Unethical Practices – Don’t Go Down that Road

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Susan SchafferI am saddened and disturbed that this issue exists at all.  Even if it not prolific, it can damage the reputation of the travel professional industry, as a whole.  Specifically, I am talking about deceptive, unethical, misleading and potentially fraudulent advertising.

It is mind-blowing for me to believe that a professional travel agent would intentionally create and disseminate deceptive advertising. And ignorance is not an excuse. As professional travel agents it is imperative for us to fully understand what is required of us by our suppliers, and what our clients expect of us. So it is disheartening when I open a magazine, a newspaper, or run across a website on the Internet, and find blatant misrepresentative advertising.

As an example, let’s say an agency is advertising a group cruise and they take out newspaper ads, splash it across the Internet, do email blasts, etc.  All of the advertising has a consistent look and feel, very professional looking, using the same picture of one cruise ship.  It’s not a generic undefined cruise ship, but a ship that is distinct and recognizable (even when they Photoshop out the name off the ship itself).

It is fair to think that potential clients seeing the ads will rightly think the group is sailing on that particular ship displayed in the ad. If the ad has a picture of the Disney Magic, the group better be sailing on the Disney Magic, not the Norwegian Sun.  If the picture is of the Oasis of the Seas, the group better not be sailing on the Carnival Triumph.
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At the very least the travel agency involved is being deceptive.  At worst they are committing fraud – a bait and switch.  This may go beyond just disappointing potential clients, but taint any group affiliated with the agency (i.e. a non-profit benefiting from a fundraising group, a celebrity that has agreed to join the group, etc.), as well as leave them with a bad taste in their mouths about travel agents overall.

Personally I don’t care when someone jeopardizes their own reputation and risks their own business.  But when their actions can reflect poorly on all of us, I care.  And I get mad.  They are not acting professionally.

All of the cruise lines have very specific policies, terms & conditions about using images of their ships (exterior or interior shots) in advertising, or on our own websites.  It doesn’t matter if you Photoshop out the name, most ships are very easy to identify.  The Carnival funnel can’t be mistaken for any other cruise line.  Disney’s two smokestacks are unique.  Princess ships have a very definite look to them as well, as do Holland America’s ships, and who can miss the Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas and think they are anything other than Royal Caribbean?  It does matter where you get the pictures (legitimately from the cruise line, or lifting them from someone else’s website), the cruise lines policies will apply.  Believe me, Princess would not be okay with a travel agent using their ship images to promote a group cruise on Holland America.  Crystal won’t look the other way if someone uses their images to promote Regent Seven Seas.

And how about the clients? How disappointed would you feel (dare I say, how ripped off would you feel) to think you were going to sale on a Cunard ship, only to find out later it’s a Carnival ship? Would you possibly assume that all or most travel agents act just as deceptively? And really, who would blame you for making that assumption?

When you are putting together your own advertising and marketing pieces, if you are in doubt, ASK SOMEONE. This is not an instance where it is easier to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission. There are legal ramifications involved, and legal departments don’t dole out forgiveness. Ever. If you don’t know whom to ask, start with your BDM with that supplier that you are targeting (i.e. the cruise line you have group space blocked with). If you don’t know whom your BDM is, then call Inside Sales. Again, ignorance of the policies or lack of knowledge as to who to contact will not stand up as a defense.


Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvaations.com) she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email at susan@shipsntripstravel.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

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