By Michael Gunther

When was the last time you used a travel agent? For me it’s been at least a decade (that is until very recently). With the internet and mobile technology, I have been an avid online user for planning and organizing my own trips for both business and pleasure. But over these last few months my mindset has begun to change.

One of my sisters, Cathy, recently decided to become a travel agent. At first I was like, “Really? It’s not a growing or thriving industry…”  I believed I could do much better researching my own deals online. I have since learned that there is a new breed of travel agents where the relationship is more like a partnership in planning the best and most ideal trip, without all the unknowns and wasted time.

This new realization all began last summer as I was heading to New York with a group of other business leaders for a conference. I called my sister to see if she could help us find a place to stay—she got right on it and found not only three great options but also found us better pricing than what was online (I even checked—isn’t that what we are all programmed to do?). She also called the hotel, and talked with the New York City experts within her firm, to find great restaurant suggestions for us—which were all fantastic. I’m sure we could have tried to do this ourselves, but she made it so easy, and saved us countless hours.

Since then, my life partner and I have been planning a trip to Europe to celebrate my 50th birthday and our 20th anniversary. Cathy had us fill out a survey about our likes and dislikes, our best and worst vacations, things that were important to us, places and things we wanted to see, etc. She did an amazing client intake process. I always thought travel agents were just order takers, not consultants. Through this process she began her research, talked to individuals in Europe about ideas and options, and basically outlined our whole vacation for us.

From her initial itinerary, we have now begun our own research on all the items she suggested, including hotel recommendations and places to go. She provided us with a foundation and game plan, and we’ve had so much fun just fine tuning our trip. She saved us time, but more importantly, came up with ideas we wouldn’t have thought of and guided us based on experiences and feedback from people who have been there before.

This whole process got me thinking about the travel industry, which I thought was no longer really relevant. Cathy and her firm have redefined the role they need to play in the travel arena and have made themselves more valuable than ever. I thought it was a great lesson that no matter what your industry trends are saying, there is always room for great service, consultative approaches, and valuable knowledge resources. At the end of the day, I want to travel more like this—I get to do the fun part after Cathy does the groundwork (which I know she finds fun).

Bottom Line

Service and resourcefulness will always prevail when you are able to save people time and ultimately money no matter what your industry. I applaud organizations like Santa Barbara Travel Bureau, who have decided to make lemonade out of lemons in an industry that has been on a decline for over a decade. You should also be evaluating your own service and sales approach—are you a resource for your clients? Are you truly a knowledge expert for them? Are you making their lives easier?

On a side note: My sister, Cathy Kroll, is also now working with some of the other people who were on my New York trip. They found her service and support impeccable—we toasted her many times when we were there for the great job she did!

Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at

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