Periodically articles and form discussions pop up about the lack of professional conduct of travel agents on FAMs, at trade shows, in online forums, etc. and how the lack of professionalism reflects poorly on all of us in the eyes of suppliers.
But how a travel agent conducts him/herself at a trade show or on a FAM pales in comparison to when a lack of professionalism and integrity are displayed to consumers – threatening the reputation of all professional travel agents. I’m not talking about how we dress in public, but rather about deceptive, unethical, misleading or fraudulent advertising and marketing practices.
Ignorance is never a defense. As professional travel agents it is imperative that we fully comprehend what suppliers require of us, and what expectations that consumers may have. So it is disappointing when I run across an agency’s advertising that is blatantly misrepresentative, if not fraudulent.
As an example, an agency advertised a group cruise with professionally created ads that prominently displayed a picture of a cruise ship. Because most cruise lines incorporate distinctive features on their ship, it is a very recognizable ship (even with the name photo-shopped off the hull you can tell it was a Cunard ship), and it is fair to assume the group cruise would be on that ship. It is also fair to assume that consumers would make that same assumption as well. So imagine my surprise to find out the group cruise was actually onboard a Carnival cruise ship, not the ship used to advertise the group.
Most cruise line policies typically require that agencies get ALL group marketing pre-approved prior to publication. Cruise line terms and conditions are pretty clear about how we can use their content and photos. I’m confident Cunard did not approve using their ship picture to promote a Carnival group cruise, nor would Carnival approve using a different cruise line’s ship in promoting a cruise on a Carnival ship.
Professionalism and integrity also extend to the proper use of copy righted material. Several services, including TRO, provide destination guide content for travel agents to use. Some charge for the service, others (like TRO) are free to use. But the terms and conditions are very explicit. The content provided is for us to share with clients via print or email only. Under no circumstances are we allowed to use this content for our websites (TRO does offer a separate subscription service which allows you to embed destination guides on your website). When a travel agent signs up for these services they agree to accept the terms and conditions; not actually reading what you are accepting (or ignoring them) is also not a legal defense.
The issue does not only apply to textual content. Not too long ago Steve Cousino wrote an article about where to obtain photos to use on websites, and the copyright implications of doing so.
The implications of acting unprofessionally, whether by accident or with intent, can ruin your business (being banned by suppliers, having your website shut down for copyright infringement, or having clients feel that you purposely misled them). I know of agent websites completely shut down for copyright infringement. But the unprofessionalism of individual agents can reflect badly on the industry as a whole, and that’s what concerns me.
Protect the professionalism and integrity of your own agency as well as for our industry as a whole. It is fairly simple to do. When you are going to use any material you did not originally generate (whether it is a sentence, a whole article, or a picture) make sure you can use it (and just because you paid for it, doesn’t mean you have the right to republish it). Go back and read the terms and conditions for the source of the material. And when you are creating marketing materials (for general purposes or for a specific group cruise), have it pre-approved by your BDM with the supplier involved. When in doubt, ask. This is not a case where it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
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