Ethical Issues In Travel | TravelResearchOnline


Ethical Issues In Travel

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

  9 thoughts on “Ethical Issues In Travel

  1. Kairho says:

    Marketing one’s services to the customer of a competitor has nothing to do with ethics, morality or anything like that. It is business, and the way business has operated for centuries, especially in a capitalistic environment.

    That other business is a competitor … they want your customers, too. If one catches ethicsitis and doesn’t fight in the marketing arena then no one would be surprised when
    one is suddenly without any customers.

    This is one case where “everyone” does it and rightfully so. Just don’t use the word ‘poach’ and you will feel better about being a competitor.

  2. cindyr says:

    I would also hesitate to aggressively market a prospect that was working with a competitor. However, I would approach the prospect and let them know that I do handle groups and let them know that I am aware they are working with another agency and appreciate customer loyalty. BUT I would also let the prospect know that I am interested in their business should they become unhappy with the services they are currently receiving.

  3. Lori Derauf says:

    I tend to agree with Kairho. You could let him know that you are in town and what you have to offer. Then leave it up to him as to whether or not he wants to talk further. You are just opening up a door.

  4. Dick says:

    Kairho & Lori.. You have a client booked in Suite on a Crystal Cruise who sails this way twice a year. I meet them onboard and interest them in sailing on a future cruise. Now what do you think ? Was I poaching or just being a competitor ? Is it still, OK ?

  5. John Frenaye says:

    I tend to agree with Kairho as well. Dick–that is against Crystal’s policies and might get you disembarked :)….

    The notion that clients “belong” to an agency is ludicrous. It is every man for himself. Now I do think that (continuing Dick’s example) that if he knew the client had ALREADY booked and he offered a discount/incentive to change the booking to him–I feel that is an ethical issue.

    But, in the case of Steve and the potential client–absolutely solicit them. Send them your information and let them know you would love to work with them. Ultimately it is THEIR decision–not yours and not the other agency. Consumers are bombarded with travel messages from your competitors daily–online, newspapers, television, email, direct mail, and from existing relationships. Why would you eliminate yourself from the competition?

  6. Dick says:

    Maybe I should have said an upscale/luxury cruise line and nothing in the future had been booked by this client before our encounter on the ship…..

    Great points John, as usual.. :o/

  7. Ann says:

    I think much has to do with your own personal values also. Every situation is different, but if you adhere to the Golden Rule, there are areas that you will not tred. And I think being true to your values is the first rule of business, even if it costs you some. Ultimately, you’ll feel better about yourself.

  8. Paula says:

    I would introduce myself to the group leader so that he knows what I can do should he become unhappy with his current agency.

    Every winter, I ride a weekly ski bus to our world class local hill. The organizer is a TA. I do not hand out flyers, etc on the bus or solicit biz from the whole group. I do have a couple people who have booked trips with me after hearing an existing client talk about the great trip I created for them and my expertise 🙂

    The owner of the condo/hotel/house sets occupancy due to fire codes and bedding. They don’t expect the wear and tear of additional people. They might have air mattresses or rollaways if asked. I agree it’s best to be honest about the number of occupants for our reputation and for their safety!

  9. Larry Norman CTC, MCC says:

    Steve, I agree with John’s comments. You are in a business and you should work to build your client base everyday. You could approach your prospect and “congradulate” him on being involved in sharing travel expereinces with his following. Let his know that that is an area that you specialize in. Then let him know that you are always interested in improving your working realtionship with your group leaders. Then ask two questions. “What is the number one reason you work with you current travel agency?” and secondly, “Is there anything that you dislike about working with your current travel agncy?” Listen carefully, and tell him you appreciate his honest answers. End by giving him a little teaser…”I’d love to have a chance to EARN YOUR BUSINESS. If I could show you a way to really enhance your followers’ loyalty and grow your revenues, would you be intersted?” Will be hard for him to say no.

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