Travel Consultant or Therapist? Sometimes the Line Blurs

When I was a travel agent, a young mother came into my office one day seeking advice. She wanted to take a vacation to Mexico, and she had her two-year-old daughter along with her and her husband, but she was agonizing over some of the details.

She didn’t feel right leaving her daughter at home with a relative or a sitter but also wanted to make sure she’d have some time with her husband and to herself on the vacation.

We discussed various options. She liked the idea of a cruise, but the prospect of time alone would be limited unless they brought a babysitter along with them, as most cruise lines’ kids programming is for children age three and older.

She eventually settled on a land vacation, after we found a hotel that offered in-house babysitting services.

It was all in a day’s work for an agent with some years of experience, but it well-illustrates one of the trickier types of situations for travel consultants to encounter. In my time as an agent, I helped clients put together surprise itineraries for spouses that ultimately flopped when they were revealed, heard multiple viewpoints from frustrated guests invited to a destination wedding many of them could barely afford and once diplomatically salvaged a marriage-threatening bungle involving a Transpacific air pass and a close-to-expiration passport.

Any of those clients might have benefited from some time with a therapist, but rather than putting the travel consultant into that role, it’s wise to maintain some healthy boundaries. That way, the value of booking through a travel consultant remains for everybody.

Share Context Where It Makes Sense

Agents know to listen for little nuggets of information, even if they’re part of a larger story. A client came to me once about to throw her hands up because she kept running into obstacles with a destination wedding she was planning to attend.

The bride and groom had picked an ultra-luxury resort area on a Caribbean island. She gave a lot of detail about the situation partially in search of a solution, and partially to air her frustrations at having been invited to a destination that was somewhat beyond what she wanted to spend. While most of the detail she shared wasn’t actionable, there was one item she mentioned that was interesting—the wedding events were scheduled in a single block over two days.

Based on that information, we were able to find an alternative accommodation and compare the cost of local transportation to and from the luxury resort area to her more modest resort around 90 minutes away with the cost of spending a night or two at the more expensive resort.

The maxim here is that even if many of the details aren’t particularly relevant in helping a travel consultant figure out a solution, just keep talking—you’ll eventually hit that spot.

Stick to Business

Most travel counselors engage in consultative selling, and that can feel a lot like therapy. Booking travel can be deeply personal, from the reasons for traveling to making sure basic needs are taken care of during the journey.

In the case of the young mother, many of her questions drifted from travel-related questions to ethical territory: “Is it selfish to leave my daughter with a sitter while I go on vacation?” or “Will my vacation be wasted if I don’t get any time to myself?”

A top-flight agent can allay client concerns without getting tangled in the larger questions. A travel consultant can’t advise on whether it’s ok to take a toddler on an international vacation, but they can share how they’ve observed what other clients have done with small children and can present options for clients that will suit their needs—whatever they decide.

Don’t Play Telephone

All travelers should be part of a conversation with a travel consultant at two key points—the initial planning conversation, and any follow-ups after the initial proposal. It only adds frustration for clients and consultants if somebody has to play the messenger.

I once had as clients a pair of ladies planning a trip to the South Pacific who I got into an extended selling conversation with because one of them would call with questions, and then meet with her traveling companion to discuss. Something would ultimately get lost in translation, for either of them would call back with several follow-up questions based on incomplete or misrepresented details. Once I was able to speak with them both at the same time, everything was smoothed out and everybody was happy.

The Bottom Line

A seasoned travel consultant often works like a therapist, helping travelers tease out what it is they’re really wanting from their travel experience and then guiding them while they choose their own best solution.


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