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When clients attack

How many agents reading this column sell groups? Most of the agencies count on individual travel to be the backbone of their business and groups are a bonus. There are countless reasons to sell group travel. Once you are through the hassle of negotiating a group with the supplier, it is easy to sell the individual transactions.  There is usually a way to add components into the group to prevent price shopping and to help boost your bottom line. But there are a few downsides to group travel as well; and I am in the process of experiencing that myself.

In early July, a group of 12 families embarked on a trip to experience the world of Harry Potter one last time including a sneak peek at the final chapter (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) before anyone in the US. For parts of this trip, we joined another larger group (not done by our agency) to take advantage of some attractions and amenities—a ride on the steam train from the movie, a banquet in “Hogwart’s” dining hall, and a private screening of the movie in a theatre in Edinburgh.

All in all, the trip went well. There were a few glitches here and there as there always is with group travel. I was in touch with the tour leader during the trip and following it vicariously through facebook postings. When they returned, I called and sent a welcome home email thanking them and looking for feedback. Everyone I spoke with had a great time. There were four who did not respond, and I soon learned why when I received a midnight email last weekend.

It seems that one client had some minor issues and wanted to make sure the three other clients she connected with on the trip were aware as well and carbon copied them all on the email—of course the line, “oh and I am sure X, Y, and Z will have additional comments to add” egged them on. Sure enough, one by one, all four of them determined this was the time to gang up and attack. Some of the issues included.

  • ·         The restaurant they visited did not have enough food for lunch (lunch was not included that day)
  • ·         The temperature on the motor coach was like a sauna (it was 50 degrees and no request was made to cool it down)
  • ·         There was no baggage assistance on the departure morning (there was, it was 5am, they did not ask)
  • ·         On a hike to Steall Falls, others were passing them on the 90 minute hike and they did not get a chance to walk the wire bridge.
  • ·         Gloucester Cathedral was substituted with Stonehenge and one guest had been there before (the Cathedral was closed to us at the last minute and we made a substitution)
  • ·         The transfer from the airport to London was never provided (this is the woman who insisted on flying standby into a non-London airport)
  • ·         The shuttle did not arrive in time for departing flights (legitimate gripe, we will reimburse taxi fare)
  • ·         The toilet had a leak and it was never fixed (she told the housekeeper and never reported it to the tour leader or the front desk)
  • ·         One guest had to pay taxi to hotel for their extended stay (this was an upgraded hotel at no additional increase in the nightly rate)
  • ·         The portraits were not hung on the walls (we provided a large canvas portrait of the family and in the past had been able to hang them on the walls of Edinburgh Castle, due to some recent renovations, this was not allowed so we presented them in a scroll)
  • ·         We always seemed to be the last ones to arrive anywhere
  • ·         We had poor seats at the Edinburgh Castle Farewell Gala (there were 200 there)
  • ·         Your price was $300 higher than others on a similar trip (we included the portrait not available to others, a bound memory book of the trip, and several smaller gifts prior to the trip—wands, scrolls, a note from “Harry”, etc.)

The collective list from the four of them ran for five email pages. Part of me wants to refute them all on a point by point basis; but I realize that is futile and will do nothing but serve to irritate them further. So the dilemma begins.

I have spoken with the tour operator and the individual tour conductor and both assure me that my families were asked on several occasions how everything was going and there were no complaints.  Obviously a few small items have now taken three weeks to fester and come to a boil.  For the missed transfer, we can reimburse. For the taxi to the extended hotel, we can reimburse. But for the rest, there really is nothing I can do. I reviewed our promotional materials and the agreements, and we indeed did provide all that was promised. We reserved the right to make changes (Gloucester to Stonehenge) for events beyond our control. We cannot control that people physically move at different speeds and may be in front of or in back of you. Perhaps if they wanted assurances like that, an FIT (costing three times as much) would be in order.

Have you ever had clients just attack and pile on? How do you handle it? At the time of writing, the resolution is still being worked out; but I am inclined to point out the differences between group and FIT travel and offer to reimburse the taxi and transfer fares with receipts. As for the other issues, unfortunately, they happen and are really beyond the control of my agency or the tour operator.  What do you think? How would you handle this?

  9 thoughts on “When clients attack

  1. I would offer to reimburse for the taxi / transfer (as you say, with receipts), and I would explain the $300 price difference.

    As for the rest, instead of a line by line rebuttal, I’d lump them altogether with something along the lines of “timely communication with the tour conductor could have led to a successful resolution of the other issues outlined; unfortunately after the fact nothing can be done to correct the issues.”

    Then, I’d remove them from any of my future marketing campaigns….

  2. Cindy Smith says:

    As a long-time group agency, we have learned to strongly advise our clients prior to their departure that it is up to them to inform the tour manager immediately if an issue arises during the trip. At that time the issue is a “concern” and can be accommodated or corrected. If they wait until the trip is finished, the issue becomes a “complaint” and there is usually NOTHING that can be done.
    It’s up to the passengers to take some responsibility for the success of their vacation.

    This info doesn’t benefit your current dilemma, but it should come in handy for future groups. Plus, it seems you’ve already determined your best course of action. Respond professionally without apologizing for things which are out of your control, and refund what is reasonable.

    Also, we have quit trying to explain differences in our pricing versus our competitors, we just strive to show them the additional value they are getting for their money. Clients that recognize quality don’t question the pricing.

    However, some people are impossible to please so it’s up to you if you want to pursue them for future business, or write them off and focus on those that appreciate good service.

  3. John Frenaye says:

    We do advise our clients that the time to bring up any issues is when they happen–group travel or not. I like the wording between “concern” and “complaint” awesome! Thanks

  4. I’ve worked with groups for 30 years. My motto is “It’s all in the expectations.” Some people are not meant for group travel, and you cannot please everyone. Some don’t listen, some don’t read “the fine print.” There will always be people who comparison shop – and complain when they don’t understand the value of their package. I agree that, in this case, your professional response is best, reimburse where applicable, and remove them from your customer base. We also find it helpful to ensure the group leader/organizer understands all of the terms and conditions and is responsible for explaining them fully to his/her group members.

  5. Janet says:

    John, I too agree that you have done all that is necessary to reimburse those few transfers that you feel responsible for, and can be documented with a receipt. As for the client’s other comments/complaints, I would respond with a professional letter and put their comments in the “round file”. They seem to be the type of people who are going to find fault with every travel experience rather than looking for the enrichment of each new destination.

  6. Joyce says:

    John,
    Reading through your complaints from the clients, I have found myself thinking as the consumer. From the beginning they were having problems, some they incountered due to the transfer situation, but others were really just sloppy mistakes by the transfer company/ tour company that did not monitor the clients air schedule.

    If this would have been you traveling, would you not have been upset right from the start when the transfer did not arrive?

    Please see this as a positive, address the money issue with the tour company, ask for compensation for your clients. Pass this
    money on to the client and give them a $50 voucher for travel in the future and you will have a client for life.

    Otherwise, these clients will always pass along these negative feelings to anyone who wants to listen.

  7. Lori Derauf says:

    I agree that the taxi fare should be refunded.

    Then, I would thank them for the time it took to provide this wonderful feedback on the trip. Not only will it help with future groups, you’ll relay the feedback to the tour operator so that they can make improvements. (smile)

    Some people are complainers but they may also think that this is the kind of feedback you wanted. I wouldn’t address the price difference. At this point it doesn’t matter.

    It sounds like you put together a wonderful trip and I bet, overall, they really did love it.

  8. John Frenaye says:

    The only transfer problem was on the tail end when it did not show up in time forcing the clients to take a cab. I will reimburse it. The incoming transfer was not our problem. The client was an airline employee and told us she was flying into LHR and we provided a transfer (Heathrow Express) to central London. What she did was rely on her airline employee status to non-rev to the UK and the closest she could get was Manchester. Well, our tour specifically provided transfers from Heathrow or Gatwick only. So she did not use it; however she felt that she was entitled. I guess I should be glad she wasn;t routed into Rome!

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