Hello, my name is Ann, and sometimes I’m embarrassed to be a travel agent.
Not all the time, of course, or I would not still be in this business. But often enough that it makes me stop and wonder why so many travel agents, as a group, can and do behave so poorly.
I was at a very nice dinner the other evening hosted by the Barbados Tourism Authority. It was in a downtown hotel ballroom, with a full catered dinner and open bar. The invitations had been sent weeks in advance, and people had been asked to RSVP. It was on a weeknight, at 6:00 p.m., and presumably people would understand that it was an extension of their workday. A professional, educational event.
In any other industry, people would have responded in advance to confirm their attendance. They would have shown up on time, in professional attire, enjoyed a cocktail or two while they chatted with friends and colleagues, and then they would have taken their place at a table, eaten their dinner, and paid attention to the presentation.
Anyone who has attended a travel agent function knows where this story is going, but here’s what I saw the other evening:
- More than 80 people showed up for an event for which only 60 people had bothered to RSVP. Many of them were dressed quite casually, and some were even in shorts or tracksuits.
- They rushed to save seats, and entire tables, for friends who would be arriving late, and argued with other agents who politely asked to sit in an unused seat.
- They berated the hotel staff for not providing enough seating, and for making them “crowd” into the tables and use every available chair.
- They drank freely, grabbing two or three drinks on each trip to the bar, to the point at which one of my tablemates was already glassy-eyed and dropping her silverware before the main course was even served.
- They talked loudly throughout the presentation, despite being “shushed”.
- Towards the end of the evening, when the Barbados Tourism folks did a drawing for some door prizes, there were loud complaints when the first few prizes were books and bottles of rum (instead of trips).
- Finally, as soon as the grand prize (a FAM) was drawn, people got up and walked out, despite the fact that the presenter was still speaking.
Obviously, not everyone behaved this way, but it was a loud and noticeable minority that made it quite embarrassing for the rest of us. It made me feel very sad for the suppliers, who must see this kind of behavior everywhere they go and assume that we all behave the same way. And, more importantly, it left me wondering why these agents feel they can behave this way, and why the rest of us allow it.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to the first question. My mother would say that people who act this way were “raised in a barn”, and maybe it does somehow go back to basic manners and etiquette, but I think it’s more than that. I think there’s a feeling of entitlement, and a need to take advantage of every perk (open bar, prizes, etc.) that comes their way.
As far as the second question, which is the more important of the two, I think we allow it because we’re too polite. We don’t want to speak up and tell a colleague, or even a stranger, that their behavior is out of line, but I propose that that is exactly what we need to be doing. It’s time for peer pressure.
If we, as professional travel agents, can’t police ourselves, and shame our colleagues into behaving properly at industry events, then how can we expect the suppliers to take us seriously?
So, at the next seminar, dinner, or FAM, if your co-workers and tablemates are getting drunk, pushy, and rude, I say it’s okay to speak up. I promise to stick my neck out there with you and help enforce some basic courtesy. What the heck, I’m a mother of two pre-teens….I know how to silence a dinner table with one glare!
Ann Petronio is a travel consultant and the owner of Annie’s Escapes, Inc. in Cranston, Rhode Island. She creates custom-tailored vacations for busy couples, families and groups. www.AnniesEscapes.com