One of the most crucial pieces (if not the most crucial), of running a successful travel agency is having a solid network of suppliers.
We sat down with our Vice President of Agency Education to discuss how to build a top-tier supplier network in a way that will not only help you grow your travel business through steady commissions, but incredible customer service.
Step 1: Understand Your Business
The first step to developing a solid supplier network is understating what you sell. Are you a niche agency? Do you specialize in a certain type of travel experience or destination?
By fully understanding your agency’s identity you will have a better idea of what type of suppliers will be able to potentially service your customers.
Step 2: Network, Network, Network
After you have identified who you are and what your clients’ needs are you will need to start building your supplier contacts. The best way to do this is from networking. You can attend PowerSolutions Regional events, PowerSolutions National, chapter meetings, FAMs, or just explore a supplier for yourself. Networking at a conference or trade show is critical to keeping your eyes open for suppliers who are willing to do more for you, or work better with you then the ones you currently have.
Reaching out to new suppliers at events is going to be the easiest and most cost efficient way to begin networking. Our PowerSolutions events are a great way to get face-to-face with suppliers for free.
It is ideal to have 5-7 suppliers top-tier suppliers in your network. Here is breakdown of how it might look:
- 3-4 suppliers that satisfy every destination in your agency or niche. These could be cruise lines, tour operators, etc.
- 1 travel insurance provider
- 2-3 hotel, transportation, or airline suppliers
Your supplier network should first and foremost satisfy your client’s needs and give them the vacation they want. When a client comes to you wishing to visit somewhere specific, have some first and second level suppliers you trust to reach out to. Having a variety of preferred top-tier suppliers that you work with will not only help you increase your sales volume, but give your client exactly what they’re looking for.
When you make contact with a new supplier come prepared with some great questions, and make sure not to discuss commissions right off the bat, get to know each other first.
Here are some questions to consider asking:
- What exactly do they sell? If they are a tour operator, what destinations do they offer? Do they have a hotel portfolio you can look at online?
- Do they provide travel insurance?
- Do they work with local vendors? For example, if they are in Italy do they work with local transportation companies?
- What is their customer service like? Is it 24/7? What time zone are they in? If your client is having an issue who do you call?
- It’s never a bad idea to also bring along a worst case scenario situation to see how they would handle it
After you have developed an initial contact, make sure you get their business card. When you get back home or to your office get in touch with your local Brand Development Manager (BDM) and schedule a call to discuss their services and how they might benefit your agency. Talk with them about what your business looks like, what your needs are, and your sales volume in that area or destination.
Work with the supplier to negotiate a good commission rate based on your potential business with that supplier. It is important to bring some information to this conversation about what your sales volume is in the area where the supplier is located. You can always negotiate other amenities that may benefit your client as well, such as transfers.
Step 3: Your Due Diligence
So you’ve identified your business and your client’s needs, you’ve networked at some great events, negotiated some terms/commissions, even attended a FAM or two, now what?
As a travel agent, your clients trust you to provide them with the vacation of their dreams. The most successful way for you to do this is to see it for yourself, or at least ask around to some of your travel agent friends and get their feedback. After everything checks out, give them a try with a few clients at first, test the waters and see how your relationship goes.
Picking from your preferred suppliers ensures that you know what kind of vacation your client is going to get because you have been there, you’ve worked with this supplier numerous times, you’ve developed a good sales volume, and you are sure that they will quickly be able to handle any problem that might arise.
These steps provide some building blocks on which you can develop a top-tier supplier network, or continue to grow your current network fairly quickly. Having a great top-tier supplier network is about building lasting relationships with both the client and the supplier.