As travel consultants, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about how our clients like to interact with us when planning their vacations: Do they prefer to do it themselves online? Should we have booking engines on our web sites to facilitate that? Should they have to speak with us in person, or on the phone, so that we can provide more personalized service and advice? Is it best if they can get some basic information from our web site but then call us to handle the transaction?
I think it’s interesting that we spend far less time thinking about how we, as agents, like to interact with suppliers when planning a client’s vacation. This came up as a topic for discussion around the dinner table at a recent meeting of my local NACTA chapter, and it was fascinating to hear all the different viewpoints. Some of us had a clear preference for online booking engines, others strongly believed in the value of a good call center, and (not surprisingly) it often varied depending on the type of trip being booked.
Deborah, a homebased corporate agent, said that while she uses (and likes) some of the leisure booking engines like Travel Bound, GoGo and Disney, she will never make an online booking for her business travelers. She does a lot of international air through consolidators, and has developed a relationship with a preferred supplier rep who is always accommodating and helpful with her complicated itineraries.
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Linda, another agent who values the relationships she has developed with supplier reps, said “Online bookings are good for simple clearcut vacations, a quick price quote, or to check on existing bookings. The only positive thing I can think about in regards to online booking is that it’s 24/7. I think you need and want that connection with another person…it comes down to building relationships in a relationship business.”
I have to admit that I was in the minority in this group, since I almost always choose online bookings over picking up the phone and calling a supplier. While I do have a couple of niche suppliers where I’ve developed a personal relationship with a rep who can help me with custom itineraries, I have also found myself frustrated and annoyed by supplier reps who don’t add any additional insight and value to the booking, don’t respond in a timely manner, and can’t be trusted to get the details right. So, in this fast-paced, 24/7 world, I much prefer to go online and do it myself.
What do you think? Are you a do-it-yourselfer hoping that suppliers will continue to invest in user-friendly online booking engines? Or are you a “people person” who would prefer that suppliers invest in a well-trained, well-compensated call center staff?
Ann Petronio is a travel consultant and the owner of Annie’s Escapes, Inc. in Cranston, Rhode Island. She creates custom-tailored vacations for busy couples, families and groups. www.AnniesEscapes.com