Michael Fisher is President of Travelenergy, a travel industry company providing global business development services. The company is operating the Expedia Travel Agent Affiliate Program (TAAP) for Expedia in the United States and Canada. Michael has spent his entire working career in travel, and worked his youthful summers in the family business, Allied Tours. After 9/11, Michael was invited to join NYC and Company as Senior Advisor, providing consulting on a variety of projects. Michael went on to Gullivers Travel Associates, one of the largest global travel organizations, to join their North American operation prior to its acquistion by the Cendant Corporation. Michael started a tourism consulting company, called Travelenergy, working with travel industry partners in developing and implementing global tourism sales and marketing strategies.
TRO: Michael, it’s no secret that many travel consultants view Expedia as competition. Certainly other large OTA’s have turned to travel agents as a distribution outlet, Orbitz comes to mind, but there are still many unanswered questions. Can you explain the TAAP program for us? What does it offer the travel consultant?
Michael Fisher: The Expedia Travel Agent Affiliate Program is a partnership initiative to the travel industry, focused on travel agents. Basically, Expedia offers travel agents its product line and travel agents earn commissions. The program began about 9 years ago in Europe. We opened up Canada about 20 months ago, and opened in the US 15 months ago. This is a long term commitment that Expedia is devoting significant resources towards. We now have over 20,000 agents working with us globally and about 3,000 agents signed up in North America.
Our mission is to provide travel agents a comprehensive booking engine, with abundant choices, availability and value. Rather than compete with agents, we are providing them an opportunity to gain the benefit of our purchasing power by combining it with their ability to better service the client.
TRO: Travel professionals have long viewed Expedia as competitive. How does the TAAP program alter the relationship between travel professionals and Expedia?
Michael Fisher: We understand this perception, but it is an old one. Expedia has evolved as a company. Over 9 years ago, Expedia management acknowledged that the travel agent provided unique skills and services to the consumer, that Expedia could not. On the other hand, our size and volume provided natural pricing advantages agencies and even consortia could not achieve. From a business point of view, it made sense to form a partnership with the travel community. The TAAP program has grown over the years, and Expedia has dedicated significant resources towards this program. TAAP provides travel agents a bridge to the Expedia product line, with excellent benefits, such as commissions, tools, promotions and incentives. We also have a set of B2B and B2C widgets which allow agencies to connect to Expedia from their website with the commission code embedded if they want to use it. With the great values we offer, agents can also add a service fee to our prices. In return, Expedia hopes agents see TAAP as a reliable partner and supplier. Many suppliers, such as hotels, airlines and wholesalers also have a dual channel to the consumer and travel agents. Expedia has a 100% policy that respects the travel agent-client relationship.
Just as travel agents are one a resource for us, we want to be a resource for them. There are often times when our purchasing power provides Expedia with the best pricing on a product and now the agent can access that product and provide it to their client at the same rate and earn commissions and fees. Travel agents can use us when, and only when, it makes sense for them to do so.
TRO: Travel agents are concerned about access to their client list. How is the proprietary nature of the travel professional’s client list protected?
Michael Fisher: This is a major concern and one that we take very very seriously. When an agent registers for TAAP, they agree to represent professional standards. So does Expedia. First of all, on a technical basis, Expedia DOES NOT collect or maintain any client data. Our client is the travel agent. When the consultant books, we only maintain and use the travel agent information. The only data we ask for in the reservation is the client’s name- of course this is needed to reserve with the supplier. Expedia TAAP has a pledge to our affiliate base that we do not and will not contact their clients. As a public company, Expedia is obliged to operate under very strict rules and regulations. For over its nine years, there are no cases of TAAP interference with the agent/client relationship. In fact, it should be noted that many agent’s suppliers (airlines and hotels for example) DO in fact collect and use client data. We can say that with Expedia TAAP, your client list is totally protected. Others may not be able to make that claim.
TRO: How is customer support handled?
Michael Fisher: Of course, the first line of customer support is the travel consultant. We provide as much assistance to our affiliate, as possible. In any non-emergency situation, should the travel agent need assistance, the agent will call our TAAP Support Center. This is ONLY for agents. Expedia does maintain a global 24/7 Emergency call center. This is a tremendous benefit. It is totally up to the travel consultant as to how they want to use this. They can be the primary center of support to their client, or they may choose to provide this number, so the client has an extra layer of support, should they need it. This is at the discretion of the agent. We have heard that agents may be sensitive to giving their clients an Expedia telephone link. Thus, we are now building a “white-label” call support center, that WILL NOT be identified as Expedia, and will be able to handle the same emergencies on behalf of the affiliate agencies.
TRO: What products are available through Expedia? Does it cover all products offered by Expedia?
Michael Fisher: The entire Expedia product line is available. Agents use the same rates as their clients do, but the consultant can earn commissions and incentives. We believe that with our pricing, choices and availability, we give agents the opportunity to save time on bookings, and devote more of their expertise and knowledge to their clients. Our TAAP partners can book anything found on Expedia.com. This means, hotels, airlines, packages, car rental etc.
TRO: How does the participating travel consultant interact with TAAP?
Michael Fisher: Once registered, the travel consultant receives a tracking code. When this is entered into the booking program, the consultant can book anything within the system. The code will apply the commission as appropriate. What we are very proud of is our dedicated TAAP support center. Our TAAP team is available to our affiliates Monday through Friday, either by special telephone line or dedicated email. Our partners are welcome to contact us if there are any technical or policy questions, if they are unsure about a commission, or how to change a booking, or just to chat with our team. We also have a sales team that reaches out to our agents, either by visits or attending trade shows. This year we are quite active in the field, and hope to meet in person as many of our partners as possible. We are also open to any ideas our affiliates may have, whether webinar training, appreciation programs or anything that may be mutually beneficial. We are also forming a Travel Agent Advisory Board, which will represent the broad spectrum of travel agencies around the country.
TRO: How is payment handled? How transparent is the Expedia relationship to the client? Do client statements indicate “Expedia”?
Michael Fisher: All reservations on Expedia are paid for with credit card upon entering the reservation. Most of our affiliate agencies use their own agency credit card. In cases where the client’s credit card is used, depending on the card, Expedia may be identified or may be seen in a more generic form. We are working with the credit card companies to offer our affiliates the choice as to what will be seen on the statement. Again, we are doing whatever is possible to be a behind the scenes supplier.
TRO: What are the advantages of obtaining these products through Expedia as opposed to working with properties direct or through established distribution chains such as tour operators?
Michael Fisher: Choice, pricing and availability, as well as ease of booking and the knowledge that Expedia is a reliable, ethical partner. Because we offer over 130,000 global hotels, over 400 airlines and a huge variety of other products, agents can go to ONE source and book. Time is a precious commodity to travel agents. Why search through endless suppliers when they will find almost everything they need on Expedia? Time also comes into play when agents price shop and other suppliers price match. We have heard that some companies will now match our very excellent pricing. That is an option, but many times, price matching is not available or is highly restricted.
Expedia has special price and allotment agreements with most suppliers. We have found that in many cases, even the hotel was sold out directly, but available on Expedia. With the excellent commission and incentive program, special promotions, agent support and the dedicated call center, we feel that we offer the full range of travel agent needs. Again, we offer choice, availability and value in ONE easy to use location. We simply become one more tool in the travel consultant’s tool box.
TRO: What do the commission structure look like? How and when is commission paid?
Michael Fisher: Our commission program is very competitive. For example over 130,000 hotels around the world can earn 10%, without any conditions. Our incentive program gives agents the ability to earn even higher commissions. In addition, we have agent promotions during the year, that give agents even more benefits on specific products. We also offer commissions on air/hotel packages, car rental, activities and insurance.
We have found great interest in the program from Home Based Agents as well as Host and Mega Agencies, where we offer even more significant commissions.
Our basic commission plan, upon registration is:
- HOTELS: 10%
- PACKAGES (3 or more nights) : 5%
- CAR RENTAL: 6%
- ACTIVITIES: 10%
As I earlier indicated, the entire Expedia product line is available, although not all products are commissionable. Agents can always add their service fees when they want and can easily justify doing so on the basis of the value they add to the transaction for their clients. In addition, as we have said, we offer very easy to reach incentives, that raise these basic commissions significantly. We also have regular promotions that provide our agent affiliates even higher commissions during the year. Commissions are paid to our affiliates by Bank Wire transfer, directly into the bank account provided when an agency registers.
Commissions are paid the middle of the month after client travels. With our Expedia Access portal, our affiliates can track all their activity and commissions at any time.
Agents who wish to learn more about the Expedia TAAP program should visit: access.expedia.com