Every business has its risks, and the business of travel planning has more than its share. Clients will ask questions that pertain to the laws of foreign governments, health risks, safety and even divorce and marriage. Tour operators go out of business, leaving clients stranded or without a vacation. Travel counselors are sometimes called upon to act as an expert in a variety of disciplines that are only tangentially related to the actual transaction of making a booking, and rightly so. As the role of the travel agent has changed that of a consultant, consumers have an inclination to request more information from their travel agent. Nevertheless, such advice poorly given can create new and unanticipated problems for the travel agent. This week, the 365 Guide will focus on how to avoid the pitfalls that might otherwise catch an agent unaware.
Documenting your correspondence with clients is your number one defense against any claim that you have been negligent or have made an error of omission. Systematic documentation is a more detailed undertaking than most agents understand. Many conversations with clients are verbal or take place only at the beginning of the relationship. Other agreements are actually with the tour operator or some other third party, but are facilitated by the agent. Documenting the agent’s role in each instance clarifies everyone’s understanding of the transactions and the liabilities being undertaken. Doing so methodically and professionally will enhance your client’s appreciation for your thoroughness and attention to detail, and thus is a part of your overall branding and marketing effort as well as enforcing a protective discipline for your company.
Much of your documentation will be in the form of boilerplate language on itineraries and other agency collateral. Nevertheless, it is important to actively address these items with clients and to have the clients sign a copy of your disclaimers. Seek counsel, such as your attorney or consortia or other association, regarding the actual language you should use on your boilerplate. Discuss your disclaimers and the reason for them with clients so that they fully understand their role, your part and the responsibilities of the suppliers in the relationship. Have them sign a file copy.
Make copies of the documentation you provide to clients. When possible, have the client sign for all documentation you deliver.
Credit card authorizations are a must. Make sure that the client always signs an authorization that states the purpose of the charge and that the transaction is non-refundable except per the Supplier’s Terms and Conditions. Transactions that occur over the phone can be tricky, but use your fax and require a credit card authorization. Without one, you might find yourself on the wrong end of a charge-back.
Follow verbal communications with an email confirmation. When you address an issue with a client via the telephone or in person, follow up with an email that pleasantly recounts the conversation, decisions and understandings from your perspective and request the client to let you know if any aspect of your understanding is not accurate. Use direct, unambiguous language and short sentences to ensure clarity.
Clients that refuse to cooperate with the necessary paperwork are inherently problematic. Proceed with this type of client at your risk.
Don’t accept silence as a sign everything is “OK”. If you mail documents and don’t hear from your clients, call to confirm delivery. If a client does not call you upon their return from a trip, follow up. The more active your involvement with a client, the quicker you can catch a problem.
Tomorrow: Ancillary Information