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When did the travel industry become so jaded?

Imagine walking into a car dealership and not being offered any help because the salesperson thought you could not afford that particular car. Would you be put off?  Might you be put off to the point that the next time you purchased a car it might be online?

What if you were in the market for a flat-screen television and the salesperson refused to help you because he or she thought you might be a shopper and not serious about buying a television.

I think it is accurate to state that in either situation, we would walk away pretty ticked off. So why do so many in the travel industry automatically presume a potential customer is not worthy of their time?

Last week, there was a Facebook post on an agent only page.

<There, the agent recounted a vague request by a consumer who was not known to him.  The request, which asked if passports were necessary for travel to Mexico, also indicated a cruise would be a consideration. The agent was frustrated by the consumers lack of detail and knowledge of travel.>

What followed, to me, was mind-blowing. At least a dozen travel professionals offered advice ranging from ignore the request to outright mocking the request. <…> Now granted, it was in an agent-only page so it was not aired in public; but have we become so jaded that we refuse to respond?

<Editorial Note – the original text which revealed a verbatim passage from the private TA board has been removed.  Please see comments below for more detail>

The request was not particularly informing or detailed, but it certainly did not rise to the level of “I am a Minister and need one way tickets from Accra to London in first class.” It was apparently sent from an iPad, so one can assume it likely was not a phishing scam. The thread went on about the lack of a passport and how it was an indicator of how “cheap” the client might be. There was no thought to the concept that he may not be able to get a passport (child support in arrears), or get it in time. Maybe they wanted to spend their dollars on travel and not documents. Discussion was had on the presumed meager commission to be received. I pointed out a supplier where I could make $800 for a 4 day trip—remember, there was no mention of budget.

How much time would have been lost by simply replying with a simple statement, “Thanks for your inquiry. Is there a convenient time and number where I can call you to discuss planning your upcoming vacation?” It took me about 4 seconds to type. If he does not return the message, then perhaps he was a shopper (and there is nothing wrong with that) or the request was not legitimate.

But you are never going to catch the golden ring without taking opportunities when they are offered.  We always talk about not making assumptions about how clients like travel. Why are we accepting of making the assumptions for prospects?

In the end, I left my email address in the thread and suggested that they pass along the prospect’s information to me. Hey, I can invest 4 seconds in a potential sale. It is what I do. I am a salesman. I understand that people will shop and compare. I understand that I will hear the word “no” a lot more than I hear the word “yes.” I also understand that we cannot have it both ways. It is impossible to demand the respect and admiration we deserve, when are unable to offer it in return.

If the agent doesn’t respond, or worse yet uses a reply suggested by a colleague, what is a potential customer to think? Agents are extinct–they never replied. Give him a cocky answer like “as soon as you send your $200 non-refundable plan to go fee, I will consider researching your trip” and he is likely to run away and tell all of his friends in the process. Is this what we are looking for as an industry?

Seize the day. Respond to the opportunities—you never know where they will lead.

  13 thoughts on “When did the travel industry become so jaded?

  1. Chris Alderson says:

    I totally agree with you. At least respond to the inquiry.

  2. Brenda says:

    Great post John, it reminds me why I’ve recently decided to reply to ALL inquiries, regardless of how much information they provide with the same enthusiasm as any other inquiry. You never know what’s on the other side of the door but if we don’t open we will never know.

  3. Susan says:

    Great post!

    I reply to every inquiry, especially those that come in through our website. Have picked up some great clients whose original emails did not sound promising.

    This goes along with assuming what type of clients people are based on what they book.

    One year I had clients book a cheap weekend cruise to experience cruising for the first time. They enjoyed it so much that upon their return, the booked 12 cabins on a more upscale line for a Christmas sailing. I was so glad that they received my very best customer service on the first booking. It would have been so easy to dismiss them.

    Never, never make assumptions!

  4. Excellent article. It is common courtesy, and good business practice, to reply. I have done it for many years and will continue to do so though I do find myself giving less information away for free. By the way, I have yet to receive business with such cold calls but it is always a minute well spent.
    Once the so-called travel writer experts stop advising travelers to contact 50 agents for a good deal, it will get better! I am happy to see a few experts actually advising that travelers should have a relationship with a professional. My three $20,000+ booking last week were a result of that as the clients felt they did not have time to research.

  5. Ann says:

    A bigger concern is why you would post a quote from an agent only site? You know many agents use forums to blow off steam. You have completely violated the trust of others by doing this.

  6. John Frenaye says:

    Ann–to echo what I said in a private email to the page administrator, I felt that the intent was to not identify the page nor the poster–which I did not. I have offered to clarify the column and am waiting for a response back.

  7. Trish DeDamos says:

    I am dissappointed that TRO would throw all Travel agents under the bus for venting on a private page! Those who are still in business after 9/11, commission cuts, tour operator bankruptcies etc. are very busy and most will reply; although not always immediately. My clients who have already placed trust in me by making a deposit, sending a friend and calling (vs a blanket email to 10 different agencies) are more valuable plain and simple. It is not because we are jaded, it’s a business! We have learned over the years what is wasting our time, so there is no need to hurry! I have made many follow up calls and email’s to a person’s request for a trip and pricing without so much as a boo, just never hear from them again. Common courtesy goes both ways!

  8. John Frenaye says:

    The intent was not to throw all travel agents under the bus. For those who are too busy to address (or give it a shot) the request, should at least respond stating that. I believe that no response (or even a delayed response in this day and age) will contribute to painting the industry with a broad stroke as non-responsive. Responding with a rude or off center comment will do worse.

  9. Tricia says:

    Whatever the intent of your article, John, you betrayed a trust and your actions are flat out unethical. You know exactly what the closed group rules are and you violated them. There is no excuse or reason to justify what you did and I simply can’t believe that TRO allowed you to publish this article. If you are even allowed to clarify within the group I would withdraw my membership. People like you are dangerous, perhaps you should consider working for the IRS.

  10. John Frenaye says:

    Tricia–as I said I have addressed this with Charlie via an email. There have been numerous columns on TW based on unidentifiable information from that FB page. I was very clear to not identify the page or the poster (which was specified). As to the IRS comment…perhaps a bit extreme.

  11. Mona says:

    The issue that you quotes stuff -word for word- – unattributed or not, you should have asked those authors permission first. Being inspired for topics is one thing. Quoting without permission is unethical.

  12. Richard Earls says:

    Richard here.

    On Tuesday I received a message from Charlie Funk regarding John’s use of the passage lifted from the private community. I agree John should not have quoted verbatim. We have, in fact, removed people from TRO’s own Community for quoting posts outside its walls.

    In my personal opinion, using the quote verbatim was a lapse in judgment. We have therefore edited the article to redact the quote. Our apologies to the members of the private community and a promise to be more cautious of any similar breach in the future.

    Richard

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