MLMs and Card Mills: Unplugged
Last week, there was a Travel Research Online webinar regarding MLMs and Card Mills at the grass roots level. Over 700 people were registered for the event and it was very well organized with three presenters and a moderator. There was a focus and a clear action plan at the end of the hour. After the webinar, I began to consider some of the new information I had gained on the MLM and card mill issue and I had a revelation. These MLM and card mill companies are nothing more than an unplugged pinball machine—analogy continues below.
Two hours before the TRO event, I listened to Paul Henderson (President of Pro Travel Network) conduct a webinar entitled “Travel Agent—Time To Put The Power Back In”. With such a vague title, I was curious. What was even more curious was that this was being sponsored by a MLM company. And even more curious that they were headquartered in California—a State that has a decided interest in travel MLM companies at the moment.
After a very late start, Paul began his presentation by explaining that he was completely in favor of some sort of entrance requirement and credentialing for the industry. So far, so good. But then it got a little hazy for me. He explained that right now there is a weakness in the industry because there are no requirements; and as a business man, he was going to “exploit” that weakness. He further stated that he would continue to “exploit” it until there were some requirements in place. My question to the industry is,”Why does our industry need “exploiters” and not “committed professionals”?” For a few moments, Paul turned the presentation over to Ken Hall. Ken explained that he began in the industry with YTB and had migrated to Pro Travel Network and that he agreed with Paul. (Note: his audio was barely discernible, so I am not really sure if there was any additional points). Paul came back on and wrapped up the presentation stating that implementing any rules would hurt the industry. What!!? This was a complete 180 from his opening—Tony Hawk would be proud. He outlined his five reasons why implementation of any new rules would be bad for the industry. You be the judge if they have any merit:
- New rules will reduce the amount of new agents.
- Cutting off the lifeblood from their industry.
- Potential travel agents will shy away from the industry due to new restrictions.
- Why fix what already works?
- Why create new barriers?
The 30 or so people on the call disconnected, and then it dawned on me. These MLM and card mill companies are just very confused. Paul’s presentation reinforced it when he made a complete change of direction in 45 minutes. If you look at YTB, initially they wanted to be a “travel company” and claimed they were going to be the biggest in the world by 2010. Then they turned a little and added cars, flowers and tents. A little later they added, gift cards, meat, financial services, home decorating goods and clothing. Most recently they added Aisle 19 as a “perk” to their constituency—yet failed to mention that, like their original booking engine, it could be had for free by anyone. Now, the latest buzz in the YTB circles is that by 2020, YTB will “own” Internet distribution and put both Wal-Mart and Amazon out of business.
This was my “aha” moment: both Pro Travel Network, YTB, and I suspect all the others, have no real clue in what direction they are going, much less the direction they want to go. They are like a pinball rolling down a game surface of an unplugged machine. They will bounce toward one chute and if blocked, they will move to another and see if they can go down that one. If that does not work, there will be another one to try. The ball will continue to bounce around aimlessly until it comes to the bottom of the game surface where it will ultimately end up slowly rolling into the dead ball gutter having amassed no points; yet having left the dents and marks of its journey along the way down.