Your client profile is basically a determination of whether your needs will match the services of a specific Custom travel planner.
Some Custom Travel Planners have pages-long forms to fill out in order to get details on your background, preferred travel styles, budget, etc. Others just have a conversation with you and can, in a short period of time, determine if you are a good fit for their services. I think that the very best planners are those who can quickly determine if you are a good fit and, if not, can confidently recommend some alternative companies that might work for you. My basic operating premise is that there is plenty of business to go around and that, in the end, if the client has a good fit, they will want to continue using custom travel planners, whether it’s me or someone else.
So, how do I approach client inquiries to determine “fit”? There are the things that I listen for in making a determination about the client profile. I never ask directly about these, but work them out based on what the potential traveler tells me in response to more standard questions, such as when they are traveling, how many in the party, what types of hotels do they usually use, etc. Here are the five critical areas:
1. Is there a reason you need a planner?
This can be anything from being a busy executive or parent, traveling to an entirely new part of the world, language issues, traveling at the last minute or you want unique experiences that you know they cannot get on you own. One of the least likely candidates for custom travel planning are people with all the time in the world who LOVE to do all the research and just need someone to book the pieces of their travel. If this is your profile, I’m of the opinion that the premium you will be paying to a custom planner will not be worth it and, in the end, you will not be happy since you may often feel you could have gotten a better deal on your own.
2. Is you budget realistic and in-line with the services being offered?
This is actually quite simple and is best addressed up front. It serves neither you nor the planner to spend time and effort if there is a disconnect here, as both parties lose time in the planning cycle. Be upfront about your budget and a good planner should be upfront both about the average costs (usually stated as a per person/per day budget). If the planner tells you a number that is higher than you want to pay, your time is not lost – ask for a recommendation for a few good companies that are at a lower price point. They will usually know some and will appreciate being able to assist you. If the number is much lower than you are typically used to paying, likewise, it is likely that the company is not a good match since they are most likely used to dealing with lower budget travelers and are not accustomed to a higher service level (that just costs more).
3. What are you hoping to do and is it possible to do?
Triaging this one only comes from deep knowledge. If you are calling one month before a major annual event, even with a healthy budget, you may find that hotels have been sold out for months and your preferred planner is no longer taking on projects. Some things are only seasonally available (you can’t see a US football game in April; other countries sports work the same way).
4. Have you worked with planners before and, if not, how do you normally plan your travel?
This one will vary by destination. If you normally do all your own plans when going to Europe, this will not concern a planner who specializes in more exotic destinations, since this is a normal part of their client profile. But if you’ve been working the Lonely Planet/back-pack routes for the past 16 years, they will want to know what has changed that you are now looking to work with a planner rather than do all your own legwork.
5. Are your expectations of what a planner can deliver realistic and can he/she meet them?
This is the most difficult to determine, but also the most critical for making sure that everyone is happy in the end. Some clients may need a much higher level of service than a small company can offer (see more about business models here). Some need more hand-holding. Others may need a different specialty. Some want what we do but do not have the budget. Others have the budget but just don’t want to pay as much as it’s going to cost to get it done. All of these are valid reasons to assist the person making the inquiry in re-looking at their options in order to find the ideal planner for their needs.
The purpose of this website is to help you to choose from a number of custom travel planners so that you can find the one that suits your needs best. There is nothing wrong with asking questions of the planner and responding truthfully about your needs. Even if someone cannot help you directly, they may be able to help you indirectly by providing referrals and ideas.