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Remember the Pied Piper

When everyone claims to be an expert, who should you trust? I have seen travel agents who barely know the difference between a hotel and a motel start social media groups, and suddenly have a following of thousands eagerly embracing their every word as it were the gospel.

Social media has given anyone with something to say a platform to share their opinion. Unfortunately while I can appreciate their passion, some of these forums are loaded with misinformation and unsubstantiated claims. It’s like the blind leading the blind.

I follow a number of online travel agent forums from around the world. Most are very good and offer travel professionals solid advice and networking opportunities. However, there are several of which I have been somewhat skeptical that keep popping up on my radar.

The moderators use inflammatory rhetoric to whip their followers into an “us against them” frenzy. They have become pied pipers, attracting anyone who will listen, in their pursuit against the OTAs, suppliers, and basically anyone who disagrees or does business differently. I have written about this before, but lately I feel like we have taken a huge step back in time to when the internet first became a tool that changed the travel landscape as we knew it forever.

If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I am one of the biggest advocates for the professional travel agent anywhere in the world. More importantly – I have the chops to back it up. There are many of us who have enjoyed success, and give back to the profession in our own ways.  Tom and Joanie Ogg, Scott Koepf, Mary Pat Sullivan, Richard Earls, and Jim Smith just to name a few. While we have may have different philosophies and areas of expertise, we are united in one single purpose – growing the travel trade as a professional, ethical, and credible sales distribution channel.

So when I hear travel agents and moderators posturing in their forums about how “they” can’t deliver service like a real travel agent – I cringe.  Who is this “they” they keep talking about, and who’s to say all travel agents give great service? The definition I hear most often to describe “They” is “anyone with the ability for a client to book online without any assistance of a travel agent.”

Seriously? There are so many entities who fit this description. Starting with the OTAS, but also any supplier with a booking engine, as well as any travel agency that offers online booking of any kind to its prospects. In other words, virtually the entire industry falls under this definition. The ability to book online unassisted, is here to stay. It is a tool to be embraced, not shunned or ostracized.

No one owns the customer. If a prospect chooses to complete the booking cycle without a human ever touching the booking – it’s their choice. What most travel agents do not realize is, that it is not the Expedia’s of the world who are your biggest competitors when it comes to selling vacation travel, it’s the suppliers themselves.

I have always advocated that if we, as a distribution channel, were filling their ships, buses, and beds there would not be a need for the supplier to take direct business. But we are not, and it is their fiduciary responsibility to make this process as efficient as possible.

Here’s something else you probably didn’t know. While a large number of customers do book online, it is rare for a cruise or vacation booking to go untouched by a human hand. In fact after the initial online booking, most customers will call the OTA  or supplier (often multiple times) to service the booking – just as they would if they had booked with you. At the other end of the telephone line are some very well trained service representatives eagerly waiting to take care of their customers.

Here’s my thought. There are people well above our paygrade looking out for our best interest to maintain a level playing field as well as influencing legislative outcomes on a daily basis.  If you are not a member of ASTA, CLIA, NACTA, or some other advocacy organization, it might be time to consider joining.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt, “Complaining without a solution is called whining.”

It’s easy to gang up and try to bully your suppliers and fellow travel professionals. Rather than be a divider complaining about how travel agents have been slighted, disrespected, or offended in some way, devote that time and energy working on your own business to be part of the solution. Focus on what you can do – not what you can’t and you should see noticeable changes in your personal and professional lives.

My advice is, if you are going to join an online forum, please make sure the message is more substantial than from someone of questionable credentials masquerading as an authority and repeatedly telling you how great you are simply because you are a travel agent.

If you really want to know what makes you great, just ask your customers.

By the way, the Oxford Dictionary defines a “Pied Piper” as “a person who entices people to follow them, especially to their doom.” Be careful out there.


Dan Chappelle specializes in helping sales professionals achieve their full potential by thinking BIGGER, working SMARTER, and producing real RESULTS.
Dan Chappelle is a professional business advisor, sales coach, author, and speaker. His training and consulting firm helps develop sales oriented business leaders, individual salespeople, and entrepreneurs. His best-selling book Get Your S.H.I.P. Together: The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Sales, is available on Amazon.com. For information on Dan’s Sales Acceleration programs, visit: www.DanChappelle.com

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