There’s a debate that rages on in the travel agent community: whether or not to charge a service/planning fee.
No, not a deposit. A non-refundable fee to compensate for the research, skill, and expertise that goes into planning travel.
It’s probably not a surprise that I am Team Fee.
But … I work with a lot of agents who still feel nervous about charging a service fee, or about introducing a new fee when they’ve been operating without one for a long time.
If charging a service fee—and actually sticking with it—is one of your goals this year, here’s my advice for taking the sting out of the whole thing:
1) Never apologize for your planning fee.
Starting out an email to your existing client list with “I’m sorry but I’ll be charging a fee this year …” is a bad, bad idea. It immediately sets the tone that your fee is something to apologize for—and it’s not. It assumes that your clients will automatically oppose the fee, and they might not. And that language also hints at desperation. It suggests, “I don’t really want to charge a fee, but I have to to cover my bills.” People want to work with successful agents, not struggling ones, so don’t present your fee as something you HAVE to do to make ends meet (even if it is).
Buyers can smell desperation from a mile away—and it’s a stench they stay far, far away from.
2) Do justify your service fee.
This is a good psychological marketing trick: People are more accepting of change when they understand the reasoning behind it. So if you do announce your new service fee, either in a blog post, e-newsletter, or on social media, spend a line or two on why you’re introducing the fee. Your reasoning may be something like:
- To reflect your investment in continuing education, so you can always supply your clients with the most-up-to-date, cutting-edge travel information and services.
- To allow you to design trips based on your clients’ true needs, rather than which properties and tour operators provide the highest commission rates. Your fee gives both you and your client more freedom.
- To account for the increasing complexity of the trips you plan and the time it takes to plot out personalized itineraries.
Remember, though, your reasoning should never be “to keep the lights on.”
3) You don’t have to publicly announce your fee, unless you’re doing it as part of a marketing strategy.
If you’re fairly new to the travel game and don’t have a ton of clients under your belt who would be shocked by your new fee, you don’t have to make a big announcement about it. Just quietly update your website to mention you charge a fee, and then start doing it.
However, introducing a fee, even if you’re new, is a great way to drum up new business. If you have at least a modest following on social media or on your e-newsletter list, try this: Announce that you’ll be introducing a new fee a month from now, sharing your reasoning, and then add that if someone wants to work with you without paying a fee to reach out NOW. We’re more likely to take an action when given a deadline, and the date your fee goes into effect acts as a powerful deadline for your prospects.
Even if your fee isn’t that high, or even if you serve luxury clients, this tactic will probably still work. Everybody likes free—even millionaires.
Are you a travel agent who charges a fee?
What has your experience been like? Have you received pushback from clients? Share what’s been working for you below!