As travel professionals, it is our sacred duty to search out hotels, cruise ships, tours, activities, restaurants, and other must-sees and have-to-dos as much as we can. Invariably, we will be called upon to counsel a client and provide recommendations for all of those. Experiencing the product is important to understanding it and being able to sell it to the right client. In doing so, we come face to face with people who can make or break our clients’ experience. The waitstaff at a restaurant. The room steward on a cruise ship. The talking guide on the hop-on hop-off bus tour. Every one of them makes judgments about us, sometimes in our capacity as travel professionals, and those judgments can affect every one of us as a whole.
I was on a cruise ship inspection not too long ago. As anyone who has done one or two of these things knows, a staple of the ship inspection is lunch in the dining room, with table service by the ship’s waitstaff. After the lunch was done, I pulled out my wallet and left behind some cash for a tip for the staff that served us. Some other agents did as well. But not everyone. I was confused, but didn’t feel it was right to speak up. However, in later conversations with other agents, and much later still online, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one confused and frankly, appalled, by this.
Some of you may be wondering what the big deal is – tipping? So what? Here’s the low down. Cruise line waitstaff make the majority of their money from tips provided by the passengers. Usually, these tips are pre-paid or they are done on board automatically, so it’s never something one has to consciously think about like when dining at the local Red Lobster. For the crew, they may have had the possibility of getting off the ship (if they weren’t assigned to turnaround duties) and instead, they chose to serve the guests in the dining room. Often, they do this on the premise they will collect some extra money. It’s exactly like picking up an extra shift or two at a regular 9-5 job. Since there are no pre-paid gratuities on a ship inspection, it’s up to us, the guests, to ensure the waitstaff is properly tipped. So those who attend ship inspections and are served lunch do us all a disservice when they neglect to tip. Be sure to budget for the tips when you plan out your ship inspection trips, whether they are individualized programs or part of a larger event like CLIA’s cruise3sixty.
In line with this, when we are traveling, it is important to treat the people with whom we interact with respect. They may not know we are travel professionals, and really we should treat everyone with respect, but it’s ever more important when we are representing the industry at large. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve booked a travel agent rate at a hotel, as an example, and upon check-in the front desk attendant makes note of that to me. “Oh, Mr. Cousino, I see you are one of our travel agent partners. Welcome!” But how many times have I booked an agent rate, and that person doesn’t acknowledge it? Think they aren’t paying attention to how you treat them and conduct yourself during your stay?You bet they are. And all of us are being painted with that paintbrush.
There are many more examples of unprofessionalism in our industry that should be addressed which I will do so in a future article. In the mean time, let’s all make sure we are not the travel agent everyone else talks about when they go home. You know, the star of the story that begins, “You’ll never believe what I saw on my FAM trip…”
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS has been a travel professional since 2005 and currently owns Exclusive Events At Sea (http://www.exclusiveeventsatsea.com) and Journeys By Steve (http://www.journeysbysteve.com) with specializations in group cruising, individual ocean & river cruising, and personalized experiences in Europe, especially the British Isles. In addition, Steve heads up WordPressForTravelAgents.com, an email-based WordPress education system designed specifically for the busy travel professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.