Embrace technology and flag up your travel knowledge to customers, Dragons’ Den star and entrepreneur James Caan urged agents at the Global Travel Group conference on Monday.
Speaking at the event in Chester, Caan said that agents should not be afraid of technology or see it as a threat to the travel industry, and instead harness it to improve their own businesses.
“The biggest debate in the travel industry is whether technology is going to destroy what you do,” Caan told delegates. “Embrace technology rather than being afraid of it. Rather than being afraid of it, understand it and learn how to use it.”
After attending a conference a number of years ago and initially fearing that new internet start-ups involving online recruitment boards would threaten his own recruitment companies, Caan said that his companies were more efficient and their margins have increased as a result of using technology to their advantage.
He also emphasised how many customers still prefer the human touch over booking on the internet, and value the knowledge agents can offer rather than trawling the web themselves to compare holiday prices and try to find the best deal.
“At the end of the day, sometimes people just want to talk to a human being, someone that can sell with passion, which I’m not sure that the internet can do as well,” said Caan.
“You are a knowledge worker. Industry knowledge is absolutely paramount when you are promoting your service.
“Even though the theory is that you can get it cheaper yourself [on the internet], a lot of people are not savvy enough to search online and get all the quotes.”
He also highlighted the importance of finding out as much information about customers as possible to help create bespoke deals for them.
“People you do business with, do you know their birthdays, their anniversaries, what their interests are?” he asked.
“The more you know about your customer, the better data that you have, the more able you are to be proactive. Your database of customers is your key driver.”
Caan, who said his mantra was “observe the masses and go in the opposite direction”, advocated setting reasonable goals to keep yourself motivated.
“I didn’t start my career thinking, ‘I’m going to be a multi-millionaire’,” he said.
“Goal-setting for me has always been piecemeal. If you set the goal too big, it’s unreachable, because it’s too far, you can’t taste it.”
He also recommended that those running their own company should incentivise themselves, as well as their employees, adding that business founders can sometimes take themselves for granted by not rewarding themselves for their achievements.
“Your business is not your brand, or your website – it’s you,” said Caan. “So whatever you are doing, invest in you to make you more effective.”