Selling a destination

What do you do when a client wants to book a destination you’ve never visited and know next to nothing about?  How do you quickly become a fountain of knowledge?

It can be done. Here are 11 steps to selling a destination that neither you nor anyone else at your agency has ever visited.

1.    Understand it. Begin by asking the client “why,” so you understand what excites them about the destination and what they see themselves doing there. Based on this knowledge you can embark on your research.

Word to the wise: Before starting your research, make sure you’re spelling it correctly. You don’t want to research Oakland if your client is thinking about Auckland, or send them to Colombo when they were asking about Colombia.

2.    Match it. Even when a client requests a specific destination, you still need to qualify the client so you can see if there is a match between their needs and the destination. (See sidebar.)

3.    Google it. After understanding the client’s reasons for their destination choice, your next step is online research. Narrow your Google search by looking for the top 10 reasons people travel there, top 10 attractions, etc. Read Wikipedia articles to grasp what the country is all about – most also include a section that gives a thumbnail sketch of the tourist scene. Your GDS will have lots of information too, and most countries have a tourist board website that is packed with information.

4.    Map it. Learn where the destination is located, including surrounding countries, bodies of water, etc. Map work will also give you an idea of the climate as well as possible routings for arriving at the destination.

5.    Check it. Look up travel advisories to learn the status of the country, passport and visa requirements, any medical concerns or safety issues, areas of the country that are not appropriate for tourists, the currency situation, etc. See in the U.S. and in Canada.

6.    Watch it. Experience the ambience and energy of the destination via resources such as YouTube, destination videos, television programs, food TV, guidebooks, travel magazines, newspaper travel sections, Netflix, online destination reviews, and more.

7.    Niche it. Find out if your client has special interests that line up with what is available at the destination – for existing clients, this info should be in your CRM files.

8.    Network it. Think of agents and suppliers you’ve met who may know the destination. Contact the tourist board. Check your LinkedIn contacts and query your other social networks. Remember to rely on trusted sources and have healthy scepticism toward anonymous sources.

9.    Present it. Once you’ve done your homework, put together a short PowerPoint or Animoto or SlideRocket story of destination highlights. Include cultural aspects (music, dance, art), as well as attractions, hotel and restaurant choices suited to your client. You can even brand it with your agency logo. (For examples, see

10.    Sense it. For a major client or a group booking, you need to go the extra mile. One way to do this is by providing a sensory experience. You can host an info session at your office featuring the destination’s music as well as sample foods from a local restaurant that specializes in the cuisine. Ask the tourist board and suppliers for help providing a feel and taste of the destination. Examples: At a Morocco evening, I handed out small vials containing sand from the Sahara; for Argentina, I served Malbec wine, and for Peru I handed out Coca candies.

11.    Sell it. Use your selling skills just as you would for any sale. Even if the client seems already convinced that they want this particular destination, you need to match features and benefits and respond to questions and objections. Based on your clients needs, you can discuss the nuances that separate one hotel or resort from the next, dining experiences, activities, etc.

Success selling the unknown
Years ago I was asked to give a presentation to 140 travel agents on how to sell Dubai. I had never been to Dubai but at the end of my talk people asked me about my travel experiences there.

All I did was follow the 11 steps of getting to know a destination. (I even watched movies filmed in Dubai so I could get a feel for the traffic and the proximity of one attraction to another.)

Then, using photos, music and advice from colleagues who had been to Dubai, I was able to give a destination talk that was meaningful and effective and addressed the specific interests of the audience.

Your own education regarding any destination can yield the same results.