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During this year’s ASTA Global Convention in Washington, D.C., I met a trio of travel advisors who gave us the 4-1-1 on how they are thinking outside the box to attract new clients. 

Tapping Into the Senior Solo Market
“For years, I’ve struggled when clients’ travel partners of many years (usually a spouse) have died or were incapacitated, leaving my travel lovers with no one to travel with,” says travel advisor Patricia Hager of Senior Travel Buddy. “There were sites like meet-ups, and even some travel dating sites, but these did not allow my clients to search on their computers confidentially, without making any commitments to meet. So, out of necessity, I began the process of developing Senior Travel Buddy.”

The site,, allows users to meet others in their area via the website and private messenger, then they can opt to meet in person, and if they hit it off, they can start planning trips together. “Connecting with a new friend via Senior Travel Buddy would seem to be the perfect solution so they are able to travel again,” says Hager. For example, “I’ve had clients who are foodies, and I’ve been booking them for years on either foodie cruises, gourmet tours, or have made FITs for them revolving around food. Unfortunately, one of the ladies passed away earlier this year, and now [the other] is using Senior Travel Buddy for a new travel partner.” Additionally, notes Hager, advisors who use Senior Travel Buddy for their clients “can benefit by client retention. Their recommendations to their former clients can have them return to traveling again.”

Combine a Medical Procedure with a Leisure Getaway
Doctours, a company that combines leisure travel with medical procedures, came about while its founder was on a trip. “I was on vacation in Ireland when I fell and cut my knee open. I had to go to the hospital and get stitches and the entire bill came to just $30. I couldn’t believe how cheap it was,” says Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, CEO and founder of Doctours. “I then started collecting data on medical tourism and I saw it as not only a fast-growing, untapped market, but also as a viable option for Americans who simply couldn’t afford the healthcare being offered here.”

She states that medical tourists have largely been ignored, even though last year 1.4 million Americans traveled internationally for healthcare. “I realized there were no mainstream resources available for medical tourists to properly research, connect with, and book the medical procedures offered internationally, so we built as a solution. On average our patients save anywhere from 30-80 percent on medical costs when they travel abroad for treatment.”

According to O’Shaughnessy, medical tourism accounts for 16 percent of the overall income generated by the tourism industry globally. “These medical tourists partake in longer stays, on average spending one-four weeks abroad. They also spend four to six times more than a typical leisure tourist, spending anywhere from $16,000 to $50,000 on their medical trip. Advisors can make twice as much on medical commissions than typical travel commissions. With Doctours, we provide access to our database of accredited doctors, hospitals and facilities in the international market, and the various procedures and costs affiliated with each.” 

When advisors use Doctours, they keep 100 percent of their travel commissions, and Doctours splits the medical commission portion of the trip with them. 

Use Your Resources in Creative Ways
Ellen McDannel of Diamond Travel of Capistrano Beach told us she uses Recommend to lure in new bookings. 

“Several times a month, I send e-mails to clients with links to current articles. When I see an article on a destination that someone has mentioned, I send that article with a quick note saying that I thought of them as I read the article. Clients either call to book that destination, another destination or let me know that it’s still on their ‘to see’ list. Some forward the e-mail to their friends that might be interested,” she notes. 

Additionally, “after I’ve dog eared a magazine’s pages or written comments in the margins about an article, and stapled several of my cards to the cover, I leave the publications in the waiting rooms [of doctor’s offices I visit]. Clients will ask the owners about me,” she says.

McDannel says she also provides clients with a list of travel tips, gratuity guides, how-to instructions for the phone and ATMs, a list of sites in various destinations (including personal favorites), and a list of recommended restaurants in the destination they are visiting. She keeps a running list of recommended restaurants from articles in food magazines, and she also asks each client to bring back at least two business cards from new restaurants they enjoyed so that she can add to her list. 

Her strategy works, as she recently booked a $12k trip for an eighth tier referral from a client she met over 20 years ago.