In this episode of TravelPreneur, the focus is on revolutionizing the travel agent experience through advanced AI technology and personalized support. Chad Burt, the owner of OutsideAgents.com, discusses how these innovative tools are elevating travel agents’ capabilities, maximizing their productivity, and reshaping the landscape of the travel industry. The conversation delves into the agency’s commitment to education and technological advancement, setting the stage for an insightful exploration of the ever-evolving travel market.
Lessons You’ll Learn:
Chad Burt shares valuable insights into the intersection of technology and the travel industry and lessons on the importance of personal connection, leadership, and the role of AI in enhancing the human touch. The episode provides a deep dive into OutsideAgents.com.com’s unique approach, emphasizing the significance of comprehensive education programs, personalized support services, and the family-oriented ethos that underpins the agency’s success. Aspiring travel entrepreneurs and agents will find practical advice on critical thinking, risk-taking, and staying ahead in an industry that demands adaptability.
About Our Guest:
Chad Burt, the owner of OutsideAgents.com, is a seasoned professional with over 20 years of experience in the travel industry. His journey reflects a commitment to redefining the travel agent experience through the integration of AI technology and fostering a supportive community. As a respected leader, Chad brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities within the travel sector.
Starting with the deployment of AI technology at OutsideAgents.com and its impact on travel agents’ capabilities the episode covers a spectrum of topics. The discussion extends to the agency’s emphasis on personal connection, education, and leadership. The conversation also explores the role of personalized support services in building lasting relationships. The final segment delves into Chad Burt’s vision for the future of OutsideAgents.com.com, along with insights into leveraging innovative payment technologies and advice for aspiring travel entrepreneurs. Throughout, the episode emphasizes the evolving dynamics of the travel industry and the strategies employed by OutsideAgents.com.com to stay at the forefront.
Our Guest: Chad Burt- A Mastermind and Leisure Industry Luminary.
With a rich and diverse background spanning 25 years, Chad Burt emerges as a seasoned professional with proven success in various facets of business development. His expertise encompasses technology, marketing, learning management, public speaking, and organizational development. Serving in executive roles, particularly within the leisure industry and tour operators, Chad’s experience showcases a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of event management and marketing strategies.
His academic journey has seen a focus on Educational Psychology, Organizational Development, and the attainment of an MBA, illustrating a commitment to continuous learning and a solid foundation for his multifaceted career. Chad’s passion lies in growing individuals, nurturing their potential, and concurrently building businesses that thrive in dynamic environments. This commitment is evident in his role as the owner of OutsideAgents.com, where he spearheads initiatives to redefine the travel agent experience through the integration of robust AI technology and a personalized support approach.
Beyond his professional pursuits, Chad is known for his prowess in public speaking, sharing insights gained from his journey and contributing to the industry’s collective knowledge. His holistic approach to life, encapsulated in the belief in savoring each moment, underscores not only his professional success but also his dedication to a well-rounded and fulfilling existence. With a wealth of experience and a passion for both personal and professional growth, Chad Burt continues to leave a lasting impact on the landscape of business development within the travel industry.
Chad Burt: It’s important to listen, digest, and make informed decisions. Are your decisions always going to be correct? No, I guarantee it. Okay? But you want more to be correct than we’re wrong. And you want a method to tell the difference. I like the phrase optometric. You go to the eye doctor. Better or worse? Better or worse? That’s how business is.
Megha McSwain: Welcome to Travel-Preneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist Megha McSwain. Each episode we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel business, if it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on Travel-Preneur. Hello, travel enthusiast. Welcome back to another episode of Travel-Preneur. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we’re joined with Chad Burt, the owner of outsideagents.com. Hello, Chad. Thanks for joining us.
Chad Burt: Thank you. I’m looking forward to this.
Megha McSwain: Chad, outsideagents.com is known for deploying robust AI technology to empower travel agents and boost their efficiency. Can you elaborate on how these advanced tools augment the capabilities of agents and enable them to maximize their earnings and productivity?
Chad Burt: Okay, so I want to start by saying that despite my appearances, I’ve been in the industry for a long time, since fourth grade. So that put us up around 20 minutes. And we’ve always been talking about technology as our adversary. Even as the internet came, I remember fighting my mom and dad tooth and nail. They had a mom-and-pop shop about bringing in this internet thing. Why? Who needs this? Right? Okay. Travel agents sometimes are inherently consistent and persistent in doing what they do and what they do well, so sometimes technology throws them off. This is not technology for technology’s sake. This, at its core, is about being fundamentally human, about being not just a travel consultant, but a travel confidant, somebody they can trust. And so, just like with the internet, we are making sure that our agents see what’s coming and get ahead of it this time instead of behind it.
I don’t know, for some of you, you may not have been around. The internet almost messed our industry up because we were lagging in its adoption. So from that perspective, we realized that AI is nothing more than a teenager. It’s better than you, smarter than you, faster than you, better looking than you are. Everything you can do, but better. Why doesn’t it have your job? Well, because they’re a teenager. They’re not there yet. They have knowledge which is knowing the tomatoes are fruit. They lack wisdom, which is not putting a tomato in a fruit salad. We’re trying to bring our agents some wisdom so that they can repurpose their role as a leaders for their clients towards the new and the unknown. We’re trying to make it a silent assistant. Hopefully, your clients won’t know it’s there until you just look really awesome when you use it. And then ultimately, we want to aggregate. One of the cool things about AI is it can watch what all 9000 of our agents are doing, and then it can start to aggregate successful workflows and make recommendations to you, “Hey, you just did an itinerary. You want me to knock out three follow-up emails for you?”
Megha McSwain: Right. It’s like a superhuman.
Chad Burt: Absolutely. In fact, our icons for it are genius because that’s what it is. Yeah, that’s what it is.
Megha McSwain: Yeah, really. The personal connection and direct access to the owners are distinctive features of outsideagents.com how does this approach contribute to building a strong community of agents and clients?
Chad Burt: In Forbes magazine a couple of years ago, they did a study of the top 300 of the Fortune 500 CEOs trying to find common denominators between them. They found one, and that was that the CEOs curse, damn it. Because when you stub your toe, what do you say at home when you’re by yourself? Nine out of ten of us don’t say lollipops. And so from that, the employees understood that person’s trustability because they’d exposed their authentic self. Authenticity matters so much, even if you’re authentically not quite competent, at least people know they’re getting the real deal. Our position with personal connection is that it’s really the only thing that matters, those connections and how you feel about them. Megha, I’ll tell you this, I would say two-thirds of the calls because everybody has our personal cell phone number, all 9106 agents. How do we stay ahead of that? We stay ahead of it by staying ahead of it.
We do everything we can on the front side so that when an agent needs to talk to us, they can. And what I found is this two-thirds of the time, what they need is a little encouragement, a little validation that, “Yeah, that seems like it might work.” And let me tell you why I hate giving people answers. I love giving them ways to discover the answers themselves. And that has really fostered our growth because I’m not giving you, please, folks, if you ever see a list of seven things you can do to become a millionaire travel agent, put it where it belongs. The trash that doesn’t exist. It’s unique. If that list actually worked, you wouldn’t be here, right? So just trust your business partners. Get to know them. Get to like them. Put a little faith forward. You have to put in something to get something back out. For the agency to do a little bit of faith and then see what their host does with that faith. And what they’ll do is they’ll see me doing webinars at 2:00 in the morning for our agents in Hawaii. They’ll see me taking a call at church, stepping outside. I’ve been working with that agent all morning. That matters. Just as agents rely on the extra mile they go for their clients. So do we rely on the extra mile that we go for our agents?
Megha McSwain: As the largest host in America, outsideagents.com has set a high standard for agent education. How do the agency’s comprehensive education program and commitment to technological advancements create a thriving environment for these agents?
Chad Burt: I love the fact that you used education. So we can train a machine. It’s called machine learning. You have AI all over the place. Okay, we can train a machine. We can train a dog. We can train a plant to grow this way. And we can train humans, but we cannot educate a machine, an animal, or a plant. What does educate mean is from the Latin educare, meaning to bring out, just to bring out. And so we do a lot of training, go left at the turn and go right, but we also give you lots of directions. What are the differences? Training is instructions with ten steps laid out very clearly, simple language. You perform those things, you get a predictable reward. Instructions. Directions. There are seven steps to do something. You have seven of them. Five of them are in clear language. Two of them are a little iffy, and three, you got to make up.
When you make up the other three, then you make a profit, an unpredictable reward. Education is designed for us to drive incremental growth over time. After the situation, what do they need training about? So you get that training, you get that information. And then we’re going to show you how to think about it so that you can go apply it in other areas and in different ways. Education is core to what we do and what we do differently. The reason we’re so awarded for our learning management system is training dogs is easy. Humans take a minute. So education is key. I do this series called the ProSeries. So much fun. I sit on your side of the camera and I get to work with some of the top dogs in the industry. I had Dondra Ritzenthaler on from celebrity and the topic boiled down to. So we got 100 bucks and hope. How do we start a travel agency? There’s one of our most popular ones this year, because people got to see inside a dangerous thought process, not just answers to the question. So we collaborated instead of Orated. It was a dialogue instead of a monologue, and that is at its heart. The reason that our LMS is so successful.
Megha McSwain: Right. I feel like that makes a difference. Some people can’t learn when they’re being talked at. They have to be involved and be incorporated and to learn. I’m kind of like that, so I understand.
Chad Burt: Yeah, yeah, I bet you learn as much when you disagree as when you agree with somebody. When you disagree, it’s important.
Megha McSwain: Yeah. outsideagents.com is renowned for its personalized support services which you’ve mentioned and are so rare in today’s automated world. How does the agency maintain this level of one-on-one guidance? Phone email, ticket-based support? How does this emphasis on personalized assistance contribute to building these lasting relationships?
Chad Burt: We use automation to make us accessible as humans. Okay, we all use technology to augment ourselves just a bit. So what we did is we made our ticketing system robust and intelligent. We’re bringing in some AI to make it even smarter. It is learning about our agents. So it answers. Have you seen some of these prompts for us like “Explain it to me like a fifth grader.” “Explain to a college person.” So I know the agent that I’m talking to and the type of answer they might need. And excuse me, it’s filtering. Okay? If they need to know what two plus two is, the system will tell them. Yay! If they want to get an answer that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Two plus two is five. What’s that extra digit for that extra number? Then that’s where the personal stuff comes in. So we figured that we answer 20 to 1 questions that are well suited by the machine. And there’s always a button there to talk to somebody. And then when we talk to them, we can spend 30 minutes on the phone with them instead of three. Take that deep dive, foster that education and that growth, and then everybody wins.
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Chad Burt: I’m gonna come back to inclusivity, but the first thing I want to say is Steve and I, he’s my cousin. He’s standing right on over there. We’ve spent in excess of 40,000 hours within 12 feet of us. And I won’t say that it hasn’t taken a toll, but we’re yin and yang, and that’s been what the crew has called us for years. Ask him a question. He’ll say left. Ask me a question. I’ll say right, that’s a problem.
Megha McSwain: It’s a good thing sometimes. Well, yeah.
Chad Burt: Yeah, right. It’s a problem unless you make it not a problem. So we always have to learn to come back to the middle. And if we can’t, then we’ve always deferred to the one that seems more important to us. Because they’re probably going to go further with it, even if it’s the wrong answer. They’re going to try so for us, leadership is collaborative. I don’t lead by consensus, but I certainly listen to my partners. Steve and I handed it out. I swear, just two minutes before I jumped on this, we were in our, we call it the War room, banging out some things about AI. And I can’t walk. Literally two minutes before I started with you and we were talking about this from a philosophical approach. Do we want to over-empower our agents when they become dependent on the technology? They just look at it for Richie and this kind of it.
We’re really talking through this, and what we find is that exclusion, yin and yang and inclusion are highly related. And so we try to find those leadership approaches, that include the wants and needs of our agents, but also shape it using our experience and our background and our size to temper the results. The net result is this, no tool that we ever deployed in over 20 years. Steve and I just went, “Oh, let’s go do this.” We did it based on conversations, I signed up our first agent, Babayeva. Leslie Beach was our second, and I was getting input from them that we went and applied right then, of course, we were making up as we went along, so it wasn’t that hard. But the point is, I wasn’t born with ears like this because I don’t listen, okay? It’s important to listen, digest, and make informed decisions. Are your decisions always going to be correct? No, I guarantee it. Okay? But you want more to be correct than we’re wrong. And you want a method to tell the difference. I like the phrase optometric. You go to the eye doctor. Better or worse? Better or worse? That’s how business is. Anybody tells you that they have a five-year business plan to become a travel agent, is going to have a change in that plan about six months into it.
Megha McSwain: Yeah, I bet so.
Chad Burt: And if they don’t, they’re not going to make it. You have to be fluent.
Megha McSwain: The industry is ever-evolving. Technology continues to play a crucial role. How does outsideagents.com continue to set the bar for AI and technology, and what innovative strategies are being employed to ensure that agents have access to the most cutting-edge tools and resources?
Chad Burt: To draw a parallel for you? I’m a car guy, I love horsepower. Do I want the fastest car on earth to go up the 95 freeway, or do I want one that’s got good tires, very reliable, and looks pretty nice too? Probably the latter. I don’t necessarily need the Vanguard, the cutting edge. We deliver that, but it’s not necessarily what agents need. So what I try to do, is I have a site called chadlab.ai and it shows us what we’re cooking on. And I go talk with people, see what’s going on, test the temperature, the vibes, see how it’s happening. And then I bring in technology that reflects the needs of the human. Again, this is technology in and of itself is completely overrated. I hear people say, “Well, we have advanced technology.” Great. What does it do for me? Ours saves you time and makes your marketing efforts better. It helps you communicate differently.
There are so many different things, but all you need to do is put your hands on it. Check it out. At the end of the day, technology for technology’s sake is an error. We learned that in the dot-com bubble and probably for your time. But I’m saying we learned that. Now it’s what does it do? How does it facilitate the human? How does the teenager support the parent? How does the intern support the employer? It’s entirely like that. Technology done right should be almost invisible, unnoticeable in a way. Oh, you click this button. But it wasn’t that big of a deal. I draw a parallel. If you ever walked on an airplane to see the captains, the cockpit. On any given flight, there’s about three knobs and a pull lever, and a joystick they’re going to touch. All the rest of that is just in-case buttons. And It’s important that we all know what those buttons do, but they don’t necessarily need to be in the forefront, making us afraid to go in the cockpit and fly this plane. At the end of this day, you’re going to fly this plane.
Megha McSwain: That’s a good analogy I like. What is your vision for outside agents? Com in the future I know we probably don’t have a five-year plan that it’ll go like this, but what are your hopes and dreams for the company in just the coming years as things continue to evolve?
Chad Burt: So we’ve always swam upstream, it seems like. Everybody’s running in one direction. That’s an opportunity maybe to look at the other one just to see what’s going on. We will continue our drive to make travel fundamentally human. We don’t sell memories. We don’t sell dreams. We sell feelings. Okay? How do we make our agent and our clients feel? How do I make my agents feel? That’s what you remember. Oh, I felt so happy. That’s why I remember that vacation, not I was on the beach. That’s why I remember it. That’s the emotions. So being fundamentally human from an IT guy of 30 some odd years experience, being fundamentally human is far more important. Taking any scraping a knee, making a boo and learning from it, getting back up, dust yourself off, and moving forward is the only way to succeed. Having said that, our goal is to bring these tools in such that they’re instinctive. Most of us look at a hammer and kind of know what to do with it, right? Because it is mono-purpose, right? It begs to be beaten on something. Technology should be just that way. It should be parenthetical to the human. It should augment and enhance the human. But it shouldn’t be what the human is selling. Because frankly, folks, according to Expedia’s SEC filings, I think they dropped $2 billion this year on AI. If you’re trying to stay ahead of their technology, that’s going to be a challenge. What you can do is make it more authentic, more real, more valuable, and then let the humans give you that feedback. You need to enhance it slowly and consistently over time.
Megha McSwain: I feel like you’ve offered such great advice in business and this industry specifically, but we do ask everyone, what advice would you offer to an aspiring travel entrepreneur and agent looking to build a successful…
Chad Burt: Keep a puppy on your lap.
Megha McSwain: Uninvited guests never know what’s going to happen around here. What advice would you give to someone just up and coming in the travel industry is wanting to get started with this and it’s overwhelming with so much happening and so fast.
Chad Burt: We deal with being overwhelmed every single day. Okay, so I’m going to offer a couple of pieces here. First of all, think for crying out loud. Think for yourself. Okay, don’t be a sheeple, please. Very few people succeed in business and I’m not saying I’m shy or anything like that. I’m saying don’t be afraid to do that. Critical thinking that your high school English teacher wanted you to do so badly. Chad told me to do this. Why? Oh, I get it. Move forward. I don’t get it. Ask again. Think, please. With AI. I want to say something, you can quote me on this. White-collar America is going to face some challenges here in the next year or two. Those who thrive in that environment will be those who think for themselves, those who can use the machine through specific language and experience and wisdom and doing so, scientific testing of these prompts and so on, and then go apply them. They’re the ones that are going to win. Those are the ones that are going to survive. Those who are waiting for a Seven Ways to Become a Millionaire travel agent listicle will not. The other thing I would encourage people to do is take calculated risks. Nobody ever did anything great without some risk associated with it. I’m not a teenager, so I qualify my risk. I understand the range of consequences. Having said that, I try to offset all the potential outcomes I don’t want through preparation. I’ve always said that you have to be prepared to be lucky, go to college, go to make your career. Going to college, going to make you lucky, or make you ready to be lucky. Folks think clearly. Be ready to be lucky. That would be my advice.
Megha McSwain: That’s great advice for any industry really. Chad, thank you so much for joining us and sharing about what all you guys are doing. It sounds really interesting and I’m sure there’s going to be so many changes. We’d love to catch up with you again in the future. let our listeners know where they can get in touch with you and where they can learn more about outsideagents.com.
Chad Burt: Okay, you can go to www.outsideagents.com. If you want to know a little bit more about the nut job you’ve been talking to, check out outsideagents.com/blog. You’ll get some more of that philosophy stuff. Check out chadlab.ai, would ask for a password, that’s oastrong and let me throw out a shameless plug if you don’t mind, http:/go.outsideagents.com/250. The password is oastrong. Because we are. It’s a book of 250 prompts I wrote without the aid of a machine on February 28th, the first time I saw ChatGPT 3.5 and it’s custom prompts for agents to get you guys thinking. Guys go through there and said, that sucks. This is great. This is okay. Look through it, think through it. Let’s say there’s 249 ones in there that are junk, but one’s a miracle. I’ll read 249 pieces of junk to get that one miracle. Check it out. Forward slash 250.
Megha McSwain: Awesome. Thank you so much for that, Chad. I appreciate it. To our listeners. Please like and subscribe for future episodes of Travel-Preneur and leave us reviews. That helps us out a lot. Thank you so much, Chad.
Chad Burt: Thank you so much. I had a blast, I really did.
Megha McSwain: You’ve been listening to TravelPreneur by travelpayments.com make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on TravelPreneur.