Scope Creep: How Travel Agents Lose Money

Everybody is talking about fees, fees, fees.

Yes, we all know that when you charge a fee, you:

  1. Make more money
  2. Garner the type of clients who value your expertise
  3. Weed out the tire kickers
  4. Demonstrate your worth
  5. Create an accurate perception of your value
  6. And so much more…

But, nobody is talking about scope creep! What is it? How does it affect your profitability? And, how can you get rid of it altogether?

Scope creep is not a term that’s often used in the travel industry. Other service providers have been using it for years, and it’s high time that we start thinking about how it applies to us, as travel pros, and how it affects our bottom line!

I define scope creep as what happens when a client changes the game. Plain and simple.

Does This Sound Familiar to You?

Picture this: You’ve had your initial consultation with a couple. They have decided they do, in fact, want to move forward with using you to plan their trip. You schedule the discovery call to dive a bit deeper into their likes, dislikes, preferences, timing, what they hope to get out of the trip, the experience they are looking for, and so on. They pay your planning fee, sign your legal agreements, and you are off to the races!

You’re excited because they’ve actually paid your fee and now are your bonified clients. Next, you eagerly get to work, researching everything about the destination—from the hotel properties and tours, to flight schedules and entry requirements, to the weather, and which suppliers would be best to use. You spend countless hours working on their proposal to make it perfect for them. Because, of course, this is your first time working with this couple and you want to wow them right out of the gate. You’ve finally finished pulling everything together. It’s midnight on a Friday night. But you’re so excited, you go ahead and craft the email and hit send; so the couple will see your email with their itinerary first thing in the morning when they wake up.

You go through your weekend anxious to hear back from them on Monday, to discuss this amazing itinerary you pulled together so quickly for them. Monday comes and the client calls. The couple has realized that they got the travel dates wrong. In addition, they failed to mention earlier that three other couples will be on the trip with them!

You feel a twinge of excitement to learn there will be four couples, because you will make more in commission, but all the planning you did for this new client must now be redone to accommodate new dates and a party of eight. Increasing the number of travelers will greatly impact the pricing for various components of the trip, and perhaps even which service providers you will use.

So, the question is… do you start over and provide your clients with a new proposal to fit their new dates and revised party size without a second thought? Or, do you charge another planning fee?

Let’s talk about how common scenarios like this chip away at your financial (and emotional) health, and how you can protect yourself in the future.

  • Because you now must do double the work, your client has just cut your billable fee in half! Sure, the couple really likes the itinerary, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have to reprice the entire trip, and possibly even identify new suppliers who can handle the revised number of travelers.
  • Before, your work for and aim to please this new client were fueled by energy and excitement. Now, your enthusiasm has diminished and starting over from scratch feels like drudgery, which adds a significant amount of stress to your plate.
  • Might this scenario be a simple and uncharacteristic oversight on the part of this new client? Or could it predict future behavior of someone who clearly does not fit the description of a client who is ideal for you?
  • The time you must devote to reworking this proposal could be spent on crafting a vacation for that other, more respectful client, who you can trust to always provide clear directions and to stay within bounds.
  • Or, that time could be dedicated to working on your business and yourself—both of which would add positive and long-term value.

What precedent are you setting if you go ahead and make the changes and adjustments without charging a new planning fee?

  1. Your behavior teaches your clients what they can expect from you! As is true with all relationships, setting boundaries is essential with your clients. If you do the work for free, clients will get the message that any time they change their minds, you will rework things to accommodate them. They will expect this—not only in the planning phase, but also even after the trip has been deposited.
  2. When you send your clients proposals after hours, you set another precedent by demonstrating your 24/7 availability for non-emergencies. The boundaries are now blurred as to what and when they can ask you for your attention.
  3. If you do not visibly respect the value of your time and effort, your clients will not either. It’s important that you are intentional about both verbal and non-verbal messages you send to build realistic expectations, respect, and trust.
  4. You become a slave to your clients and your business, and often your personal life and loved ones suffer, as a result.

How Can You Avoid This in the Future?

If you are an advisor who charges planning, change, and cancellation fees, it’s not enough to simply state those fees in your agreements. Let’s be honest, when was the last time you read the full terms and conditions on a document before ticking the little box that says “accept”? Exactly my point. While it’s imperative you have agreements in place, it’s my experience that few customers read them in their entirety.

When you start out with a client, here are a few things you can do at the onset to deter scope creep down the road:

  1. Clearly outline what is included in your planning fee: How many itineraries are included? How many revisions are allowed? What do revisions entail? Are date changes included? Or does your fee simply cover massaging the tours selected and the room category for hotel stay(s)? After the deposit has been made on the booking, what constitutes changes beyond the obvious? For example, is the client changing the destination in its entirety? What if the customer wants to add or change tours? Does this require you rework the itinerary or research other options? How would you handle it if your customer wants to extend the trip by a few more days? Would you charge a fee?
  2. Clearly state your cancellation and change fees in your terms and conditions, along with whether the fees are per person, per household, etc.
  3. Verbally communicate how you work, and what revisions entail, when speaking with your prospect or client at the beginning.
  4. When sending the proposal to the prospect/customer, include a preset message for important reminders. For instance, I include things like ‘prices are subject to change until confirmed.’
  5. Be sure to explain that it is the customer’s responsibility to understand the entry and exit requirements of the country they are visiting.

When you are clear in your communication, you not only can greatly reduce the amount of scope creep in your life but you also will diminish stress and the necessity of extra work—and increase your profitability. Plus, your clear communication makes far-reaching, positive impacts on your business and your client relationships.

Want to build a no BS agency full of freedom and profit? Join today!

The Language of Luxury Travel: Becoming a Trusted Luxury Travel Advisor
Words Matter in Luxury Travel When dealing with luxury clients, the power of language cannot be overstated....
Read More
The Language of Luxury Travel: Becoming a Luxury Travel Advisor
Photo by Shifaaz shamoon on Unsplash Words Matter in Luxury Travel When dealing with luxury clients,...
Read More
Paws and Papers: International Pet Travel
Many of your clients may feel like taking their pets on vacation with them is the only option. As part...
Read More

Ready to simplify, protect,
and grow your travel business?