How to Sell? 10 Tips for the Travel Agents in Nepal

A typical sales process is made of 4 basic elements;

  1. Finding the prospect (Potential Customer)
  2. Pitching the prospect
  3. Making a relationship
  4. Maintaining the relationship

Sales is the most rigorous and monotonous activity in a business, yet the most important of all. From finding the prospect (Marketing, Advertisement & Cold Calls) to making a relationship (Sign-ups and Bookings), everything is done with the purpose to bring in the sales and ROI.

The greater problem in Nepal’s tourism industry is, the most travel agents lack the basic idea of selling, hence, lower return in sales.

You shouldn’t mistake your customer’s receptivity for your sales skills but their own interest.

The average industry rate for online trip bookings is a mere 15%-20% of the total inquiries received.

The lower rate of conversion is a sign of major faults in the sales practice, however, out of thousands of travel agencies only handful of them ever realize this issue and care to improve it, mainly because, most agents do not come from sales background nor they worry about analyzing the conversion data to improve or update their sales skill.

The only effort in alluring the customers has been through cashing on those prospects who have already made up their mind or by offering heavily discounted deal (incentive) against other agencies’ offers. This results in discrepancy in the prices throughout the industry, which later hurts the travel agencies from falling prices and less ROI.

A Sad Fact is, nobody really cares about the data in this industry, unless you’re an analyst or researcher. Choosing to make the same mistake time and again and getting away with has been the norm.

6 Questions Travel Agents must Address

  • Why would a prospect leave my offer and go with someone else?
  • Why would a prospect never reply to my emails?
  • Have I been pitching my offer wrong the entire time?
  • Have I been treating the prospect wrong the entire time?
  • Why haven’t I been able to convert most of my email inquiries?
  • Do I lower the price to allure the customers or bring up the overall service?

As mentioned in my previous blog @State of Tourism in Nepal, travel agents refuse to look beyond the present market trends. The lack of vision/passion in finding new markets, trends or services will only render you obsolete in the future and prevent you from growing exponentially.


Here are 10 Basic Tips on Improving Sales Activity

  1. Know your Prospect -Prepare yourself before selling a product to your prospect. The art of selling relies on how well prepared you are to learn more about your customer’s needs, moreover, analyze their age, sex, culture, spending habit and other activities to determine a detailed profile. The better profiling helps you differentiate and serve the customers with certain tastes. (Same applies in marketing)
  2. Cover the Insights -You can only sell when you are familiar with your own product. Lack of insights is what irate the customers most. Insights of product comes from personal experiences, feedback or extensive research. Prepare and pitch the itinerary to let your customers feel that they are present at the destination, by evoking their emotions.
  3. Clarity & Patience – “The idea is not to sell on the first meeting.” A prospect contacts you when they are already interested but haven’t made up their mind. They need a fervent push before they can actually commit to pay. Those who have already made their mind will book instead. Therefore, understanding the need before initiating sales pitch may help to hold your prospects’ interest for a longer time. Don’t jump the gun!
  4. Beat the cliche -Stop copying others, be it their email formats or the way they converse. Prospects love to listen. They will listen to anyone who is willing to talk, however, they’ll always chose the one who stands out. These cliches account for the vicious circle of ill marketing. Most of the time, copying others may result in copying their faults too.
  5. Ask for feedback/reviews -Always ask for feedback before signing them up and after the end of the trip. In case of bad reviews, addressing them promptly helps in preventing the mistake from happening again, as well as, offer discounts or other incentives to the customer before they discourage others to use your service in the future. Precaution is better than cure!
  6. Offer incentive -Everyone looks for an incentive to commit for something. If your offer sounds less useful, they will choose to go with some other company who promises a better deal. A better deal isn’t always the discounted price but incentives, an incentive is defined by the overall trip experience (agency’s experience, guide’s experience/knowledge, better accommodation, customer services etc).
  7. Never misled or oversell -Most negative reviews arise when a sales agent oversells owns product or service, or mislead the customer in believing something that doesn’t exist. If you wish to avoid getting bad reviews in TripAdvisor and a position where you have to clarify your mistakes, then do start following ethical sales practices.
  8. Stick to the conversation medium -A prospect chooses a medium they are comfortable in. If a person chooses to email you, you do not call them up with your offer unless they allow you to. Similarly, if they chose to talk via Facebook or Twitter, you stick to that medium unless they fell necessary to switch it to any other mediums. They often feel reluctant to share their private information via online form for the harassing calls they may later receive from the marketers.
  9. Maintain a Brand“A brand never lies!” The sustenance of your agency relies completely on your brand image. The brand value grows when you are willing to accept the mistakes and change yourself. Hundreds of good reviews won’t rescue you when you may receive one bad review for your ill service. Make a point to invest in customer service, marketing mediums and ethical sales practices to grow the brand in the long run.
  10. Email Ethics & Prevalent Practices -Email is the ice-breaker. It helps to start a conversation. The idea is not to harass the reader. The email should be kept brief and to the point. The idea is to compel the reader to hit the reply button.As most sales take place online, sales agents make a grave mistake of taking email correspondence for granted, hence losing most of their customers before even getting to make an offer. (I’d be talking about Email ethics and practices in the detail in my next pulse)

A lengthy, poorly formatted and off-topic email often end up in Spam. Similarly, an email with grammatical errors and typos results in being :Unread or read incomplete.

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State of Tourism in Nepal: Before & Hereafter

Nepal is way smaller to notice in the world map, however, there are very few people around the world who haven’t read or heard about it. Since the commercialization of mountaineering in the 80s, Nepal has experienced a new wave of tourism in the country. In the last 30 years, it has seen many smaller and larger upheavals.

Here are some insightful facts on Nepal’s tourism industry; along with the prevalent problems and remedial measures for its improvement, I have noticed and experienced in my time in the industry.


FACTS

  • A survey led by Nepal Rastra Bank in 2014 for economic activities report suggested, Nepal can accommodate almost 7.44 million tourists annually with its existing infrastructure. Yet, we only receive 700,000 to 800,000 tourists annually, a mere 10% of our potential.
  • Even with 1,198 trekking agencies registered in TAAN (Trekking Agencies Association), thousands of Star-rated/Non-rated hotels, lodges and guest houses, and numerous outdoor agencies, Nepal has served a way lesser number of tourists compared to its counterparts, India (the 38th most visited country) and China.
  • In India, tourism contributed 6.7% of India’s total GDP in 2014, which roughly sums up to $159.72 Billion, whereas, Nepal’s tourism contributed 5.4% of the GDP, amounting for a mere $3.61 Billion.
Tourism Contribution GDP 2014
  • Gay/LGBT Tourism is one of the most potential tourist marketplace in the world. GETA suggests, the gay tourism holds a worldwide market value of $200 Billion, however, Nepal has been a low achiever in this arena, primarily because of the lack of knowledge about the new market and skepticism to adopt new marketing trends. (Source)
    Tourism helps produce employment, More than 450,000 jobs were created in 2014 solely from tourism, the highest in the history. Many more can depend on tourism to raise their income via service, primarily, those who reside in remote areas of the country.

CURRENT STATUS

#1 Promotion

‘Visit Nepal 1998’ a government led campaign was the last most successful tourism campaign ever introduced by the state to bring in more tourists. Most campaigns introduced either from the government or Nepal Tourism Board have been mediocre in results. Visit Nepal 2011 failed to grasp any attention from the tourists.

With the advent of internet in the early 2000s, private sector (Travel agencies and hotels) has been the major precursor in promoting Nepal on a global scale. The occasional travel marts and fair helped, that even in a limit due to physical constraints.

The recent trend of promoting one’s agency online helped in creating enormous amount of useful information in various medium; website, blogs, video and forums, for the world to see and read. Most readership on Nepal’s tourism rely mainly on blogs and journals promoted by private agencies. The major chunk of tourism sales today are made via Google Adwords and online referrals. Third party agents have subsided in the last 5 years, whereas, online marketing and promotion has increased 30x.

Around $4.5-6 million is spent on online advertising and promotions by the private sectors in Nepal annually.

#2 Trade

The trade relies mainly on the private agencies and hotels, along with the government as only a facilitator. Agencies help promote the product and bring in guests, the easily affordable and available hotels help to accommodate the guests, whereas, government facilitates permits and other official procedures to service them throughout their stay.

Most tourists visiting Nepal account for adventure travel. In average, 450,000 tourists visit Nepal every year to either trek, hike or mountaineering. Adventure travel helps generate most revenue for the country from the lengthy stay and the purchase of travel services.

Nepal earns $3 million alone from the climbing permit to the Mount Everest every year.

Hotels, on the other hand, profit mostly from the long staying guests, therefore, the sole approach of tourism has been to bring in and service long staying guests.


PREVALENT PROBLEMS

#1 Promotion

Promotion of tourism has truly relied on the private sector with least or none monitoring/guidance from the government. Private agencies tend to have a biased or limited marketing prospective. As seen in Nepal in the last 15 years, every agency has involved in promoting and profiting from only a set number of tourist destinations but the entire nation.

The term ‘Everest’ is the only (re)marketable brand ever used or available in Nepal. Most resources, agencies and staffs are appointed to cater the tourists visiting the Everest region, whereas, the different yet seemingly popular trails such as Annapurna, Dolpo, Mustang, Far East and Far West receive least attention from both the agencies and tourists.

Everest accounts for mere 5% of Nepal’s tourism, however, 98% of agencies rely solely on the Everest to achieve most of their profit.

This accounts for the vicious circle of ill marketing which alienates other potential tourism sectors in Nepal time and again. Due to the very trend, holiday-goers tend to notice only the overtly promoted tourist segment while remaining ill-informed or ignorant about the 95% of other available tourism services.

Post-Earthquake 2015, most promotions and re-branding has been done solely by the private sectors.

The combined effort of reassuring the world via informative blogs, visual contents, social media campaigns and word of mouth marketing helped regain most of the lost tourism. Most private agencies, yet went unnoticed, helped to bring the most amount of tourists in Nepal since the earthquake with their immense efforts via online promotions and viral marketing. Government played a minimal yet important role in reassuring tourists.

Moreover, post-earthquake, numerous private agencies pleaded global community to help build Nepal via financial support. Millions of dollars poured in the small nation through private agencies, where many of them chose to misappropriate the fund for personal use. How much of it has been used in the rebuilding process still remains a big question!

#2 Trade

The trade faltered post-earthquake, mainly because of the massive destruction of the infrastructures. Hotels and lodges were closed or refurbished before resuming the services, which discouraged tourists to visit or stay any longer in Nepal, hence, demoralizing the hotel industry.

Post-earthquake, the average length of stay dropped to mere 6 days, and occupancy of the hotel dropped below 20%

The post-constitution phase resulted in the blockade of imports of essential goods from India which added to the never-ending problems of the trade. Hotels and restaurants could hardly provide timely meal, heat or light to the guests, and agencies had to suffer mostly from poor transportation and lack of full-fledged accommodations.

Due to these constraints, the tourist arrival fell by 45% in 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. [Source]

Tourist arrival 2014-2015

REMEDIAL MEASURES

What Nepal possesses in natural and cultural riches, it lacks in planning and executions, mostly in the government or policy-making level.

  • The dogmatic practice of using Everest to promote a product won’t help in the future. It’s bound to loose its charm after a while. The government’s move to introduce new climbing peaks and cut the royalty for other popular peaks came as a positive sign to switch the attention from the Everest to other products, however, this will never be enough. An optimized use of other tourist destinations can only come into practice when the private agencies, which controls the major portion of the travel industry, and government shift their importance to other potential products.
  • If private agencies and the governing bodies (NTB, TAAN & NATTA) can urge themselves to explore and tap the newer and potential market segments, such as; billion dollar gay/lgbt tourism industry, it can help increase the total tourist arrival in the country, along with the growth in revenue and brand value.
  • The target of servicing 7.44 million tourists a year can only be possible when everyone involved in the tourism change their placid attitude and prevent from fighting with each other in a single market to work together for the goodwill of the entire industry.
  • The varying directions of the marketing approaches of the private agencies cannot help achieve a single goal unless the primary governing body steps in to help provide a straight direction to the entire industry. The competition to achieve mere sales target from the same itinerary among the private agencies won’t help the cause, nor will offering mere incentives to the guests to stay longer in the hotel. It is bound to end soon. The Vicious circle of ill marketing has to end!

Note:
$ = USD
Private agency/agencies/sector = Privately owned outdoor agencies

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Nature Wonders [Photo Story]

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. [Regarder profondément dans la nature, et alors vous comprendrez tout mieux.]

~Albert Einstein


A Flickering Candle [Photo Story]

“How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world (Dans quelle mesure cette petite bougie jette ses rayons! Donc, brille une bonne action dans un monde corrompu)

~ William Shakespeare