This year, for the first time in many, I have been very fortunate to have been able to travel to a few destinations I sell quite a bit – Mexico and Jamaica. Most recently, after Mexico and Jamaica, I was the guest of another island tourist board and stayed as a guest of the host hotel. Having experienced the whole gamut of FAM trips—from the “quick get on the bus we have 32 more resorts to see before your flight leaves at 5pm” trips to the most recent, fully hosted one—and everything in between; I have made some observations.
First I have to say, that the hosts for all the destination trips were great – however I do think that the tourist board really set a very high bar for others to follow in terms of treating the agents with the utmost respect for our investment of time. They had a very well planned itinerary; yet requests by various agents to use their free time to see a properties that were not on the pre-planned itinerary, were met with superb efforts to make the visits happen. They recognized the purpose of the trip for both of us – to sell more of that island destination – and we do that by seeing the properties for ourselves.
However, a kind word of advice to host hotels is in order. With the tourist board, we were visiting the island in September…in the Caribbean. You could have shot a cannon through the hotel where we were staying. I believe (quite literally) less than 5 rooms besides ours were occupied. We probably would have had a much better impression of the hotel had we been put in the empty ocean front rooms near the restaurant and pool instead of at the back of the property where machinery hummed day and night. It would not have cost a dime more, but the property would likely have earned a bit more respect with the agents. I am not hard to please; I just thought it was a bad strategic decision on their part when there were other rooms open.
I have to contrast this experience with a different experience that many agents were experiencing. A large cruise line, that is peddling very hard to do damage control to their sales and overall image, decided that they would give away some free cruises to travel agents – however there were no sales or educational requirement similar to one of its sister lines. This cruise line created an online registration process and was seemingly surprised when hundreds (if not thousands) of agents and pseudo-agents signed on to snap up a free cruise. From the chatter I heard online, many were disappointed within minutes. To me that exercise was tantamount to going to a city intersection and throwing $100 bills in the air inciting a feeding frenzy. I believe that, ultimately, it caused more disappointment than goodwill– except for the lucky few that got a free cruise. Again, this was a bad strategic decision borne of any real understanding what the real agents (the productive ones that will realize sales) want.
I have found that most agents want something very simple from the suppliers – respect. Respect for the time it takes to know their product; and respect for our efforts to put the client in the right destination or on the right cruise line so that we both have happy clients. Unfortunately this particular cruise line has seemingly developed a view that all agents are created equal. I don’t feel their overall approach is one of respect for what we actually do. In reality, they probably patted themselves on the back and had a celebratory dinner at a swanky restaurant in Miami to celebrate a successful promotion – not realizing the ill will that was created as most real agents thought that there should have been some qualifying criteria beyond simply having a pulse.
So – have any of you gone on FAM trips this year? Did you feel the love like I did or did you have a different experience? Are you getting the respect you deserve from the suppliers?
Barbara Oliver is an 8 year veteran of the industry operating two independent travel companies All Together Now Travel and Romantic Journeys (both currently being redesigned) in the Los Angeles Area. In addition to her agencies she is theLos Angeles director of NACTA as well as a regular attendee and frequent panelist at many trade shows. She has her CTA from The Travel Institute and her ECC from CLIA.