November 19, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: November 15-19
For the handful of you that have been reading the Weekly Wrap from week to week for the past few years, I'd like to say many thanks for your time to catch up on what readers have been saying. I'd also like to thank all of the readers who took time to share their comments (no matter how crazy), as I've learned a lot about the industry through what has been shared. At the end of the month, I'll be heading up to New Hampshire for a new position at Dartmouth College. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but nevertheless it was too good to pass. I will be training my replacement, Asher Fusco, next week before the holiday, as well as on my last day on Monday, November 29. But before we get all teary eyed, let's take a look at what readers and agents have been saying this week.
American, Orbitz and Travelport
An airline, an online travel agency (OTA) and a travel business services company walk into a bar, and the travel industry goes wild. One of the most controversial stories as of late has been the clashing amongst American Airlines (AA), Orbitz and Travelport about booking fees and processes. Needless to say, many agents are up in arms.
Teri Gilbert shared:
The airlines are no one's friend. Think back to the time of commissions from the airlines when we were considered a 'value' to them (the airlines). We had reps visiting us, we had flight incentives, we had reasons to push one airline over another. When the airlines announced no more commissions did we all stand together? No. Did ASTA help? No. Did we begin a downward spiral for agents and agencies. Yes. If AA gets away with this latest move the rest of the airlines will follow and then where are we going to be, again, at the bottom of the barrel. Fight this. Write and call your legislators. Write the airline and make your position clear. Most of all, take a position, don't just stand by and let the airlines stick it to us again!
Jeanne concurs, writing:
I agree with Teri, it is time agents stick together. I would hope nobody would sign on with AA's Direct Connect. Why should agencies make it any easier on the airlines that make our jobs harder every day? If agents would agree to stop ticketing for just a day or two the airlines might recognize our value.
And then there's Peeved who, well, is perturbed when commenting:
Bruce Bishions had it so right so many years ago. We didnt listen then. How can we expect to pull together now? We should have supported an agent run booking system and our sheer volume would have spoken for us. Shame on us.
Meanwhile, in response to AA's response to the scenario, Carol Feiner seems pretty down, writing:
Once again the small, independent agency is going to get the short end of the stick.
In recognition of Travel Agent's 80th anniversary, we cited this situation with AA as we looked back to the late 1980s, when the airline was promoting travel professionals in its in-flight publications. As one may expect, a reader was not in the mood to celebrate with us as Jack Gaffney wrote:
But AA isn't the only company under fire as of late, whether it pertains to the clash with Travelport or not. Orbitz, based on an unrelated story, is getting some attacks as well, primarily in light of a class action suit against the company. One reader is thrilled with the legal action, as delaide Folks shared:
Thank you for the update. Thumbs up to Mr Shea (Shea is the individual filing the suit)
But not everyone thinks too highly of Mr. Shea, as Sally points out:
Sorry to sound negative, but if Shea had booked his vacations with a reputable travel agent he would not have had this problem. He thought he could do it all on his own and without a travel agent, he is all on his own.
It will be interesting to see how the Orbitz suit and the battle with AA plays out over the next year. I won't be hear to write about it, but I surely will be browsing TravelAgentCentral.com to get the latest update and look forward to reading your comments from a true "outsider's view" moving forward.
Kudos to Cruise Lines
In light of recent hubub over cruise line actions and movements (whether it's direct shots at NCL's Kevin Sheehan or discontent over NCL's sales through direct channels), it was a refreshing change of pace this week to see some readers voice their support for two cruise lines. First, there was Susan J. Young's analysis of the recent Carnival Splendor dilemma and her questioning as to whether the incident will mar the cruise industry. Joe Brandon responded quickly, commending a separate cruise line though, no doubt, endorsing the selling of cruise vacations, stating:
I am scheduled for my third cruise on the Sapphire Princess on Dec. 4th and am in no way worried. The crews on these ships are extremely well trained. As evidenced by this latest issue, they were able to confine an extremely bad situation to the engine room, put out the fires and carry on as best as possible. The fact that no one was injured is phenomenal.
Carnival and Princess have to be happy with that endorsement, probably as much as AMA Waterways must be pleased to read Beverly Rodriguez's comment on Susan J. Young's interview with the head of the cruise line. She wrote:
I have sailed with AMA Waterways several times and I have also sailed with other lines. I must say hands down that AMA Waterways has the best product out on the river. My clients thanked me over and over on what a great experience they had sailing with me in Europe with AMA Waterways. I just took a party of 10 this last August and my clients are still talking about what a great trip that was! I am putting another group together for late summer of 2012 with AMA Waterways. This line just knows how it should be done. I will always be thankful to Rudi for his kind offer to experience river cruising. On time and I was sold on this great way to see Europe.
It's nice to see that there are still plenty of cruise options for agents to proudly and comfortably do business with out there.
One Writer Virtually Responds to Another
Every week, our own Mike Browne writes an insightful column about recent trends in the travel industry. Recently, he analyzed the idea of virtual vacations, citing a book by author, futurist and technologist Barry Shuler. Not only was it a great read, but it received a response from Shuler himself, who wrote:
I just read your blog with interest. Your points are well taken. I address these and more in the book. I’ll grant that some people will favor a traditional physical travel experience, even when virtual travel is viable. But, as the virtual travel experience evolves, more people be astounded by how good it is. Eventually it will be so realistic and affordable, even for an extended leisure experience, it will become a preferred alternative.
The answer to your Nile cruise and Shanghai marketplace question is a resounding YES. I agree that being thousands of miles away from work is not doable virtually. But lying on that beach certainly is. Whether you get called back to work is between you and the boss.
In the book I say virtual business travel will mature within the next 10 years. But, you are right. The “as if you were there” virtual leisure travel experience will happen closer to the 30 year mark than 20. I hope to be around to get your reaction then.
That's pretty cool of Barry to take the time to respond. I hope Mike writes something back.
Get Training As Demand Rises
A recent study by ASTA shows that the demand for traditional travel agents remains strong. This is great news, and is celebrated by Jason Coleman (one of our top 25 agents of 2010), who commented:
As a student of economics, the law of supply and demand suggests that the price for those travel agents (who are in high demand) will go up since the supply is insufficient to meet demand. That's great news for agents on the salary front. Let's see if it comes true in next year's salary survey!
So how can agents stay ahead of the pack as demand increases? How about some better product training? Recently, we received a submission from Karen Dawson of Southlake Travel about what she thinks suppliers can do to better prepare agents to sell their product. Readers appear to agree with what she shared.
Bill Lyons shared:
I believe that Karen makes a valid point. Matching a client to a product will insure repeat business and referrals.
I feel that product training helps us recognize who the potential client for that cruiseline is. If we can't figure it out by the product trainings we are getting then I am not sure you should be selling travel.
Seems like the pro-active agents who push for more from suppliers will develop better business amidst this potential increase in demand. Perhaps you shoudl as well?
So there's no "until next week" this time, but the staff of talented editors here at Travel Agent are going to keep their fingers on the pulse of what our readers are most interested in when it comes to travel. So keep the comments coming. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page. Discuss all things travel in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents. Although I may not be citing your comments every week, anymore, I will certainly be checking back in to post some comments of my own (most of which will hopefully be constructive).
Happy Holidays and have a great 2011!
November 05, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: November 1-5
Yearning for a fresh scare or controversy in the wake of Halloween and the 2010 midterm elections? We've got you want right here in the Weekly Wrap. If you ask me, a scary costume agents could have worn during the recent holiday would have been a NCL cruise ship, or website. Why? Keep reading to find out about why NCL may be a tad scary, among other things.
When NCL announced that 27 percent of its revenue came from direct bookings last week, our own Susan J Young followed up on the story by asking agents and executives what their take on the matter was. Needless to say, several of our reading agents chimed in as well.
Considering that it's NCL I'm not surprised one bit. I don't book them unless the client insists. Too mant past issues with them.
Is anyone surprised at this? All the cruise lines are doing this. Carnival is worse than any in my opinion.
The question isn't what are our "partners" doing to negatively impact our industry, it is in fact, how are we becoming less dependent on them? There are many outlets available besides mass market, let them have their cake.
Not being an agent, I do think major has a point in that this may be a sign for agents to begin bringing their cruise clients elsewhere. Still, it's a shame to see such a major cruise line taking this route.
So Maybe Try This Cruise Line
On the note of bringing your clients to a different cruise supplier, Celebration Cruise Lines, which touts cheap cruises to the Bahamas from Florida, got an endorsement from a reader this week. shawna commented:
I've been on several cruises before with Royal Caribbean, So I do know what to expect! We just recently traveled on this Celebration ship and EVERYTHING was Wonderful! I just don't understand where all these negative reviews are coming from? Obviously from people with UNREALISTIC expectations. The ship was in comparable shape as the other ships we've been on, Service was great-In which the pre-paid gratuities where very well earned. I expect that the pre-paids are a result of low-class individuals that don't offer tips. The food was wonderful, entertainment was Great, Spa service was good. I have no complaints at all .. check in/out was smooth. My advice is to experience it for yourself, I would recommend it to others and I would go again. This was a really neat ship! Don't pay attention to the negative nellies out there, they are the one's that would never be happy if given a million bucks!
Anyone else out there have experience to share about this cruise line?
Google Good for Agents?
While there's been much trepidation about Google's potential entry into the travel industry, one reader is amused by the controversy. Commenting on a story about a new video attacking the potential acquisiton of ITA by Google, Sweet Justice (interesting name) shared:
It is indeed ironic that the online travel providers, the very companies which skewed the marketplace with their own proprietary, preferred airline, non-transparent air fare "deals", are now lamenting the very same fate from Google. Clearly lacking the full content and total picture offering provided by traditional travel agencies, these online travel megasites are crying in their collective beer because someone more mega has found a way to oust their influence in selling air travel. Sounds like sweet justice to me. Consumers are not stupid; they're wise enough to know that their local travel agent is their best resource for booking travel ... and always has been.
Interesting point. But is this a bittersweet victory for agents, if a victory at all?
Angry at AVC
While technology and cruise issues may be frightening some readers this week, a travel company is apparently even more terrifying to one reader. After reading a piece by George Dooley that analyzed the pros and cons of using third parties to generate sales leads or not, Kay took a direct shot at America's Vacation Center, lamenting:
AVC IS A RIPOFF!! Beware. They skimped on the leads and most are not buyers but rather lookie loos. They wont hire agents with no exsperience or recent experience. My friend has a large book of clients but she was out of the industry for a little while. They wouldnt take her or her money.She went with other HB job and she is selling like 650K a month and slipped right back with no problem! WISE AVC your a downright idiots! Glad I left as well the others that left too and went to a competitor to work with!~
Wow on two things: 1. If true, that's a shame of a situation. 2. Kay may want to cut back on the caffeine. As I always say, I am not travel professional but from what I have read AVC has been useful to several agents. Can anyone else here chime in to agree with or politely disagree with Kay?
A Break from Travel
While we don't cover music much here at TravelAgentCentral.com, a recent comment about Australia promoting its YouTube Symphony Orchestra inspired a musician to share his audition tape. I am as much of a classical music expert as I am a travel professional (my studies of guitar, piano and percussion where all rock based), so I can't say if the performance is truly great or not, but I figured it'd be nice to share with our readers. Guillermo commented:
Here it is my audition!!!??http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuAxQXoXUNU??Thank you very much!!
Not bad right?
While the music strings tug at your heart, don't forget to keep those comments coming. Post a new or responding comment below or at any of the original articles. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page. You can also start or join in on real time conversations at AgentNation, the only social community online for all types of travel agents.
Until next week.
November 01, 2010
On AgentNation: Sports, Security, Host Agencies and More
With two months left in the 2010 calendar, we're taking a look at what agents are talking about at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents. Whether it's finding the right host agency or sports travel supplier, or chatting about airport security and group dining options on cruises, agents are asking and answering questions to better their businesses.
Selling Sports Events
The World Series may almost be over, but NFL and NCAA football are in full swing as the NBA and NHL seasons are in their nascent stage. There's also college basketball, among other athletic events and seasons, on the horizon as well. On that note, we're highlight a query from user antybo57 who is seeking feedback on how to better sell this niche. She asks:
Can anyone tell me where do you go or what sites do you use to book for sporting events. Air, room and tickets? i've seen some sites but i am not sure. Can anyone help me?
About a year ago, Travel Agent published a cover story about proftting from sports travel. But we know times change quickly, so we'd like to hear from other agents about their reccommendations for ideal sports travel suppliers.
How Safe is Airport Security?
We've all heard about adjustments that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is making to ensure safety while traveling. A few months ago, we published a story about a Travel Leaders survey reporting that most travelers were okay with airport security. But several agents have expressed concerns, some of which have been shared in Kirk Cassels's Weekly Wrap. We're finding this concerns at AgentNation as well, most recently from travelbabie. She wrote:
Is anyone else confused by conflicting messages about Airport Scanners? I've read that they absolutely do emit radiation (and frankly don't see how they wouldn't) but when going thru security, I asked the TSA agent. Radiation? She said no, none. Any input out there? Tks.
What have you, as travelers, experienced with new security procedures and what have you, as agents, heard from your clients and peers on the matter?
How to Pick A Host Agency
In this economy, agents can use all the help that they can get. But that doesn't mean they'll just partner up with anyone. Perhaps that's why sikoratravel is asking fellow agents for feedback on what host agency she should select of her business. She asks:
Hello, My name is Kathy. I am looking for a Host Agency. I reviewed the black book list from the Agent@Home magazine. Narrowing it down from 55 to 1 is quite a task. I am looking for feedback from travel agents that have a host agency and would be willing to give info either good or bad on their host agency. Thank you.
Fortunately, rekuehn responded quickly, writing:
I have been affiliated with Travel Planners International for the past 5 years and have been very satisfied. They have all the programs I need to work at home, are very responsive to questions and requests for help and the commissions are paid twice a month by direct deposit. It is family owned, and they only host, do not compete with their agents.
Before I joined I made a very long ist of questions I wanted answered and arranged for a phone conversation. Kim Sherrit who is the Agent Liason among other things, was very patient and answered all my questions. They are located in Maitland Florida. Happy to answer any questions that you have, email me at email@example.com
We've heard good things about Travel Planners International. However, what's right for one is not always best for all. Hence, we hope other agents take the opportunity to share their feedback about which host agencies are the best to join, for themselves or for others.
As well all know, cruise vacations can be an easy sell for agents to pitch to their clients. But there are so many factors to keep track of in order to ensure a pleasant experience for the traveler. For instance, there's group dining options. Recently, bsholland shared a recent experience involving a Carnival cruise for her clients and is asking for agents' opinion on the matter. She writes:
I have just booked my first group on Carnival. I have learned that over half of my group is waitlisted for the 6pm dining. How could they not have groups dining together? We are about 5 months out, I am just going to hold my breath that this is going to work out. I don't want to tell my group we may not all be dining together. I'll wait and see what happens. Anyone out there with a Carnival group.... does it usually work out to be OK?
Two agents have already chimed in. CherylAdamo answered:
Have you tried calling Carnival, ask for Groups Dept. and ask them to link the booking number together for the dining room?
I've done three group cruises with Carnival and they have all worked out. It was the last minute passengers
Whether it's group dining on Carnival or amenities and rates at other cruise lines, we hope to continue seeing agents reach out to each other in the interest of making the process of selling cruise vacations more efficiently.
Don't let the conversation die here. Keep communication with your peers at AgentNation, at our Facebook page, at our Twitter page and at our continuous coverage of everything travel here at TravelAgentCentral.com.
October 29, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: October 25-29
I just came back from the IHG Americas Investors & Leadership Conference in Las Vegas and, while there, was enthused to hear hotel industry leaders discuss online travel agencies (OTAs) as a thorn in their side. In the upcoming print issue of Travel Agent, I cite this "thorn" as an opportunity for agents to build their relationship with hotel companies, particularly as hotels are looking for the best ways to build their brand and business as the recession, albeit gradually, begins to fade. Checking out the variety of comments left upon my return only reiterated, to me, the benefit that agents bring to the table in this technological age. So let's take a look.
TripAdvisor may not be an OTA, but it is a part of the new age of the Internet that is irking suppliers across the industry as well. For the most part, suppliers are not fond of the idea that anonymous or non-certifable/non-accredited individuals can potentially mar the reputation of a company or product becuase of their subjective or, perhaps, deviously motivated commentary. On that note, it's a little surprising to read that one agent is taking TripAdvisor seriously enough to affect how she does business. Lorraine Kawoczka did so after reading Joe Pike's personal take on the Verandah Resort & Spa in Antigua, stating:
can not sell the Verandah to a family because of negative comments on Trip Advisor
So, basically, it appears as if a travel agent is letting TripAdvisor control the conversation about the property. Doesn't that go against what being a travel agent is all about? Lorraine, if you are reading this, I'd like to know if you did any research besides TripAdvisor or if you let your potential pitches abotu the property end there? It'd be a shame to let anonymous comments trump your expertise in pitching the property to your clients.
Pike responded to Lorraine's comment, writing:
Are you seriously going by Trip Advisor's advice without visiting the property yourself? That's like Roger Ebert not reviewing a movie because another movie critic panned it. By the way, Trip Advisor is not the most reliable of sites since you never truly know who is really 'reviewing' the property or if they have a hidden agenda.
As you hopefully know, Pike is our Caribbean expert, so I would hope agents take his work seriously. I hope Lorraine's instance is not a common practice among agents.
An Agent's Take Receives Our Respect
On the subject of anonymous comments about selling travel, I'd like to follow up by noting a recent blog post we shared after receiving an e-mail from an agent. After reading up on Travel Agent's exclusive roundtable with cruise industry executives, reader and travel agent Karen Dawson of Southlake Travel contacted us to share scenarios she believes are missed opportunities in training. A reader, named Charlene, commented on Dawson's post, writing:
Interesting. Does this mean I can get my stuff published on Travel Agents Central if I email you?
Charlene poses an interesting question. My initial response is, "Yes, if what you share can be considered of use to agents, particularly if it is based on your experiences which features an analysis that can drive the conversation further."
For instance, we won't just publish anything because it is sent to us. It's not like I'd share a 500-word rant by an agent about a property he or she toured. However, I would share the agent's take if he/she discussed what agents need to better sell said property or what he/she believes the property can do to make it easier for agents to pitch said property to their clients. Make sense?
Agents Follow Up on TSA
In early August, George Dooley penned a piece about a Travel Leaders survey regarding airport security and one reader made a noteworthy comment that I cited in a previous Weekly Wrap. For those too lazy to quick through and read the comment for themselves, here it is again, Mike wrote:
Next month full body scanners are going to be installed at the three New York airports. TSA better put up signs informing the people of the possible health hazard. Most people don't know about the radiation these machines zap you with. Pregnant women are at the greatest risk. The American people have the right to know, and it should be their decision if they want to go through those scanners, they need to be informed though. If signs aren't posted, my crew will be at all 3 airports handing out flyers and interviewing people, letting them know how their government is deceiving them again.
I wonder how it went, and so does reader Kathryn, who posted:
@mike, Did you hand out fliers? How did it go? I want to do this in my area...
Mike, if you're reading this, please share how it went. Kathryn, I'd love to hear how it goes with you in your area. I've traveled to several parts of the country within the last six months (from a trip to Las Vegas in April in addition to my latest stint there, as well as some time in Phoenix), as well as two trips to Mexico. During that time, I haven't run in to any devious situations with airport security. But then again I don't check luggage and, being a blond-haired, blue-eyed WASP who gets a shave and a haircut before every business trip I take, probably don't raise many eyebrows when passing through security. Still, since 9/11, airport security has, and forever will be, changed. If new security measures make the travel process more frustrating or uncomfortable, that's not good for anyone. Hence, it's great to read that people like Kathryn and Mike are keeping a sharp eye on the process. I encourage other agents to do the same, particularly through conversations with their clients.
The TSA was also cited in a recent comment by a reader, this time on our recent cover story about Roger Dow and the U.S. Travel Association. Rick Long provides some inciteful thoughts when posting:
The inbound travel business, like most service business, must rely on repeat and referral business to truly succeed. The acquisition is much lower than marketing to first time visitors. Without significantly improving the arrival experience for inbound visitors, it's of little consequence how much money we spend to promote tourism. Initial dollars should be spent improving a broken system in order for later promotional dollars to be spent more efficiently. It's not rocket science. It's a genuine and sincere welcome to the USA and an efficient arrival experience. Custome and immigrations and TSA must view our inbound visitors and guests and not passengers and treat them accordingly.
I concur, Rick. Well put.
NCL Gets Praise & Criticism
Norwegian Cruise Line has been in the news a fair amount lately, primarily due to the recent CruiseOne and Cruises Inc conference aboard the NCL Epic, in addition to reports of the cruise line releasing new ships in 2013 and 2014. On the topic of NCL's new ships, reader Martin, citing the NCL Epic shared:
The lack of an atrium of any sort made it feel like a suburban shopping mall. The upcharge to even use a suana was a bit much and the pool areas entertainment spots were almost impossible to see from most angles. Entire front of ship cut - off for the "ordinary" pasenger. Only accesible to the upgraded ones. Awful design.
I'll just say that I'm glad Martin is using his own experience, and not comments on TripAdvisor like Lorraine, to deliver his criticism.
Meanwhile, another agent clearly has a different take on the NCL Epic. Commenting on the wrap up of the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc conference, oscarcruises wrote:
Andy Stuart, NCL, and the EPIC ROCK!!!!
That's nice to read, oscarcruises, but could you explain why you feel that way? Just asking.
Join an MLM, Gain a Lover?
It's been awhile since the Weekly Wrap shared somments regarding multilevel marketing firms in the travel industry and, for the most part, I am glad. Most of the time in which MLMs are cited, there's vitriole and more emotional-based comments instead of logical conversation. But this week, there's an adorable combination of both as Nick N notes on Travel Agent piece that asks if you should join an MLM or not:
I enjoyed reading all the comments on the site. To me, MLM is very good.The times and effords you had spent will be fully repaid….ONLY IF you are single. LOL. Let me explain….. About 4 years ago, a girl that I really liked, asked me to join. And I did join…because of her. We went meeting together, had lunch together and finally she became my girlfriend. I told that to my single buddies and they listen to me. One of my buddy got married with a girl he meet at a MLM meeting…. So, if you are single, have problem finding girlfriend, please join MLM. Wear nice clothes, talk professionally, show your interested in there stories, never said a bad thing about MLM at the meeting, you will find your soulmate in no time. Just my two cents, MLM’s members, please dont hate me.
Sounds like MLMs may have a new pitching incentive for people to join. My only question is, what happens if/when your relationship ends? Does your membership in the MLM go with it?
As always, don't let the conversation end here. Keep sharing your comments by posting one below or at any of the original articles. Don't forget to write us at our Facebook page or send a tweet to our Twitter page. You can also join in on or start travel industry discussions in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents.
Until next week.....
October 22, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: October 18-22
Sometimes, the Weekly Wrap is filled to the brim with a seemingly countless amount of comments made by readers and agents. The same can't be said for this week, as only four articles since last Friday have received comments. But I'm not complaining. After all, as the saying goes, it's all about quality and not quantity. So let's take a look.
Someone Sticks Up (Sort of) for Sheehan
Kevin Sheehan, the CEO for Norwegian Cruise Line, has come under fire at times here at TravelAgentCentral.com. In fact, as far back as July 2009, there have been four instances in which readers have posted comments either directed at the CEO or his company (see for yourself: July 2, 2009; May 21, 2010; July 9, 2010; October 1, 2010). But this week is different, as a reader named iimmie notes that how he/she handled her dilemma with the cruise line may have initiated a response others may have sought. Commenting on the announcement of Sheehan becoming the cruise line's CEO, hHe/she wrote:
I had an issue on a cruise and sent off a letter to everyone on the mission statement in January, By February I had a $200 credit for an upcoming cruise and a very nice apology. Use some ingenuity and you can reach people at the top.
Nice to see that nice words bring results. Hopefully, readers with similar problems with the line will take a lesson from this.
When it was announced that Rio de Janeiro would be the host city for the 2016 summer olympics, Travel Agent immediately profiled the destination for our readers. As interest in the city continues to rise among agents, some shared their praise of the location as others are seeking some feedback.
For starters, Thomas Johnson shared a resource to agents that has apparently been valuable to him. He posted:
Good, informative article! I just thought I would add that in addition to the hotel scene, a lot of clients have been interested in luxury apartment rentals.I've used www.HolidaysInRio.com many times because there is no other agency offering the level of luxury these guys can offer. Check out the Ipanema penthouse with private infinity pool, featured in AD magazine, for example. Perfect for entertaining in olympic porportions!
Meanwhile, Mae Young is ready to start selling the destination, but is looking for some help, writing:
good story. I am a travel agent interested in selling Brazil, who can I contact? I plan on visiting Brazil in January or February 2011.
Hopefully, some fellow agents will share their contacts with Mae by posting a comment below or at the original article. But until then, I suggest she visit Brazil's tourism portal at www.embratur.gov.br/site/en/home/index.php.
St. Kitts: Agent-Friendly?
A highly-read story at TravelAgentCentral.com as of late was Joe Pike's coverage of the island of St. Kitts seeking to get agents more involved in selling the destination. Sounds exciting, right? One agent thinks otherwise, as P Jones states:
Not seeing a travel agent friendly website when linked onto address referenced in article. No where on site did I find the words travel agent or travel partners. Possibly the reason for 80% of the booking being made online is that St. Kitts makes no reference to the travel agent community which has tried to promote travel to this island through CTO chapters, etc. Also, I saw no reference in Minister Skerritt's suggested outreach to travel agents on how the islands plans to make this happen.
Hopefully, there's no specific language or content about agents just yet because the island's push to engage agents is relatively new. But St. Kitts isn't alone when it comes to coming under fire for its lack-thereof leveraging of agents. In fact, back in the August 27, 2010 Weekly Wrap, one agent commented on how St. Lucia appears to be working more with online travel agencies instead of traditional agents (check out the original story here). Can anyone else share their take on whether either or both of these islands are making a significant effort to involve travel agents?
Agents Win with Awesome Websites
We're always keeping in touch with technology companies to learn about what agents can do to keep their business strong among the heavy competition brought on by online travel sites. So, when George Dooley penned an exclusive interview with Brian Tan, CEO and founder of Zicasso.com, we were happy to see so many readers chime in so quickly. Not only were agents excited, but so was Tan himself, commenting:
Stay tuned, folks...there'll be a Part 2 to this story in which I'll be sharing some practical steps and nuts and bolts on how to get a great travel agent website built, affordably.
Meanwhile, here's what fellow agents had to say about the article and its content:
Dora Theiss wrote:
Great article on website advice for travel consultants. Blogging and other social media are other elements to provide relevant information to your clients linked to your website. Consistency is the key when using twitter, blogging, and facebook.
James Wang shared:
This article is just fantastic! I have learned a lot from it. I am looking forward to read your second part of it. Thank you!
Janet Engel added:
thank you so much for this article-- Great information and agree 100%. There are no shortcuts anymore. Retail agents that want to remain viable and relevant MUST strengthen their online identity, starting with their website, and then expanding out and embracing all of the amazing social media tools that, yes their clients are already using! Agents must also demonstrate not only familiarity, but expertise in these arenas also!
You all have me highly anticipating part two now, as well. Let's just hope it doesn't follow the traditional Hollywood path of the sequels never matching the quality of the first film.
That's it for this week. Of course, I wish there was more to share but that depends on you, fellow readers. So keep the comments coming. Post one below or at any of the original articles. Don't forget to share your thoughts with us elsewhere, whether it's by writing us at our Facebook page or sending a tweet to our Twitter page. You can also join in real time discussions, and start your own, at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents.
October 15, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: October 11-15
There's nothing quite like autumn in New York. At the same time, there's nothing quite like autumn in New Hampshire (where I spent a few days last week, in case there's anyone who was wondering where the Weekly Wrap was last week). I bet there's nothing quite like autumn just about anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. But as much as New England foliage and sweater weather in the Big Apple are what's on my mind these days, what's more important (at least at this very moment) is what you, our readers are thinking about. So let's get scrolling.
California's Credit, Cruise Conundrum
It looks like Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger is getting out of California amidst all kinds of problems for the state, from budgeting to politics. Welfare is rarely a topic we cover here at Travel Agent, but when Susan J. Young read a report in the Los Angeles Times about welfare money being used to buy cruise vacations, it was indeed something worth noting. Needless to say, the dogs have been unleashed when it comes to comments of frustration and anger. Just take a look for yourself.
What the !!@?? No wonder that state is in suc mess!!!@!@@
FIRST OF ALL, WHO WOULD THINK TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS... ITS ALL KINDS OUT HERE...
Margaret King posted:
That is absolutely insane. Did no one ahead think that use of these cards could be exploited? After the fact, I suppose.
Frank Herdman added:
I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't uncommon in all the states including Florida where most of the ships sail from. I would love to see the goverment look into see how many people on public assistance went on a cruise in the last year or so?Any goverment offical willing to take up the challenge?
karen peterson stated:
This has been going on since 2007? And like a lightbulb of an idea, you now decide this is inappropriate. You, the administrators, are what's wrong with this program. GET WITH THE PROGRAM!
Joe Gray, responding to karen peterson, wrote:
Oh, please, and enough already with your sanctimony. No question such behavior is reprehensible and way beyond the pale. That said, the fact this has gone since 2007 (which I presume is when such state-issued debit cards were introduced) and is only now being discovered is most likely due to no one having thought that such transactions were happening in such magnitude; not due to any willful dismissal of those transactions.
Careful there, Karen Peterson, did you not hear about the fellow in unincorporated Tennessee whose home just burnt to the ground because there was no taxing authority collecting for fire protection services? What program is it you are suggesting to get with? If simple auditing procedures, I applaud your clarion call to action; if something else, I urge you consider the consequences of whatever it is you are on about.
elizabeth Koch commented:
I am a travel agent and earn my living from clients vacation travel but using welfare debit cards is beyond terrible...other Calif residents stay home so they can pay their bills while welfare clients are gambling in fancy ship casinos...reprehensible
I don't think California Taxpayers should be funding Welfare/Unemployment Vacations. Bravo! and about time I say!
Needless to say, there's not much California loving or dreaming going on when it comes to this story. Not only is it a shame to see taxpayers' dollars being monitored so carelessly, it's even worse to think about how much business this incident may have taken away from agents. I hope none of you out there were directly affected in any large manner.
Terrorism in Europe vs. Society in the U.S.: Which is Safer?
Everyone has been well aware of the recent travel alert to Europe that the State Department issued in regards to potential terrorist attacks in the Old Country. After the alert was issued, Jena Tesse Fox spoke to several tour operators, who told us that the warning had little-to-no affect on travel to the continent. Still, there was a report by Onenewspage.com that the alert did, in fact, deter some tourism to the region. One reader, however, seems a little skeptical. Andy Fraser wrote:
About 30,000 US citizens die each year in road accidents and roughly the same number die from guns. How many US citizens died last year from terrorist activities in Europe?
By my count, Andy, the answer is zero. However, just because guns and car accidents have a high death toll here in the U.S. doesn't, in my opinion, mean we should ignore the travel alert all together. Needless to say, 9/11 changed just about everything when it comes to the travel industry and there have been plenty of incidents overseas since (from the train bombings in Spain in 2005 to the attacks in Mumbai in late 2008). I think it's always better to be safe than sorry. In this situation, it appears travelers and suppliers were playing it safe and, fortunately, little-to-no business was lost. In the end, it's great to see consumers sticking to travel plans. Not only does it keep business going, but it's symbolic in showing the terrorists that we are not afraid to live our lives.
A Question on Medical Tourism
Although it's been nearly two months since George Dooley penned his latest piece about the growing niche of medical tourism, the topic remains fresh enough that agents are seeking feedback from other travel professionals. For instance, Henk Bijl appears ready to jump on board to sell medical travel packages, but is curious as to how his business can benefit. He posted:
Extremely interesting. In order to consider business scenarios, what's a ballpark commission from hospitals in destination countries for a facilitator delivering customers?
I think that's a great question, Henk. I'm sorry I can't answer it, but I hope some of our readers can by posting a comment below or at the original article.
ME Cancun's All-Inclusive Decision
One of the most read stories on TravelAgentCentral.com as of late has been ME Cancun's offering of special travel agent rates. As much as that promo is exciting agents, a different policy of the property is continuing to turn heads— it's decision to open it's all-inclusive amenities to non-guests. The topic has been brough up in not just one, but two editions of the Weekly Wrap this year. And here we go for the third time as Robert Paisola, talking directly to Raul Petraglia, managing director of the property, writes:
Raul, Please reconsider this plan We have an incredible property that is EXCLUSIVE. Opening the doors for money will cause uncalculated damages. Look at the art, Look at the way the property is viewed. Is it really worth it?
ME Cancun's decision is a first in the industry. As some readers see it failing, others don't see it as such a bad thing. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Commenting on Two Caribbean Islands
Both Jamaica and St. Croix were cited in comments this week, mostly in a supportive tone. For starters, two readers shared their take on a massive fam trip that recently took place in Jamaica. Geraldine Simpson was there, and is apparently thrilled with the results, stating:
I attended the 9/10-13/10 and it was the best I have ever attended. We had the chance to really experience various properties and excursions and were able to really see the island from many angles. Professionalism of the staff at every venue I visited was at its best. Keep up the good work Jamaica. You have my vote and my clients.
Meanwhile, Richard Post is adding his two cents, reminding agents of another supplier he believes deserves recognition, writing:
Let's not forget about Riu Hotels that also hosted agents and did a great job if I don't say so myself.
I went to Jamaica with my family when I was six years old and I remember it was all I could color/write about in class the following weeks. In 2004, my roommate and grad school went there and had to mind his tongue upon return due to my immense jealousy of not being able to go. In my opinion, Jamaica can sell itself, but it's great to see the island's investment in agents.
In regards to the Jamaica trip, Geraldien thinks such an opportunity would be a great benefit for the island of St. Croix. After reading a report about an increase in arrivals to the U.S. Virgin Islands, she commented:
Having lived in the USVI, I would still like to see them promote St. Croix a little more. Perhaps do a fam such as the one Jamaic did, but of course on a smaller scale since there aren't as many hotels.
Sounds like a good idea to me. Perhaps someone should make a call, or send me the number so I can make the call for them.
Ending with a Nice Endorsement
Ruthanne Terrero recently attended Nexion's annual conference, where she analyzed how the purchase of Nexion by Tzell will affect agents. According to one reader, no matter what happens as a consequence is just fine as long as Jackie Friedman remains at the helm. Cindy Rake shard:
Thank goodness Tzell had the insight to keep Jackie and her crew, they do a great job. Nexion would not be the same nor would it be as sucessful with them. Now if Nexion would just improve the tech department's attitude and response time it would be near perfect.
It's always nice to end the Weekly Wrap on a positive note. But don't let the conversation die here. We always want to hear from you and take your comments to heart, especially if they can benefit other travel professionals in an engaging dialogue. So keep the comments coming. Post them below or at the original articles. You can also write us at our Facebook page or send a tweet to our Twitter page. Of course, you can always participate in conversations in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all types of travel agents.
Talk to you next week...
October 05, 2010
On AgentNation: How to Sell Vegas
It's been awhile since we rounded up some of the latest topics at AgentNation, the only social community online for all types of travel agents. So let's take a look at what's on agents minds and how fellow peers can contribute to the conversation with hopes of supportin each other's business.
Group Dining with Carnival
I have just booked my first group on Carnival. I have learned that over half of my group is waitlisted for the 6pm dining. How could they not have groups dining together? We are about 5 months out, I am just going to hold my breath that this is going to work out. I don't want to tell my group we may not all be dining together. I'll wait and see what happens. Anyone out there with a Carnival group.... does it usually work out to be OK?
We're looking for any travel professionals who have booked groups with Carnival in the past. If you can, chime in at the discussion thread and let her know if you expect everything to work out or if there's something she can do to ensure her clients have a pleasant journey.
Going with A Good GDS, Online Lead Provider
Needless to say, the right GDS can make a world of a difference for any travel agent, be they home-based or not. Hence, stevea's query about choosing the right platform for his agency, one can assume, should hit home with some agents. He asks:
Some publications are talking about the great offers agencies are receiving for renewals- Amadeus is offering me .20 per segment after I reach 2,500. We are small and only produce 2500-3000 per year. Any ideas or input ? What are others getting ? If you don't want to post, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or just call 1-800-869-6588
Looks like the best help stevea can receive here is from any agent working with a less-than-gigantic group of clientele. Who can help him out by answering his question?
Does anyone use online Travel lead services. I am using one with no luck yet. I am looking closely at a site that gives you unlimited leads for $49.00 a month. I don't know if they are any good though. The name is compete4yourseat.com Does or has anyone used this service and if so what is your assesment?
Travel Agent basically endorsed compete4yourseat.com a few years ago, in some manner anyway, when we wrote about the company in the past. The story received a comment from a reader back in June, which relates to stevea's query. The reader, going by the name of Travel, wrote:
There are no feedback on compete 4 your seat, especially on the very questionable travel agency called: "Select Travel Club" which bids through the Compete4yourseat web. There are high suspicions raised concerning the legitimacy of this web and of the travel agency. Could anyone confirm that select travel club is not a fraud?
Between stevea's query as well as Travel's comment, who can chime in about compete4yourseat.com and other online travel lead services?
Vegas, Baby, Vegas!
Las Vegas may be one of the only cities in the world that is a destination unto itself. It's practically one of those places every traveler wants to visit before he/she dies. But that doesn't mean that selling Sin City to a client is easy. Perhaps that's why user sautieri wants some feedback from his peers. He asks:
I would like to see what others are doing to sell Las Vegas. What is your approach? Do you specialze in a particular segment of Las Vegas? Online leads for Vegas seem to be very price driven, do you respond diffrently?
Some agents already responded. j9travels wrote:
Interview your client. The interview could be a simple dialogue to learn their interests. Watch the way they are dressed and mannerism. Ask for the Budget they are working with. For instance my clients were women who wanted to experience Las Vegas but did want to stay on the strip. The wanted to a Hotel with a Spa (lux) and be able to see a show. But be in walking distance of the strip enjoying the sights, restuarants and if they wanted a casino. PH was the hotel for them. Another client he and his wife wanted to be in mist of everything. Luxor fit there budget and lux accommodations they wanted.
as a long time las vegas resident, yes, in many cases it is price driven. you have to explain the difference of being on the strip and downtown, or off strip properties. some off strip are wonderful locations, hard rock hotel, the palms, rio. some local casinos are 4 and 5 star, red rock, green valley ranch. it all depend on what type of experience the traveler is looking for.
These are some great answers which will certainly help our friend sautieri. But I'm sure other agents out there have more to share. So please add your take to sautieri's question when you can.
Who's the Best?
Everyone has their favorite suppliers and companies with which to do business. Sometimes it depends on the relationship with the supplier, the client involved or the itinerary being planned. So when sekhmet asked for some feedback on which tour operators are the best, we wanted so share, in her interest and in ours. She asks:
I am trying to establish relationships with various suppliers/tour operators and am having a difficult time trying to narrow down the best companies to do business with. In your opinion who is the best?
Tour Oprator for each region ( eg Trafalgar, A & K)
Suppliers that offer vacation packages for any region(eg Pleasant Holidays, GOGO)
Who do you like working with in these regions? Add your take at the discussion thread.
October 01, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: September 27 - October 1
When it comes to issues that matter to travel agents, the autumn season is starting off with quite a bang. It's been a bit since I wrote a Weekly Wrap, primarily in part to my recent participation in covering The Lodging Conference 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix (check out www.hotelworldnetwork.com for details). Needless to say, there were plenty of comments to review upon my return, so let's take a look.
When someone posts a comment on a previous Weekly Wrap, I always make a point of leading with it the next week. Rosemary posted a comment on the last Weekly Wrap, focusing on how consumers' search for travel online causes competition for agents, writing:
I wish I had answer, Rosemary, but I'm not travel professional, just a journalist covering your experiences. So I am going to defer to our readers and hope one of them can give you an answer that my experience cannot support.
Shots at Sheehan, NCL
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has received some criticism from readers as of late, most of them posting their take on articles pertaining to the cruise line's CEO, Kevin Sheehan. I'd try to explain, but I'll let the comments speak for themselves.
went on a cruise "jewel" nick for kids. 8/28/10... room was dirty, 8:30 pm they came to keep it. 2 days later we were asked to leave our room so they could clean the rugs @ 8:30 am. When we pulled into port my mother was told that there was no shuttle to take her from the ship so she had to stay behind... she couldn't sit on the balony because they were varnishing it. SHE CRIED THE WHOLE TIME!!!!!!!! when we spoke to someone ( head of hotel mgmnt) he could care less.
carolyn is not alone in her disappointment. When commenting on a nearly two-year-old news item about Sheehan becoming the CEO of the company, TAMMY CAREY, wrote:
WENT ON A CRUISE , HAD BOOKED TO GO TO ATLANTIS, AND HORSEBACK RIDING THE SAME DAY. GOT TO ATLANTIS AND IT STARTED RAINING, AND THE PARK CLOSED. NCL REFUSED TO GIVE ME MY MONEY BACK $596.00 FOR 3 OF US, FOR SOMETHING WE DID NOT USE. WE NEVER GOT OUR TIME TO SWIM WITH DOLPHINS TILL THAT MORNING,. THEY TRIED TO GET ME IN A OFFICE SO OTHER PEOPLE WOULD NOT HERE WHAT TEY HAD DONE. BESIDES ALL THE NO REFUNDS, FOOD WAS TERRIBLE, SEWGE ON THE 8TH FLOOR, JUST A TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE COMPARED TO REAL CRUISE SHIPS. THIS ONE SUCKS.LOOK AT THERE RATINGS.
I think the capital letters alone demonstrate the readers' frustration. It's unfortunate to read these experiences. Anyone out there have a similar or contrarian take on this matter?
More on Cruise West
The news of Cruise West's downfall is a few weeks old but, understandably, some are still coping with the shocking turn of events. Here's what two readers had to say:
As a former CFO and worked under Chuck West , it is very sad to see it comes to this. I did start a new small boat cruise company 14 years ago. It was based on Chuck's basic principal of provide intimate cruise experience with the nature. Chuck's spirit lives on.
Madelyn Tyson of Cruise Planners shared:
I am sorry to hear of Cruise West's need to restructure. Dick West has been a leader in authentic Alaskan tourism for many years. As my husband and I took our photography group on our Alaskan cruise this summer I heard more than one cruiser comment that he wished he could have been able to join Cruise West on one of their Alaska sailings. It's also been a goal of mine to sail with Cruise West. I hope I will still get the chance in the future.
I also am offended by the photograph Travel Central chose to illustrate this article. I do not feel it does Cruise West's superb product justice.
I cannot speak with any authority about the Cruise West situation. But I will note that it was I who chose the image of the stranded Cruise West ship for the story (seen below).
Why? I feel an image of a Cruise West strip stranded on land was emblembatic of the travelers, agents and tour operators who felt "stranded" by the situation. So, that's my bad. Wait, not my bad, my decision. It was not my intent to offend Madelyn or Cruise West.
Cruise Center Call Hours
Another cruise line that got some attention lately was Princess Cruises, which recently reduced its call center hours. For some, it's a schedule adjustment. For Patrick Fok, it's something else. He stated:
Polar supports Princess, Cunard, and Holland America, the three lines we require the least phone contact with. Coincidence?
I don't know if it's a coincidence. But perhaps someone else can add more to this conversation?
Collection of Caribbean Comments
As winter approaches, it's time to start looking at the cold weather getaways clients can find in the Caribbean. One of my best friends, Brad, just spent his honeymoon in Barbados and won't stop talking about the incredible time he had. I wonder if he ran into Anthony Feliciov, Jr. who, after reading news about Barbados' tourism numbers soaring, shared:
Just returned from a weeks stay in Barbados. Beautiful island and will definitely be returning and recommending to many of my clients. Outstanding beaches, great restaurants, and most importantly a very warm and friendly people.
My buddy Brad had the same thing to say about the island and it's people. Any agents looking to learn more abour Barbados should check out our special Featured Channel on the island, where they can get the latest information they need to to sell the destination.
I'm sorry to say Aruba will not be a happy place for me again. It will be a place a girl named Natalie died and was disrespected. So sorry.......But best of luck.
I traveled to Aruba last November, and the Holloway story was unavoidable down there, mainly because anyone I talked to is waiting for that stigma to go away. It's a shame that one incident can mar the island's tourism industry, even five years later. My advice to anyone who feels the same as Joy about Aruba is: get over it.
Again, it's sad. However, if every destination were to suffer due to a lack of tourism after an unfortunate incident that was not directly the fault of said destination, then countless communities would suffering. After 9/11, New York needed tourism more than ever. The same can be said now for the Gulf Region of the United States (just to name another).
Downplaying peoples' misfortunes is not my intent here. My intent is to say that travel brings much needed business (and education) to so many places that those who are able to put bad news aside and still go through with leisure or business travel plans to particular destinations, in my opinion, should be lauded.
Speaking of Tough Situations for Destinations
Let's take Mexico as an example of what I'm trying to say about keeping travel plans going. Needless to say, our North American neighbor has taken a beating over the past few years when it comes to bad news: swine flu, earthquakes, the economy and drug violence that is at the border (not in or near tourist destinations). So when Joe Pike writes about how the country is rebounding, it's interesting to see what some readers have to say about the matter.
First, B.S. wrote:
Ur kidding right? You can't call an inevitable reality "bad press". This is far worse than people living in Mexico are willing to accept. Forget H1N1 or the Mexicana bankruptcy. The reason why travelers from the biggest markets (US & Europe...) are having second thoughts about visiting Mexico is simple: all out violence. The drug war is poisoning it all. No matter what the government tries to say to the world, this will not change overnight and it will only get worse before it gets better.... Nevertheless, I hope the gruesome violence will stay clear from travel destinations in central Mexico and beach resorts so that leisure travelers thinking about visiting Mexico will do so and return as often as possible, taking advantage of the amazing travel deals, service and hospitality that are characteristic of Mexico...
Before I could respond, citing my experiences traveling to the Riviera Maya as well as my time spent in Mexico City, MJ Carr chimed in for me, saying:
The last comment is obviously someone who does not know Mexico well nor travel there. As a US Citizen living in Mexico for 5 years, the press has blown things WAY out of proportion. Who are YOU kidding? Do we tell our own citizens not to visit New Orleans, with a murder rate of 22 per 100,000 now the most dangerous city in the US? Or better yet, should we say don't visit all of the US because of what happens in ONE or a few cities? The violence is almost strictly contained to drugs. Use common sense, stay in tourist areas in daylight, and don't buy our use drugs and you have nothing to fear. The truth is, there is still way more violent crimes against innocent people in the US than in Mexico. Our own press doesn't care to make this known.
But MJ and your friend Kirk aren't the only ones speaking out in support of Mexico. Pike recently spoke with Mexico Tourism Board director recently and (guess what?), the country cites travel agents as a strong reason for it resurgence! Just check out these comments for yourself:
Jennifer Constantinos wrote:
I was in Cabos two weeks ago and the service was superb! That's what my clients are always looking for...
Bryan Alvarez posted:
Mexican destinations are getting better all the time. Customers are asking about other destinations but it's difficult to get the deals that you can get in Mexico. It's important to put things into context since the problems are not taking place all over the country.
luisa Allen shared:
Mr. Sumano seems to forget that in July of last year, Mexico was up to it's neck in the swine flu pandemia, and tourism went down by at least 50%. So the increase is not really that impressive...however, it is good that the correct information about the "violence" is getting out.
Good point about the increase, luisa, and kudos to you for noting that the "violence" is abating. In other words, people, don't stop selling Mexico.
AA Gets an A, from this Reader
For those interested in traveling to or sending clients to any destination in Europe via Heathrow, take note of American Airlines' upgrade of its Admirals Club at the London airport. It received some positive testimonials from two readers:
I can vouch for the renovation. Spent a couple of hours in May. It's superb. A good variety of tasty food, hot and cold, wine beer, liquor, and all of the amenities one could need
Jacqueline Johnson commented:
Great to hear this. It certainly needed an overhaul and update as it was an awful place to visit.
I can only assume that Jacqueline is the same Johnson that writes such insightful pieces about selling wedding travel. That being said, I can attest to how much weight her words carry (hint: it's A LOT!)
It's always pleasant to end the Weekly Wrap on a fun note and this week, it's a "hip" note. It appears that Travel Agent has made a new friend through our report about Travel Insured's light-hearted marketing campaign as of late. Sharing his take on the story was Tony Brent, who wrote:
I'm the Travel Hippie and I think you guys are groovy!
Maybe Tony's complimenting Travel Insured and not us. Either way, thanks for the "free" love, brother.
Whether it's telling us how jive you think we are, how bad you think or choice of pictures are, or what your take is on a matter we cover, we always love hearing form you. So please keep the feedback coming. Post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page. Join the conversation in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all types of travel agents (maybe one day we'll have a movie made about OUR social network, and hopefully it will be directed by David Fincher and scored by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails— I can dream, can't I?). For those who aren't getting my reference, check out the trailer for "The Social Network" below, which opens in theaters this Friday (been awhile since I dropped a cinematic reference).
September 10, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: September 5-10
September truly is a special month. The NFL and NCAA football are officially underway, baseball season is winding down to the playoffs, the kids are off the streets and back in the school room, and it seems as if everyone is back from taking or planning a summer vacation and ready to jump right back in to issues and topics of interest in the travel industry. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a jump in comments and discussion at TravelAgentCentral.com in the coming weeks, so let's dive right on in the what was posted the past few weeks.
Cruise West Woes
This week, Cruise West reported that it was restructuring and there have already been reports of the cruise line laying off employees. It's been a bit of a tumultuous time for many, including Gladys Stout, who posted:
I was very sad to hear of Cruise West's problems. They are a wonderful company, and we have had some delightful experiences with them. I will pray for a healthy restructuring and a return to happy sailing soon! Good luck!
Although I can't speak of any experience shared with the cruise line, I share Gladys' sentiment. Best wishes to Cruise West, its employees, its agent partners and its current/former customers.
A Separate Cruise Crux
As one cruise line has a rough time on its own, it appears the industry in general is giving agents a tough time in general. Susan J. Young wrote an analysis piece on the cruise marketplace as we enter the fall season and one reader is not too enthused about the upcoming opportunities for "Wave Season" sales. Doug Farrell shared:
If I see a lower price and cannot get it, I will not use that cruise line or agent again. It's about time someone stood up for the consumer and offered automatic price protection.
The issue of cruise price rebating/competition etc has been a hot one since we polled our readers about it last December. Then, in July, when Carnival began making moves to equalize pricing, the topic was reignited on the message boards. Clearly, it's not going away anytime soon. So I hope agents and readers continue to share their take on the matter, as I believe it can lead to constructive dialogue which they can leverage to improve their business operations.
Pulp of Politics
Whether it's the cruise industry or the travel industry in general, some stories as of late have inspired some readers to get political with their comments. For starters, there's George Dooley's report on the U.S Travel Association's lauding of President Obama’s new initiative to stimulate economic growth and job creation with a new round of stimulus spending by focusing on America’s roads, rail systems and airports. While some, like U.S Travel CEO Roger Dow, are excited about this news, others, like Mark M., are quite cynical. Mark wrote:
The president SAYS he is going to invest in the infrastructure by spending more money we don't have to improve our transporation system. Well, what happened to the billions of dollars designated for the same purpose in the first stimilus plan? Where did that money go? You would have to be a real fool if you continue to believe ANYTHING this president says. Sorry, Roger.
I always do my best to stay out of political arguments. But I will give Mark credit for posting a comment that is closer to the topic at hand then another comment that was posted on a different story. A similar situation happened recently when Dooley wrote a piece about Royal Caribbean's initiative to encourage Americans to travel more, particularly via a cruise line. A reader, named Jesse, took the story as an opportunity to bash the current and former President, stating:
The President may need to get away, but not as much as he has. He's kicking back during the oil spill and in Martha's Vineyard while people suffer. Same goes with Bush. He vacationed for all of August in 2001. Guess what happened then? He vacationed for August again in 2005, too bad Katrina spoiled his vacation. We definitely DO NOT need any more presidential vacations.
All I'll say is that it seems as if Jesse needs a vacation. The summer heat has clearly been getting to some of our readers.
Acquisition Affects Agents
Big news in the industry last week was the report that Nexion was acquired by Tzell/Travel Leaders. In a separate opinion piece on the matter, Dooley seems to believe this is good news for the travel agent community, particularly home-based agents. But one reader feels the opposite. Bradley wrote:
Does anyone other than me consider this bad for the travel industry? It basically comes down to there being three major power players in the host agency game: American Express, AAA, and now Travel Leaders/Nexion. It may overpower smaller hosts by creating difficult in attracting new travel agents.
Bradley makes a good point. As always, I must remind everyone that I am not a travel professional. So may take on the matter cannot be valid enough. Therefore, I encourage our readers to chime in on this one, whether they agree with Bradley or not.
Agent's Issue with Tropicana Las Vegas Inspires Gripe with Barcelo, Carnival
Every other week, Travel Agent unleashes its bi-weekly Las Vegas newsletter and, to share with those who may have missed it, we always post it on our Facebook page for readers to catch up on the latest Vegas news. So one time when we shared it, we received an interesting slew of comments from an agent who had an unfortunate incident with the Tropicana Las Vegas. We followed up by contacting the property and were happy to see that both the agent and Donna Marcou, the property's vice president of leisure sales, quelled the issue together (with our help of course). The story received a lot of feedback from readers. Sue, for starters, praised Marcou, writing:
I have had the pleasure to work with Donna Marcou numerous times. She always takes care of our clients and is a true partner--always willing to help us increase our business with her. It's a win/win/win for our clients/our agency/Tropicana. Travel agents need to partner with her and other travel professionals who support our businesses.
Meanwhile, Sharon lauded Tropicana Las Vegas' handling of the situation as well, commenting:
Great to hear that Tropical's intent was above board, and I'd venture to say that additional training was probably given.
But that's not all Sharon had to say. She also responed to a reader's comment about Barcelo exercising a practice similar to the incident involving Tropicana. The initial comment about Barcelo came from M.J.A., who posted:
Last year repeat clients wanted to stay at a Barcelo property. I called 2 air/land companies...gave the clients the best rate for the resort they wanted. Didn't hear from clients for a week. Sure sign I'd lost it. Called client ...they called Barcelo & got a "commission free rate". I lost the booking. Agents were livid. Barcelo back-peddled an apology. Too late. Since then, when I receive any thing with the Barcelo name I delete it. Yes, "Shame on them"!
Sharon's response to that was as follows:
As for Barcelo this is distressing since they have hotels in many countries I been working on recommending them as my clients that I've booked in their Riviera Maya properties throughly enjoyed themselves.
So M.J.A responded, writing:
I agree, Barcelo does have resorts all over & glad your clients enjoyed one of tbeir properties. But, I spent time researching the clients' request, then lost it to Barcelo's "commission free rate". Put yourself in my shoes.
Just as Barcelo seemed to be the new target, Paula chimed in about another supplier she feels commits practices that aren't agent family. She shared:
It was this article that gave me the inspiration to write a post on Carnival's FB page with a situation of the same. I immediately received a response from CCL and a follow-up phone call today. Hopefully, by Tuesday the entire situation will be resolved and they will honor my commission on a botched booking. Please read my CCL FB post and thank you for putting this up online for all to read.
Barcelo and Carnival are still not alone, at least according to Gerry, who commented:
I am finding that many hotel chains post rates on their website that are "not commissionable" to travel agents. After recommending the "perfect hotel / perfect location" for a client's trip, and quoting a hotel rate ( for which commission is paid)-- the client can go online and book a lower rate (often this is a pre-paid, non-refundable rate) -- but if the client is definately going, they will select this option -- and are satified that they "found a deal" without the travel agent. It saves them about 20% off the agent quoted price. The "non-commissionable rates" happen with Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt, Choice hotel chains. This practice of "non-cmmissionable rates" is becoming more common. Agents need to be careful!
As much as we are thrilled to see that our efforts helped the Tropicana situation and inspired one reader to bring up her concerns with Carnival, it is disturbing to see agents suffering from such incidents. We'd like to hear more from agents that have encountered similiar situations, either by posting a comment below, writing us at our our Facebook page, sending a tweet to our Twitter page or joining the conversation at AgentNation. We want to hear from you, and help you.
We Can Only Celebrate You If You Participate
In case you missed it, we recently shared our Top 25 Agents of 2010 with the community. We were thrilled to receive so many nominations, as much as it made it difficult to pick just 25. I mention the nominations because it appears as if Andy Pesky, senior vice president of Protravel International, feels he was overlooked, stating:
No sour grapes as they say but did anyone interview or ask anyone at Protravel Intl? Being perhaps the largest upscale agency in the country there are some extremely talented, knowledgeable and sophoisticated high quality agents sitting amongst the 900+ agents that make up Protravel. Just curious as CWT Travel seems to be your #1 choice? Andy Pesky, Sr.Vice President
I responded to Andy's comment on the article, writing:
All potential candidates either submitted an application on their own or were represented in the contest through a peer's or client's submission of their name. We received all nominations openly and picked the best from the pool we received.
I'd like to also point out to Andy that Robert Becker of Protravel was one of our top 25 agents of 2009. I'm sure if Andy nominates himself, or if someone nominates him, next year that he'll make the list. So just remember to submit your nominations. And speaking of that, if you know an agent under the age of 30 (or are an agent under the age of 30), then submit nominations now for our third annual 30Under30 campaign, where we profile the best of the youth in the industry. You can submit nominations here.
As always, I hope the comments and conversation don't end here. Keep your opinions coming. Post a comment below, write us at our our Facebook page, send a tweet to our Twitter page or join conversations in real time at AgentNation.
Until next week...
August 30, 2010
Agent's Gripe with Tropicana Las Vegas Resolved through Facebook
If you're a fan of our Facebook page, then you may have noticed an interesting situation taking place there on Friday, August 27 of last week. As we always do with our destination-specific newsletters, we shared a link to our most recent Las Vegas newsletter at our Facebook page and received an interesting comment about it. Well, the comment wasn't so much about the newsletter, but more about a particular supplier in the city: Tropicana Las Vegas. Here's how it went down.
Diane McIntye Mason posted the following at our Facebook page:
Well, I spent 3 months talking 6 ladies (3 rooms) into going to Vegas for 3 nights prior to their UTAH Spa week and then after convincing them it would be a great pre-spa add on, we started checking rates at all the hotels. They asked me a...bout the TROPICANA and I quoted the rates as posted in the GDS, CCRA and as well as what was posted on Tropicana's own website. The client decided to register on Tropicana's website to learn about all promotions and instantly received a e-mail reply from them stating that if they book directly on Tropicana's Website OR call Tropicana directly to book their stay and mention a promo code they would save 30%. The client forwarded the e-mail to me and of course I called the number at Tropicana about this and asked "does this cut the Travel Agents out of the picture then so that we don't earn any commission?" and the agent said "YES!" SO I personally advise all Travel Agents to BAN together and Bocott booking or recommending the Tropicana to your clients as the STEAL bookings from the Travel Agents! SHAME ON THEM!
To add some validty to her argument, Diane shared a story in which a similar incident apparently took place, writing:
A well known travel writer reported this incident (or so I was told) to the LVCVB .... if actions like what the Tropicana did are allowed to happen, I will cut off selling Vegas completely! I can easily sell cruises & all-inclusives and ma...ke much more money! I have received promo offers in the past (as a past guest) from both the Mandalay Bay and the Venetian and have called both as an agent and would have been able to sell the offer as an agent and receive commission. Don't know if that's the case with all the promo's that these 2 hotels always send out - let's hope it is! The hotels in Vegas need to understand that if you BITE the hand that feeds you, then we will stop feeding you!
Needless to say, this set off a miniature firestorm from agents who were ready to stand behind their peer and boycott the property along with her. Although Travel Agent's initial concerns remain the interests and well-being of our readers, we were not about to cover this story without speaking with representatives from Tropicana Las Vegas or its public relations firm, Ruder Finn.
So we contacted them, sharing a screenshot of the ongoing conversation among Diane and other agents, and asked for a response. Ruder Finn sent us a response from Donna Marcou, vice president of leisure sales, which read:
Tropicana Las Vegas has always supported travel agents and continues to reach out to them with the latest news, offerings, and packages that are commissionable. Due to a miscommunication, one of our call representatives wrongly stated that the specific package on the website was not commissionable, when in fact it was. Once it was brought to our attention, we immediately reached out and offered the commission that was due to the agent for recommending her clients to experience the new Tropicana Las Vegas. We also welcome and encourage the agent to experience the transformation that is happening at the Hotel
On Tropicana Las Vegas' behalf, Ruder Finn added:
Tropicana Las Vegas does make every effort to reach out to travel agents and know that they are an important part of the travel experience. Not only do they have a dedicated phone number for agents to call, agents are also added to the hotel’s personal press release distribution list (those who opted in), on a monthly basis agents in the program also receive an eblast with the latest updates and special offers. For the most part, ALL packages promoted on the website are commissionable to travel agents.
So we came in Monday morning all excited to share the update and see what agents, Diane, in particular, had to say. But it looks like Tropicana contacted the agent before we could post this story, as Diane shared:
Let me update what has happened---- Travel Agent Magazine must have forwarded a copy of this blog to the media reps of the Tropicana because this issue was a huge discussion by the GM's of the hotel this morning. They were not happy to hear about the experience that occurred with me & my clients and especially the fact that I did call and spoke with their in house resv agent and was advised we were cut out of the picture. There's a GREAT VP of Leisure Sales onboard at the Tropicana that is very PRO travel agent and she said that she is there to work with us and build a great agent relationship with the hotel...if anyone out there runs into any challenges with this property and can't resolve them the normal way, I strongly suggest you contact Ms. Marcou and let her know of any conficts your having as she really wants to build a strong relationship with us.--- of course be professional and don't waste the woman's time with the things that other people can handle. Tropicana is working things out with me and I thought it only right to fill you all in and let you know how quickly they jumped in to let me know that what happened was not their standard operating procedure. Thank You TA Magazine for stepping in as well and forward the blog to the appropriate people as well!
We're thrilled to see that Tropicana contacted Diane to address this situation. It was our pleasure to help you Diane.
This scenario is yet another represenation of how Travel Agent, through our print publications, online stories and social media outlets, can be there for travel professionals and our readers in any way that we can. Hopefully, it will remind our readers, fans, users and friends to keep checking in at our Facebook page, our Twitter page and at AgentNation (the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents) to share issues of concern to them. As we did with this situation involving one agent's experience with Tropicana Las Vegas, we'll do what it takes to help your operations. So please, keep your feedback coming.