Get Your S.H.I.P. Together


Get Your S.H.I.P. Together

Interview with Dan Chappelle, President, The Wealthy Travel Agent

Browyn Hogan, Creative Director, VTQ


The mission of Chappelle Consulting International, doing business as “The Wealthy Travel Agent”, is to “Create Sales Leaders in the Travel and Tourism Industry.”

The skillsets required to thrive have changed over the years, however, as an industry we have not made much headway in the evolution from order-taker to sales person.

I work with a number of industry leaders who recognize this, but need help to make the cultural shift necessary in their organizations. Because of my industry experience, I have the credibility with their teams to help make this shift possible. I help them to develop an effective sales and prospecting strategy, teach effective sales management techniques, and transform travel agents into travel sales professionals.

What attracted you to the travel sector and a career in sales?

Like many people, my career path was more about the choices I made as opportunities arose, than a premeditated plan. I began my career as a SCUBA instructor with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in 1988. I worked onboard for almost 6 years.

I transferred to the Pursers Office (the business office of the ship) in my 4th year. At the time I found that most of the problems we dealt with onboard were travel agent related, so I seized the opportunity, moved to Austin Texas, and opened a cruise-only travel agency. This was a fairly new concept at the time. I had sold books door-to-door in college, so I knew the mechanics of selling.

We built a sales-focused company that just happened to sell really cool travel products! I believe that as sales people we must make ourselves an indispensable part of the vacation experience to the customers we serve.

In a recent webinar you mentioned how baby boomers and Gen X’s in the luxury travel industry seek an experience. Why do you think that is and what has been your best travel experience?

I think we all seek experiences, no matter who we are. A person can only collect so many material things. Everyone has a reason, a “why”. In our business, we tend to “sell the steak”.

We can recite square footage, gross tonnage, beach frontage, etc., but we have a hard time describing how the experience makes a prospect feel. We can only get there by asking “why”. The “why” provides the emotional connection to memories and experiences that are limitless.

The growth of online business has brought flexibility to workplaces. How do you think this will impact the travel sales industry in the future? Is there a potential niche opportunity?

It already has. Current estimates are 40–60% of all travel sellers in North America work from home or some other remote location. I see the trend continuing as technology gives us the tools to work more effectively from anywhere with an internet connection. In my opinion, the days of being a general travel agent are numbered. Consumers want to work with specialists.

Technology makes it possible to reach deep for prospects from around the globe for virtually any type of travel.

You are a travel and tourism expert and you are a big proponent of upskilling and continuous education. Is this a continual learning process?

Absolutely! The educational pyramid is inverted, like a bowl, except it will never fill up. Our industry is constantly changing in terms of product and technology. It is also heavily influenced by geopolitical events around the world. Like a building, we are only as stable as the foundation. In other words, we must master the fundamentals before we can effectively build our knowledge and skillsets.

You have published a book called “Get your S.H.I.P together — The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Sales”. What inspired you to write the book?

It’s interesting because virtually everything in the travel business is focused on marketing. Last I checked we only get paid a commission if we sell something.

The book is designed as a manual to teach the mindset and skills needed to succeed as a sales-focused travel professional. Don’t get me wrong, attraction and retention marketing are key strategies in any business, however, in travel and tourism the terms sales and marketing have become synonymous.

People forget that the role of marketing is to support sales efforts — not replace them. Selling is a proactive process which begins with prospecting.

Do you have any more books in the pipeline?

The book has proved to be very popular … far exceeding my expectations. It became an Amazon best seller in its genre. I am not a writer by trade and it took me ten years to write it. I have a few ideas for my next book, but no timeline as of yet. Hopefully, it won’t take another 10 years for the next one.

What has made your company The Wealthy Travel Agent so successful?

Once again, I saw an opportunity. People become travel agents because they love to travel, and they like to help people. No one gets into it to sell anything. However, the only way you get to do the first two is to be really good at the last one.

Many of my individual clients are seasoned travel agents who have never had to sell anything in their entire career, but the game is changing.

At the corporate level, large agencies and agency groups have recognized that they need to change the way they do business.

They could hire an outside firm to give the generic program, but they hire me and my team because we are industry-specific.

We have built a successful sales focused travel business and also held executive roles in top travel franchise groups. I was VP of Sales at Windstar Cruises. I speak their language and have a 360-degree view of the industry.

Do you have any top tips for growing and transforming a business?

Whether its Mary’s Travel Service or Expedia, it all boils down to doing the fundamentals better than anyone else. Develop a prospecting plan as well as attraction and retention marketing plans. If done well, these three things will transform any business.

Artificial Intelligence is impacting the sales industry greatly. How do you see this developing over the next 5 to 10 years?

I see it as a tool, one that will continue to evolve. We have Alexa. We ask her many questions, some she can answer, some not so much, but that will improve in time. We are already seeing this technology being incorporated by Cruise Planners to increase their efficiency.

Travel sales people are expected to be ‘always on’ and available to their clients. With the growth of chatbots in the industry, how can a sales person compete?

First of all, I don’t subscribe to the “always on” philosophy. I practice “My Time / Your Time”. If a prospect is purchasing a commodity product philosophy. I practice “My Time / Your Time”. If a prospect is purchasing a commodity product such as air/car/hotel then chatbots can answer most questions. Most vacation packages are, however, more complicated and many people still prefer to speak to a live and knowledgeable travel professional.

What are your top three travel tips?

Go with the flow — don’t get stressed out over delays etc. It is part of the adventure. Take local public transportation whenever possible. You will get a real flavor for the people. Don’t over pack. You should be able to go anywhere with a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. No matter where you go — you will find a laundry service.

Finally, you are involved in the Think Global Forum (USA Travel Forum). What attracted you to joining the Think Global Forum?

The opportunity to engage in intellectual conversation with leaders from many different aspects of the industry. I have always said there are as many different business models in travel as there are destinations — not just the OTAs or traditional distribution systems. I love learning and sharing best practices.

Dan Chappelle is the author of the Amazon BestSeller, “Get Your S.H.I.P. Together — The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Sales”

This article first appeared in VTQ Magazine. 
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