Collateral damage | TravelResearchOnline

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Collateral damage

A few days ago, someone posted a copy of Richard Turen’s recent article on the value of personalized service over on the Cruise Critic message boards.  While I feel his message is one to be shared, there was an ulterior motive. The message was posted by “Kim Sorenseon” a misspelled version of the President of YTB Travel. It was obvious that this was not posted by Kim (I hope he is smart enough to spell his last name correctly), and in their wildest dreams, YTB could never come close to providing the type of service discussed by Turen and practiced by most legitimate travel professionals who have invested more than $49 a month to be called one.

Of course, the Cruise Critic crowd jumped in with the standard agent bashing comments including:

I am my own best advocate when things go wrong, and I don’t need any of those services that supposedly give TAs and advantage over booking direct. A TA has never done anything for me that I couldn’t do better for myself, including handling problems (which happened to us twice – she got us nothing, while I was able to get us substantial compensation)

I booked our last trip “Dream” through Sears Travel. We had the world’s worst travel agent. The most frustrating was when we got called in to her office to finalize our travel plans and she fielded 3 phone calls; the last of which DH had to threaten to walk out and book elsewhere before she got the message. She made errors with our booking. When I was reading on-line about rate drops and OBC; she insisted that there were none. That was the last time I entrust my travel plans to someone else. I booked our next cruise directly with RCI and will be doing so from now on

…when it comes to booking a cruise. I don’t need advice, or anyone to worry about me. I have software to alert me to price drops. Just give me the OBC.

OK, we get it, the Cruise Critic people are the bottom feeders. They are only looking for the cheapest deal out there and most have zero loyalty to anyone. Some have had a legitimately bad experience with a travel professional and are unashamed to spread the word. It makes no sense for an agent to go there looking for business–or defending it.

The gist of the problem is that there are too many mediocre travel professionals out there who refuse to know and honor their own limits of expertise. I dare to say that as an industry, dollar signs today take precedence over the dollar signs you might realize ten years from now. In my business, single parent travel, I know my limits and I know the service I provide. I have never been to Australia or New Zealand and when I get the rare single parent looking to go there, I outsource it. I know my limits. I think I may be the exception. Most agents will take the booking thinking that in the worst case, the client will never come back, but hey, they get the commission now.

What is the collateral damage? What happens when that client heads over to Cruise Critic (who currently has over 600,000 members) to lament the crappy service provided by their last travel agent? Instant black eye to that agent, and to the agents of the 600,000 members of Cruise Critic. Is it still okay because you got that commission check?

Certainly, YTB and the other MLM/Card Mill outfits contribute to the perception of inept agents as they churn out wannabe after wannabe calling them travel agents. But aside from that stigma (which we have all be fighting in some form or another since the Internet became mainstream), the Cruise Critic post introduces yet another stigma. This is a legitimate agent falsely identifying his or herself simply to create controversy. Now, what does that say about our industry? To some there is no doubt that it reinforces their decision to eschew the industry.

Travel has never been an industry where you can make Bill Gates type money. Remember back in the days of airline commissions? It was an industry that doctors and lawyers bought for their wives to appease their wanderlusting ways. The value was in the perks. It’s not easy to make money in this business. The good agents make good money. The bad agents—well they just bring the rest of us down, and this recent post certainly did nothing to help our cause. Which are you?

Oh, and for the record, I contacted Cruise Critic and pointed out that the thread was a fake and suggested that they remove it.

  4 thoughts on “Collateral damage

  1. John Frenaye says:

    This comment was left by Laura and was lost earlier this morning due to some data corruption.

    I agree. There’s no convincing the people on cruise critic of the value of an agent. They seem to feel that they can do anything better on their own, and many are downright hostile.

  2. Ben Bajak says:

    The Internet instantly turns everyone into an expert. I spend 60-80 hours a week involved with travel. I specialize in cruises and cruising. I have advanced degrees. I still cannot grasp everything that is out there. My clients who understand this are a joy to work with.

    The die hard cruise critic fans will continue paying commission to the suppliers. I do work for my people. Most get it but there are those who still want to do it themeselves.

    I do not want to be condescending, but I have a question. Do you rely on the Internet for plumbing advice? appliance repair advice? medical or dental advice? These things are not as sexy as travel. The point is that a person can benefit from the help of a Travel Professional. In most cases, they do not even have to pay for it.

  3. Geoff Millar says:

    John,

    We also outsource anything that is not within our speciality. We therefore are experts on our speciality, all inclusive resorts. You are right on when you state that agents that try to be everything to everybody not only are a dis-service to themselves but to the industry. We constantly compare ourselves to Doctors and Lawyers and this makes the public laugh. What level of specialized education have most travel agents gone through to even make this claim.

    I actually have a number of clients who can recite horror stories booking their travel through or dealing with a “qualified travel agent”. The problem is, what does a qualified travel agent look like? Unfortunatly, anyone can call themselves a qualified travel agent with no consequenses.

    There are a lot of good travel agents out there but unfortunatly the number of bad ones really give our industry a black eye. To me specialization is one way to begin correcting the problem. Become an expert in something to do with travel and do it very well.

    I have to laugh when people say you can’t get loyalty from the internet. We generate all our leads from the internet and we have over 70% of our clients rebook with us year after year and we receive referrals from over 45% of our clients. I attribute this to the fact that we are experts at what we sell and client service is one of our most important aspects regardless of how we received the lead.

  4. Hellen Hoffman says:

    Our agency is a member of Virtuoso. We have a tremendous amount of resource help for destinations, hoteliers, unique experiences for our guests…if I don’t know it, someone in our network does! Someone who seeks out the lowest price, the bucket shops, and shops who sell other items (retailers) and, “oh by the way, stop by our travel agency” are not interested in the travel experience. I would rather work with a traveler who wants to really experience Australia (Uluru at sunset) or Paris (private tour of the Louvre) than the person who wants the “best deal” on the cheapest cabin on a mass market product that is today offering an OBC! If you want a good agent, you have to look for one and do your homework, walking off the street into a Sears or Costco is not the way to do it. Complaining on Cruise Critic won’t give you a good travel experience either.

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