everyone on the same page is important and Canva’s video suite takes that into account. To collaborate with others, you simply send them an invite, and together you can edit videos, manage assets, and leave comments to give your input.

Video timeline editing and in-app recording

Similar to building presentation slides, Canva’s scene-based editor simplifies video editing by using a timeline approach. With it, you can quickly reorder, crop, trim, and splice your videos. Also, users don’t need to leave the platform to record that last-minute shot; within the app, you can shoot and record yourself from a camera or a screen.

Library of assets

The video editor is filled with an array of watermark-free stock footage, icons, images, illustrations, and even audio tracks that you can choose from – but if you really need something that is not on their platform – you can upload your own image, video, or audio track.

Animate with ease

Although still in the process of being released, soon you will be able to add animations of both text and visual elements in just a few simple clicks. Among others, animation presets that fade, pan, and tumble will help you transform your video and take it to a whole other level.

Overall, Canva Video Suite is very intuitive and has all the essential things you need to create a video. And by streamlining the video creation process, Canva is ensuring it enters the video marketplace with a bang.

“One of Canva’s guiding principles is to make complex things simple, and our new Video Suite will allow everyone to unlock the power of video, whether that’s to market their business, make engaging social posts, or express their creativity,” said Rob Kawalsky, Head of Product at Canva.

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Business Marketing

Amazon attracts advertisers from Facebook after Apple privacy alterations

(MARKETING) After Apple’s privacy features unveil, Amazon adapts by taking a unique approach to targeting, disrupting revenue for the ad giant Facebook.

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Two African American women work at their desks, one viewing Amazon's advertising landing page.

As a de facto search engine of its own persuasion, Amazon has been poaching ad revenue from Google for some time. However, disrupting the revenue stream from their most recent victim – Facebook – is going to turn some heads.

According to Bloomberg, Apple’s recent privacy additions to products such as iPhones are largely responsible for the shift in ad spending. While platforms like Facebook and Instagram were originally goldmines for advertisers, these privacy features prevent tracking for targeting – a crucial aspect in any marketing campaign.

Internet privacy has been featured heavily in tech conversations for the last several years, and with Chrome phasing out third-party cookies, along with Safari and Firefox introducing roughly analogous policies, social media advertising is bound to become less useful as tracking strategies struggle to keep up with the aforementioned changes.

However, Amazon’s wide user base and separate categorization from social media companies makes it a clear alternative to the Facebook family, which is perhaps why Facebook advertisers are starting to jump ship in an effort to preserve their profits.

This is the premise behind the decision to reduce the Facebook ad spending of Vanity Planet by 22%, a home spa vendor, while facilitating a transition to Amazon. “We have inventory…and the biggest place we are growing is Amazon,” says Alex Dastmalchi, the entrepreneur who runs Vanity Planet.

That gap will only widen with Apple’s new privacy features. Bloomberg reports that when asked in June if they would consent to having their internet activity tracked, only one in four iPhone users did so; this makes it substantially harder for the ad campaigns unique to Facebook to target prospective buyers.

It also means that Amazon, having demonstrated a profound effectiveness in targeting individuals both pre- and post-purchase, stands to gain more than its fair share of sellers flocking to promote their products.

Jens Nicolaysen, co-founder of Shinesty (an eccentric underwear company), affirms the value that Amazon holds for sellers while acknowledging that it isn’t a perfect substitute for social media. While Nicolaysen laments the loss of the somewhat random introduction charm inherent on Instagram, he also believes in the power of brand loyalty, especially on a platform as high-profile as Amazon. “The bigger you are, the more you lose by not having any presence on Amazon,” he explains.

As privacy restrictions continue to ramp up in the coming months, it will be interesting to see how social media advertising evolves to keep up with this trend; it seems naive to assume that Amazon will replace Facebook’s ads entirely, tracking or no tracking.

Apple's privacy landing page showing iPhone users ability to shut off location services and a desktop image of a user's ability to control how their data is managed.

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Business Marketing

How many hours of the work week are actually efficient?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Working more for that paycheck, more hours each week, on the weekends, on holidays can actually hurt productivity. So don’t do that, stay efficient.

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Clock pointed to 5:50 on a plain white wall, well tracked during the week.

Social media is always flooded with promises to get in shape, eat healthier and… hustle?

In hustle culture, it seems as though there’s no such thing as too much work. Nights, weekends and holidays are really just more time to be pushing towards your dreams and hobbies are just side hustles waiting to be monetized. Plus, with freelancing on the rise, there really is nothing stopping someone from making the most out of their 24 hours.

Hustle culture will have you believe that a full-time job isn’t enough. Is that true?

Although it’s a bit outdated, Gallup’s 2014 report on full-time US workers gives us an alarming glimpse into the effects of the hustle. For starters, 50% of full-time workers reported working over 40 hours a week – in fact, the average weekly hours for salaried employees was up to 49 hours.

So, what’s the deal with 40 hours anyway? The 40 hour work-week actually started with labor rights activists in the 1800s pushing for an 8 hour workday. In 1817, Robert Owen, a Welsh activist, reasoned this workday provided: “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”

If you do the math, that’s a whopping 66% of the day devoted to personal needs, rather than labor!

Of course, it’s only natural to be skeptical of logic from two centuries ago coloring the way we do business in the 21st century. For starters, there’s plenty of labor to be done outside of the labor you’re paid to do. Meal prep, house cleaning, child care… that’s all work that needs to be done. It’s also all work that some of your favorite influencers are paying to get done while they pursue the “hustle.” For the average human, that would all be additional work to fall in the ‘recreation’ category.

But I digress. Is 40 hours a week really enough in the modern age? After all, average hours in the United States have increased.

Well… probably not. In fact, when hours are reduced (France, for instance, limited maximum hours to 35 hours a week, instead of 40), workers are not only more likely to be healthier and happier, but more efficient and less likely to miss work!

So, instead of following through with the goal to work more this year, maybe consider slowing the hustle. It might actually be more effective in the long run!

This story was first published in January 2020.

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