Book your travel online! The Internet will put the travel agents out of business. I’m in a MLM, so just go to my website and book your travel. How many times have you heard these, or similar, phrases over the past decade? Well, travel agents are still around, and believe it or not they are still kicking. People often will question what a travel agent can do for a consumer when the Internet claims to solve every travel woe. Well, one thing the Internet will never have is the personal connection to the client; and more importantly for the client—a personal connection with other agents and suppliers.
Travel suppliers have taken some heat over the past few years. United is feeling it right now for their new “fat fee” and other suppliers have proven to be less than agent friendly. But the point of this column is to demonstrate how a good relationship between client, agent and vendor should work. And we offer a huge pat on the back to Royal Caribbean for allowing this particular voyage to stay afloat.
Last week, Enrique Brener of KC Travel in North Miami Beach, FL ran into a problem that would make anyone’s head spin. Enrique had a client on the April 12, 2009 trans Atlantic crossing of the Independence of the Seas. His client had two Passports and had pre-registered for the cruise using a Polish Passport (since no Visa would be required to enter Europe), yet was traveling on a Peruvian Passport (used to enter the United States). Once at sea, the passenger was told he was in violation of immigration laws and would be disembarked in Ponta Delgada (first port of call) and potentially fined $10,000. The ship confiscated his Passports. On April 13th, the passenger emailed Enrique from the ship with his urgent SOS.
Without knowing anyone personally in immigrations, Enrique called out to his network of fellow agents on the TRO Community (free, registration and verification of affiliation required). At 8:48 am Enrique posted his dilemma and by 8:55 am he had the contact information he needed to get the ball rolling at Royal Caribbean, US Immigrations, and UK Immigrations.
At 9:20 am, he contacted Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President of Sales and left a voice mail followed by an email message. At 9:40 am, Vicki was in touch asking what she could do to help. She advised she was not the right person, but was going to make sure to bring it to the person who could resolve it.
At 10:00 am, she sent another message to Enrique that Sebastian Drakolovich, Director of Guest Services had been in touch with the ship and was working on it. Shortly after 10:00 am, Sebastian emailed and advised that the passenger would not be disembarked or fined; however, they would not be allowed to disembark in the UK for lack of the proper Visas on the Peruvian Passport. Enrique pressed the issue that the passenger also held a Polish Passport and should be allowed to disembark. Sebastian advised he would research further and get back in touch.
At 12:35 pm, Enrique received the following email from Sebastian:
Since our last e-mail, the ship has been working with the UK immigration teams and has come up with the following solution. “The issues with the dual citizenship guest onboard ID has been working out with UK immigration. The ship will take him into the UK without penalty and without Independence having to change his nationality during the voyage. The guest will have no issues at this time.
Vicki Freed, in the meantime, had checked in with Enrique to make sure things were moving along and to offer her help if there was a delay. To put this in perspective, a professional agent, was able to utilize his network and expertise to resolve this issue in 3 hours and 40 minutes! In 3 hours and 40 minutes, the client went from being thrown off a ship mid-voyage and facing an exorbitant fine to relaxing on his balcony without a care in the world because of the professionalism of his agent and the relationship the agent had with a supplier.
One might think that this is all in a day’s work for Royal Caribbean, but not so fast. It does need to be noted that Sebastian, the helpful Director of Guest Services, who coordinated this resolution between Royal Caribbean in Miami, the Independence of the Seas (somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean), US and UK Immigrations was on his own vacation when he received the call for help.
The end result, the passenger had a few tense hours for sure, but is now enjoying his cruise on the Independence of the Seas.
So, what is the takeaway for the consumer? For all but the simplest transactions, utilizing a trained, professional travel agent is your best bet. Even if there is a small service fee or retainer involved. This particular passenger sees it as a $10,000 savings! And remember, although your travel professional may not have personally visited a specific destination or sailed on a particular itinerary, paying a small fee for his knowledge and more importantly his network can indeed be priceless. The Internet will not provide this capability, nor will any of the Card Mill or MLM agencies — you can bet on that!
For the travel professional, the message is even stronger. First, align yourselves with true partners when you select your preferred suppliers. When a supplier steps to the plate like Royal Caribbean did in this instance, you know you have a true partner. When your supplier supports true travel professionals, you know you have a true partner. Secondly, realize that you are not an island and involve yourselves with the agency community. Network and share your knowledge. It would have been very easy for the person who provided Vicki’s phone number to ignore the post and move on with his or her day leaving Enrique to fend for himself—and the story may have had a completely different outcome.
And there is also a message in this story to the travel suppliers. In trying times, true travel professionals are looking to align with true partners so we can see each other through the economy. Focus on your service levels to your tried and true professionals who sell your product day in and day out (and have done so for decade after decade) and we both will come out ahead in the end. I have known Vicki Freed for many years and knew immediately that this story would end well as soon as I knew she was involved. From TRO, we offer huge kudos to Royal Caribbean, Vicki Freed, Sebastian Drakolovich, and the many other unnamed people that were involved. Don’t worry about the Hokey Pokey—THIS is what it is all about!
Do you have a true travel professional story to share? Want to offer a pat on the back to Enrique, Royal Caribbean, Vicki or Sebastian? Please leave a comment below!