Every day, we come face to face with ethical issues that we may not know how to deal with. Sometimes, the correct way to proceed is easy and clear, other times it’s horribly clouded and we are left wondering what to do.
One such example came to me not long ago. I recently moved to a new state and in getting settled in, I developed a list of prospects for my niche specialty. One such prospect is someone I knew about before moving up here – I felt he would make an excellent group cruise leader. He has a rather loyal, and large, following, he’s active on social media, and he fits several other of my “ideal” criteria. The problem for me was that he had previously done group cruises with another agency in the city. I felt that I could provide him a better program than the traditional travel agent group cruise program, something that would really enhance his followers’ loyalty and grow his revenues if handled properly. Do I approach him about my program, knowing well and good he’s worked with another agency/agent in the past? I decided not to; poaching clients is not an ethical practice and it could cause negativity to take hold between myself and the other agency. I decided that if the prospect asked me directly about my program, I would tell him, and if he requested my services I would provide them, but I would not aggressively pursue him like I otherwise might. Even now, I wrestle with the question, “Is that TRULY an ethical situation?”
Oftentimes, adhering to ethical standards means you lose out. You lose out on potential business, however good it may seem, or you lose the biggest clients you’ve ever had because you won’t book them the way they wished. Back when I was still a fledgling travel agent, I handled condo reservations for my agency. Clients would call in, and want to arrange condo vacations for large family reunions and other special gatherings. Like hotels, condos had occupancy limits dictated by the number of sleeping beds in the units. A typical 3-bedroom condo unit would sleep six people, and many times a client would say, “Oh that’s fine. The kids can sleep on the floor in sleeping bags. Let’s book it!” I had to decline to book the condo for them based on the information that they would have more than six people in the unit. Not only would I, and my agency, gotten in trouble by the condo management team, but the client would have been at risk had a fire or other serious event occurred. In that case, the ethical situation was clear – but it cost me dearly. The clients in this example were my best clients, a retired company executive who traveled all over the place and took his family on reunion trips each year. It was a big blow to my self-esteem, and to my paycheck, but I knew I was right about the situation.
What ethical dilemmas do you face in your business? Share them in the comments, and your examples may be used in a future column!
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a six-year industry veteran and owner of Exclusive Events At Sea and Journeys By Steve with specializations in group cruising, individual ocean & river cruising, and personalized experiences in Europe, especially the British Isles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.