Most of you will have by now read Travel Weekly’s assessment of May 25, 2009 entitled YTB: What’s true and what isn’t. The “National Newspaper of the Travel Industry” published this piece in advance of their upcoming 2009 Power List. Get ready YTB recruiters: my guess is that you are about to be handed another piece of marketing that will again be worth millions. The unverified numbers reported by YTB’s home office to Travel Weekly’s team of crack accountants, auditors and fact checkers even now are being scrutinized for inclusion on the 2009 Power List.
But the May 25th TW article is in need of a few points of clarification.
Firstly, let’s makes TRO’s position clear. YTB is an elaborate travel club, exploiting the fact that the travel industry has failed to define for itself a technical definition of the term “travel agent”. The bulk of YTB’s revenue is generated in the recruitment of new members who in turn recruit more new members. TRO has actively campaigned against companies that recruit members into the travel industry with the promise of travel benefits, launching the site www.cardmills.com. Travel Weekly last year awarded YTB a spot on its 2008 Power List, a fact that is repeated endlessly in YTB recruitment literature, websites and newsletters.
As a note – the creation of “Industry Awards” or “Reader’s Picks” is a publishing gambit to garner favor with select advertisers and are generally suspect unless audited by third parties rather than publishers. More about that in a few moments.
Let’s spend just a few minutes looking at the facts using TW’s format:
Most suppliers don’t care how YTB gets business as long as it delivers bookings
“Somewhat True” says TW. “Not true” says TRO. YTB has a limited list of suppliers with which they do the vast majority of their business and has worked arrangements to assist in those transactions. The arrangement with Carnival that dictated a special booking procedure for YTB agents is a good example. As John Frenaye and others have pointed out, doing business with untrained people through communication channels that are typically reserved for trained travel agents is expensive. Moreover, it is highly likely most of these bookings are “friends and family”, meaning that the suppliers who do business with YTB are rebating commissions to people to take vacations. This, of course, really amounts to only a further discount. But the suppliers do care, and they understand what they are doing. Well over 1/2 of all cruise inventory is no longer available to YTB affiliates.
Travel Weekly is being played for a sucker when it includes YTB in the annual Power List
According to TW’s May 26 article, this is not true. We agree. TW is not being played for a sucker. Travel Weekly is very deliberately promoting YTB’s presence in their articles, thereby increasing TW‘s circulation numbers by 70,000+. Advertisers want to know how many readers look at articles, how many people attend trade shows and how many click-throughs were generated. YTB’s number of affiliates nearly matches the number of all other traditional travel agents. Garnering favor with YTB on the Power List doubles TW’s circulation and keeps YTB recruits reading TW. Other publications, like TRO and Travel Agent, have openly denounced YTB’s methods. TW‘s numbers must be off the charts each time they publish a story that mentions YTB favorably or places YTB in a position to utilize their reporting for marketing purposes. What these numbers do not indicate, however, are the actual bookings that all of the additional activity truly generates for suppliers, and at what cost. If the quality of your readership is weak, then all of that supposed circulation activity is a phantom of some publisher’s imagination. TW is not being played for a sucker – it knows exactly what it is doing. Added to the thousands of traditional travel agents that still demonstrate unrequited loyalty to TW, the YTB numbers bolster the story that TW can tell their advertisers. No, it is not TW who is being played for a sucker here.
YTB is a card mill
TW parses the phrase “card mill” to conclude “Not True” because YTB does not issue ID cards. However, a physical card is not the point on which the definition of “card mill” turns. Card Mills are companies that recruit on the basis of supposed travel benefits. I would point TW to www.cardmills.com for more information. Next, take a look at YTB promotional efforts most of which take place at the affiliate level. Google the phrase “savings on your own travel” and see what turns up. Then decide for yourself. You may reach a different conclusion than TW‘s analysts.
I could go on, but the traditional travel agents that responded to this article did a fair job of deconstruction.
Companies that recruit on the basis of supposed travel benefits are bad for this industry. Period. TRO, in support of traditional travel agents, has very clearly stated its position. Other companies in the travel media have not. In fact, some are actively supporting such companies. By contrast, TRO and Travel Agent magazine have very strongly condemned the practice. Apparently, the majority of traditional travel agents are OK with supporting media that fails to support them. Others, however, have decided that TW cannot have it both ways. To YTB or to not YTB? How about you?