Thank you again for the all of the comments and replies to my last article, “What are you” and the continued responses to “Protecting the Travel Professional”.
As I read through the comments and emails, I began to think about preferred suppliers. Yes I do use them. This is not a controversial topic, but the question is, do you use them exclusively and if so, why or why not?
When I was an employee of an agency, I was told I needed to use preferred suppliers as much as possible and other colleagues told me they were required to use preferred suppliers exclusively; which begs the question, what if your client wants something different and a preferred supplier can’t offer an option? Do you turn away business because you can’t offer a non-preferred option, or try to change the client’s mind to fit the preferred option?
If the idea is to only use preferred suppliers and the client wants something different, you are not really serving the best interest of the client; but that of the agency, travel company or consortia. And there are many reasons why a preferred supplier might not be a good fit—bad past experiences by the client, non offered destinations, flight connections, hotel accommodations, etc.
When I started out on my own, I joined a consortium partially for the relationships they had established with some of their preferred suppliers. I was a little dissuaded in that their message to me was loud and clear—yes, we accept your membership, but you have to maintain a certain level of preferred sales in order to maintain your membership. The benefit is the level of compensation; but I was still conflicted and it just was not a good fit for me to be pressured to sell a product that I did not feel may have been the best fit for a client.
When I finally made a change to another consortium earlier this year, I felt it was a better fit, but the message was the same, sell the preferred, which I did, but not exclusively. After so many years in the business, I also had developed relationships with non-preferred suppliers including inbound tour operators in different countries which are able to offer options desired by my clients that are simply not available in a standard preferred supplier offering.
I have been with the new consortium for six months now and I am finding that the focus is not necessarily on the support of the travel professional, but their self -interest and their direct benefit from a preferred supplier override. Again, I am not saying that selling preferred suppliers is bad, and we are in business to earn a living, but there are alternatives; and as the business model shifts to a lower compensation, we need to look to alternatives to earn a living. Not only do we need to include the professional fees, but we need to look to other vendors who want to do business with you outside of a consortium’s preferred agreement.
I use the preferred suppliers, but not because they are preferred, but because in my professional opinion, they are the best fit for my client. I think it is easier to sometimes pick a preferred since everything is right there for you, rather than research to find perhaps a lesser known option that is a better fit, be it a smaller company here in the states or overseas.
Let me illustrate. Below is an email received from a client after a trip I planned for them. While consulting, I could have used a preferred supplier and come close to meeting her expectations for this trip. But, I took the other route and did my research and located an inbound operator in Croatia that allowed me to hit this one out of the ballpark.
I just wanted to let you know that we are safely home from our Albania trip and what a fantastic time we all had. Truly an adventure (driving not for the faint of heart!) but the logistics all went so smoothly, thanks to you. We were totally satisfied with all of the hotels we stayed in, they really exceeded expectations.
Thanks again and look forward to working with you again in the future!
And I will take that type of email any day of the week.
Sometimes a preferred supplier is a better fit and sometimes it is not. In my case, I do many independent itineraries, so a combination tends to be the best fit for the client. But the sale takes work and does not simply come from a brochure or an online website. Sometimes the best solution is not a “preferred” supplier, but a lesser-known (or even unknown, but that is a whole different topic) supplier.
What is your situation and how do you feel about preferred suppliers? Do you use them exclusively as required by your agency, consortium, or own policy? Or do you go outside the box?