I truly believe it is every travel consultant’s responsibility to have first hand knowledge of the products they sell. FAMS are one of the perks and they can be a lot of fun, but that really shouldn’t be the primary motivation for participating. Opportunities to experience what a destination, supplier or activity has to offer our clients is an invaluable tool for the travel professional; particularly if that professional has a niche. I focus on cruising and the Caribbean so naturally when those opportunities arise, I pack. And when I had the opportunity from Carnival, I jumped at the chance.
I just returned from an inaugural sailing of the Carnival Pride; which is now sailing year-round out of Baltimore. Several hundred agents were invited to come and get a feel for what will ultimately be an expanded drive market for many of us. Since many of us had not been connected to the news, we were blissfully unaware of the encroaching H1N1 Virus. One of the BDMs made a short presentation and detailed exactly how Carnival was going to be handling the issue. As I listened to the plans, I looked around and saw nods of appreciation and understanding of the need for these changes. I took it all in and made mental calculations of which clients would be affected. Some travelers would need to be notified sooner than others based on their sailing dates.
At the first break, there was a mad dash to the internet cafe and an en masse boot up of laptops. There were literally a hundred travel professionals making arrangements, anticipating how this virus would impact their clients’ vacations. All over the ship you could hear agents on cell phones checking in with their offices, suppliers, and resorts all over the affected areas. Everyone seemed more concerned with providing a successful outcome for their clients than for their bottom line at that point. I wondered how those folks that had booked through the web based travel sites were going to fare or if they were even aware of the itinerary changes, cancellations or additional screening that might result. I wondered whether the website consumers had had enough forethought to purchase travel insurance, (specifically the right insurance) or whether they felt that was as unnecessary as choosing a professional to coordinate their trip.
I was so proud to be a witness to such professionalism and even more proud to see so many agents who hadn’t known each other prior to our trip, working together. Information from various cruise lines, Associations and vendors was freely shared. As an industry I believe we truly shine when we are under pressure and we place the integrity of the profession before our individual rivalries.
But aside from seeing a fabulous ship, there was yet another huge benefit of this FAM. In addition to the travel professionals, there were thousands of consumers on that cruise who got a chance to see us in action. Several passengers came up to me to ask what the buzz was about. I quietly informed them of what this Carnival had said and explained that we all were working to reaccommodate and inform our clients. You can’t imagine the looks on their faces as they asked why I was so concerned about “work” while I was “on vacation”. I didn’t bother to explain that we weren’t actually on vacation. I just smiled and told them that we all enjoyed making sure everyone’s vacation was as stress-free as our own–something the web based guys will never get. Our customers are real to us. They’re not “virtual” and neither are we. I’m glad I had extra business cards with me. I made 6 new friends who used to use Travelocity.
Nia Frieson is the owner of LK Cruises and Tours, LLC based in Washington, DC. For more information, you can contact Nia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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