Frequently Asked Questions
Q: My business has zero revenues right now due to COVID-19. I’m not sure I can invest in this right now.
I hear you. My business Italy Beyond the Obvious is in the same boat. But hear me out: this is going to sound completely crazy, maybe, or at the very least counter-intuitive. But right now is the ideal time to be growing or building a wildly successful travel business. My customers are chomping at the bit — they REALLY want to travel. We are going to get through this. We’ll come out the other side. And when we do, you need to be ready. Invest this time and money now. Use your time properly. Work on your business so that the comeback is bigger than the setback.
Q: It seems like the future is uncertain. Why should I do this now, rather than wait to see how things shake out a bit?
People are itching to travel, and the numbers are increasing as borders open. Long-term AirBnb rentals were the first thing to increase, as people looked for alternate places to do distance learning and remote working. RV Rentals were impossible to find. When Hawaii opened its borders with reasonable restrictions, thousands of travelers arrived on the first day. When the borders of your country open, you’re going to be busy. You need to get ready now, and a TBO Certification will put you ahead of the curve, you’ll stand out from the crowd. You’ll be in an incredible and supportive network, and you’ll get leads.
Q: What’s the ROI?
The TBO Certification offers so many benefits, but the easiest way to sum it up is this: if you get a couple of customers from your certification, it will pay for itself. But we offer so much more than that.
Q: Can any existing travel business apply for TBO Certification?
No. TBO Certification has three requirements in order to apply: (1) the customer must work directly with the destination expert; (2) the travel company must create custom itineraries; (3) the travel company must have transparent pricing. These three features define ALL Travel Beyond the Obvious Certified Travel Experts (CTEs), therefore we recommend that you do not apply unless you meet all three of these criteria. Apart from that our experts focus on different areas and types of travel, and offer different types of services at different price points.
Q: I’m an established travel business, I don’t need a course, and I don’t understand how I would benefit from the certification.
A: A certification-only approach is best for established travel businesses – no need to take our course (which is a step-by-step process on how to set up an online travel business). Our Gold Certification is an easy 4-Step process that gets you the TBO stamp of approval, a badge to showcase on your website, access to our network of Certified Travel Experts, a listing in our online directory, our Traveler Matching Service (= leads), promotion in our Travel Expert Network, and more. Existing business owners who have completed our Gold level Certification have found tremendous value.
Q: I’m a new travel business, and I don’t think I need the course, but I don’t have any customers yet. Can I still get certified?
Our Silver-level certification is an easy 3-Step process that does not require proof of customer engagement. Most of our Silver certified Travel Experts have completed our course and are working towards their Gold-level certification, but the Silver Certification does include the TBO stamp of approval, a badge to showcase on your website, access to our Network of Certified Travel Experts, a listing in our online directory, our Traveler Matching Service (= leads!), promotion in our Travel Expert Network, and more.
Q: I am interested in building a travel business. Can I apply for certification?
Certification is only for existing travel businesses. First, apply to take our course on setting up your travel business. As soon as you’ve completed the course, you can apply for Silver Certification. After you have evidence of customer engagement, you can then apply for Gold Certification.
Q: I’ve never heard of Travel Beyond the Obvious. Are you guys a new organization?
Travel Beyond the Obvious was born after many requests from my Italy Beyond the Obvious clients who, for over a decade, have asked me “Who else does what you do for other countries?”. As destination experts, we cobble together unofficial partners who we can send our customers to. I always had to do some due diligence to make sure that my partners were a good fit, and that my clients were getting a hands-on, white-glove, apples-to-apples experience. The Travel Beyond the Obvious Travel Expert Training Course teaches someone who already has destination expertise how to set up an online fee-based travel business. The Travel Beyond the Obvious certification program was the next logical step: it’s our stamp of approval. The TBO certification bar is set with one criteria in mind: Can I send my Italy Beyond the Obvious customers to my Certified Travel Experts? The answer must be yes, or they don’t get certified.
Q: What should I do during the COVID emergency when all my clients have canceled and no one is booking trips?
A: If you can, think about what clients are going through and when they will be ready to make a plan again. Let’s say it’s three months from now, things are better, and they say, “Let’s go somewhere”. You want to be in their minds at that moment. If that means pinging them once a week, or running a free raffle, or doing videos like Madeline has been doing on the Italy Beyond the Obvious web site, Facebook and LinkedIn, you want to build a bridge between now, when they are all scared or under stay at home rules, to then. Get in to their heads, think of what you could offer. Put together a slide show and let people sign up to see some sites, etc etc. Don’t let them forget, but hang on so when they are ready to book a trip they think of you.
Q: I seem to do a lot of travel advising already. Where can I go from here?
A: Why not start putting together specifics about what types of customer you might target, and what your product is going to be? Start playing with the various options, see what you think would work best, and do some math to figure out what you would earn with different products. People often need a sort of creative ‘incubation’ period to digest all of these before they dive in.
Q: Does one self-planned trip to Italy make me an expert?
A: We would hesitate to recommend doing this as a living after one trip unless you are very clear with clients about what you are offering and what you are not. By that we mean: on your trip maybe you learned about trains, but what if you get a client who wants to rent a car? On your trip you may have gone with friends but what if you get a family with kids or what if someone with a very different budget wants to hire you. We’re not saying you can’t or shouldn’t do it, but make sure you offer something you know you can do well. So maybe you take the trip you did and offer to book that specific trip (or pieces of it) for people, that way you’re offering what you know very well.
Q: How do I set up my company so that I can start doing trip planning?
A: Setting up your own trip planning business has business, legal and marketing tasks that most people can accomplish in less than a month. Our Travel Expert Training Course discusses some of the marketing tasks, but for the most part we recommend you look to the Internet for resources. There are many places online that will advise you about choosing your company name, setting up a domain and legal entity, and any other particular requirements in your location for a new business. We have prepared a simple Business Creation Checklist which you can use as a reference.
Q: I’m in XYZ, is it ok to charge fees?
A: While no one can tell you that you aren’t allowed to charge fees, you may need certain documentation or licenses to do so. For our students, as long as they are providing consultation, and nothing related to selling or booking travels, they don’t generally need the same accreditation that a travel agent might who does take commissions from flights or bookings.
We do recommend checking your business plan and contracts with a travel lawyer before taking your first clients, though, just to be safe.
Q: How do I set my rates? Am I stuck with my starting rates forever?
A: First, I will answer the second question – no, you aren’t stuck with your starting rates forever. It is likely that any given customer will use you once, maybe twice, and if you change your prices in between they probably won’t even notice. As long as you are providing clear value for your fees you should be fine.
Setting rates is a process – you need to consider your costs, your time, and the value you provide. We recommend setting a low price for basic service, a high price for premium, and an in the middle price with the service most people will want. Some people will always pick the middle, some will always pick the most expensive, but most people want to understand the gap. Try setting fees to make sure that there is a big enough gap in the prices and the services so that people can clearly picture themselves falling in to a specific category.
Q: If you’re selling your expertise, how much should you disclose about the destination in your marketing materials and blogs?
A: You should definitely discuss the highlights of your destination, and your services, but you don’t need to give specifics of your contact list or “black book”, or about guides and activities. You want people to know you are an expert and that you have all these amazing contacts, but you don’t want to give them enough information that they could just go book it themselves. Be helpful and give good info, that makes good readable content, but don’t put all your hard-won research online. Hotels are another story – it’s easy enough for anyone to find hotels, so don’t be afraid to share hotel recommendations. The value you add is making sure the hotel is the right fit – the location, type of hotel, configuration of rooms, and budget. Any recommendation you make on your site will not be a personalized recommendation for that reader.
Q: Which keywords should I focus on in my SEO?
A: Start by just brainstorming. Do all the obvious ones first. So “vacation to Spain”, “what to see in Spain”, “what to see in Barcelona”…. etc etc. I’m sure you can come up with 100 off the top of your head. You can check which words are searched for with Google’s online tool: Keyword Planner. Also keep in mind that “listicles” do well so write as many of those as you can stomach 🙂 Also, I would actually highly recommend hiring an SEO person. At Italy Beyond the Obvious I bring in an expert once a year, and it costs me about $500. They review my site, put together a report with recommendations, and then review everything again 6 months later.
With a new business, you may want to wait until your blog post content is more robust and indexed (so wait 3 months after you publish) so that your expert has some data to work with. OTOH it might be worth getting in touch just to ask — maybe if you contact him while the site is being built, he can have a bigger impact.
Q: Should I use first or third person on my website when I discuss my services. It’s just me, but “we” and “our” always seems to sound better.
A: Many solopreneurs use the plural when it’s clear that it’s just them. On one hand, that’s what’s done, so it’s OK to do that. OTOH if it is just you, maybe your name and personal touch is why they keep reading, so first person might be more compelling. Go with your gut here. You want the internet visitor / potential customer to feel a connection to you so that they want to hire you. We would do whatever best fulfills that end. Did you see what I/we did there? 😉
If you have a question that isn’t answered here, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you as soon as we can!