October 23, 2011
French Affairs: Atout France in Miami, Day One
The annual French Affairs conference kicked off in Miami on Sunday, with French tour operators and specialists gathering to talk about the future of the country’s travel industry, and how they all could help it grow.
Anne-Laure Tuncer, the director of Atout France USA, kicked off the event by noting that since French hotels have been allowed to go up to five stars (as opposed to the previous four), many new hotels are working towards earning that extra star.
Visits from U.S. travelers have increased, she added, with expenditure up to $68.3 million. While the economy is still struggling throughout Europe, there are “encouraging signs” of recovery—especially for agents, she noted. Seventy-six percent of agents responding to a poll reported that they had seen an increase in business this year over last, thanks to their expertise, value-for-money and value-for-time (a five minute call, Tuncer noted, can save hours of research). “An agent is a consumer’s best resource,” she added, and said that French businesses would be increasing their investment in the U.S. market.
Antoine Huet, the VP manager for global alliance sales at Air France, said that his company is working towards a five percent growth from 2009 to 2029. Notably, Air France/KLM is launching a mobile app that will work across most service providers (iPhone, Android, Blackberry) for everything involved with flying, from booking to follow-ups after landing. The airline is one of 20 in the Skyteam alliance, and Huet noted that a full three-quarters of global air traffic is now covered by alliances.
Marketing and network seem to be dominant themes of the event, and several small panels were held on various aspects of reaching out to new clients and partners. Nathalie Poto, marketing, travel leisure manager, France Tourism Development Agency, said that the Atout France website will have “self-serve style” webinars next year to educate agents, and Stéphane Ballot, e-marketing nanager for the agency, said that other new tools for e-marketing were also on their way for next year. (He also noted that of the 23 million visitors to Atout France’s website, a full 7 million were from the U.S.)
Gianni Miradoli, COO of Classic Holidays, rather pointedly said that tour operators need help from local tourism authorities in order to better promote destinations, and Poto said that the brand is working with partners to determine where to hold trade shows and other marketing events.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for our continuing coverage from French Affairs.
By: Jena Tesse Fox
July 20, 2011
Travel to Cuba is Now Open ...and I Dont' See a Catch
With three tour operators making announcements to start sending U.S. clients to the once-forbidden destination of Cuba, it’s safe to say the news agents have been waiting to hear for decades has finally arrived.
You can send your clients to Cuba.
Your clients do not have to be a certain age, do not have to have family in Cuba and do not have to be students.
And the catch isn’t really a catch at all.
A trip there needs to be set up through an operator who’s been approved through either the People to People education program or an operator who's been approve to conduct religious education tours. The People to People initiative requires Americans to take part in various cultural experiences in Cuba, essentially, as the name implies, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life in the country.
But one can argue that these are usually activities a client visiting a country for the first time wants to do anyway. Now, you won’t be allowed to just sit on a beach sipping Mojitos for the entire trip, but how many of your clients do you think are going to want to do this anyway? Will they use their opportunity to visit a country they were never able to visit before just to do the same daily activities they could have done in other Caribbean islands for years?
And from reading most of the itineraries from the three operators who have already announced tours to Cuba, the cultural mandates seem to be very loosely interpreted. You won’t have to take classes there or dig ditches for a day. Instead a cultural experience can mean anything from meeting farmers who grow tobacco to driving to dinner in a 1950s classic American car.
With help from the Center for Caribbean Religion and Culture, for the first time, Globus will present travelers a rare opportunity to experience the enduring faith, colorful history and lively culture of this captivating nation with its new itinerary for 2012: Cuba: A Spiritual, Historical and Cultural Journey.
Insight Cuba got the tour operator ball rolling when it announced in late June that it was reauthorized by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to send Americans to Cuba.
Abercrombie & Kent will be offering trips through the People to People program, which was implemented by President Clinton in 1999 and suspended by President Bush in 2004 before President Obama resurrected the program this January.
By: Joe Pike
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.
August 13, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: August 9-13
There's no doldrums in August this year. I expected a long and hard scouring to bulk up the Wrap this week because I'm used to this part of the year involving a slow media cycle among numerous summer vacations. Not in 2010. In addition to a plethora of news that broke, dialogues have expanded and a cursed category of comments just won't go away. Let's take a look.
The Big News
For the travel industry, two significant events took place this week: Unique Vacations terminated its wholesaler agreement with Apple Vacations, and the ME Cancun announced plans to become an all-inclusive resort that allows non-guests access to the property and amenities. Both caught the attention of several readers.
Speaking about ME Cancun's decision, Karen said:
I think it would be okay if the non-guests are there to attend a wedding or family celebration. Otherwise, I would not feel good about staying at a resort where non-guests get the same amenities. I wouldn't book it for myself!
But over at our Facebook page, one agent felt otherwise.
Kerr Berr wrote:
Sounds like a win-win to me! Money from the day pass, and a chance frequent travelers will like what they see & plan a visit there.
Based on the comments at our Facebook page as well as the article, looks like most agents aren't too thrilled about this decision. It will be interesting to see how this business model plays out.
Unique & Apple
The news about Unique Vacations ending its agreement with Apple Vacations broke a day or so after ME Cancun made its announcement, and readers were quick to respond. Both nina and Ken Johnson cite a top resort company when expressing their opinion.
Ken Johnson commented:
All Sandals is doing is hurting themselves.They need every wholesaler then can get to book their properties. it doesn't cost them to do it. They are not wanting to have Apple which owns Secrets,dreams,and,Now to not be in competition with their property since Apple can push people to Secrets.
Looks like Sandals doesn't like the Secrets competition. I smell sour grapes.
Like I said about ME Cancun, it will be interesting to see how this decision plays out. I'm no insider, but I'm sure Pike will keep us posted.
More on Medical Tourism
In the most recent Weekly Wrap (I was out on a three-day vacation last week and will be next week for anyone who actually misses me) the big issue of week was medical tourism. I'll let you check back at was discussed through the link above, but here's the latest addition to the conversation on the matter.
Kathie De shared some news about companies that appear to have a strong footing in the niche already, sharing:
American Marketng Group, parent company of Travelsavers, TWIN and NEST announced their new venture into "Wellness Travel" at their convention in June. They are on the cutting edge of this new revenue opportunity.
Jack Schafer, who spoke with George Dooley in the initial article and added some comments afterward, returned to address a statement made my Kathie (not the same Kathie as Kathie D whose comment is above... at least I think it's not the same Kathie as Kathie D). He stated:
Kathie... WellBeing travel is perhaps the most "forward thinking and capable" travel consortium that is developing a business model to serve the Medical Tourism Industry, and with AMG they have the agencies and resources in place to make this happen. This article speaks of developing the conduit between the two INDUSTRIES - Travel and Medical Tourism, and no one company is going to "own" this $20 Billion industry. Each travel provider will develop their “niche”… and if done right, they will become successful. This is not a one company industry, and the successful blending of the Medical Tourism Industry, into the Travel and Tourism industry is a win-win for everyone – especially those 5 (est) Million patients that are depending on us to get it right.
I certainly applaud Rick and Anne Marie in their ability to foresee the tremendous potential of Medical Tourism. They are Pioneers and exactly the kind of company that the Medical Tourism industry needs.
Looks like a lot of companies are becoming players in this niche travel market. Hopefully agents can take advantage. If anyone out there wants to cite another company of interest when it comes to medical tourism, please share a comment below or at the original article.
A Traveler's Take
The more you know about a property, the easier it is to sell it, or, perhaps, advise against staying at it. Such may be the case when it comes to the new La Plage Resort in Sicily. We recently posted a news brief about its opening, and one reader already has some criticism to share.
Bettina Eisengrein warned:
I have visited this hotel in July: What they do not publish is that the hotel is located directly at the train tracks. Very noisy. The rooms are incredible small: 19m² and that the stuff hardly speaks English. The Beach Club's seating is so narrow that you can hear your neighbours breathing. Not recommendable for the discerning traveller.
That's not the news you want to hear about a new property, but I'd like to play the role of a devil's advocate who has no experience with the hotel in question;
* Being close to the train tracks certainly makes for easy transfers and can save travel time. Is it the train's noise itself that is the issue or does the track's rumbling shake the hotel? Is there a lot of noise from car, taxi or passenger traffic?
* I'm a bit confused about what 19m² means. If it's 19 meters by 19 meters, that's not too small. One meter equals approximately 3.2808399 feet; so 19 meters equals 62.3359581 feet. Multiplying 62.3 by 62.3 produces 3,881.29 square feet. That sounds huge. Perhaps you are saying the room is only about 62.3 feet in total? Now that is small. But then again, it's a boutique hotel.
* It is nice to have staff that speaks perfect English if it is your primary and/or sole language. Perhaps this boutique hotel is targeting domestic travel or authenticity through it's Italian roots?
* Beach Clubs tend to be loud no matter what, right? Combine sunshine, liquor, leisure and customers, and you have a lot to talk about.
Anyone else out there have something to share about the property? Post a comment below or at the original article.
Security for Airports or Passengers?
It's been nearly a decade since airport security became analyzed through the figurative microscope so closely. Privacy and safety are the primary concerns by those one either side of any issue on the situation. In April, Dooley shared some data from a Travel Leaders study that reported most Americans feeling comfortable with the current state of airline security. In July, it received a pretty entertaining from a reader named wimpie, who compared airline security to Gestapo. Now, another reader chimes in on the matter. Mike shares a take on privacy concerns that— using the term very loosely— is semi-similar to that of crazy wimpie, only more sane and diligent, posting:
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.
As the saying goes, the children are our future. So I certainly hope expecting mothers are well aware of the potential hazards of full body scanners. I haven't done the research on potential effects, so I won't blindly assume Mike is 100 percent correct, but it's nice to see he cares so much. Seriously.
The Older Orbitz Story
Orbitz's new program which offers travel agents commissions is a big industry story for 2010. In February, the company's vice president of corporate communications addressed agents and readers at our Facebook page. That same story recently recevied a comment from Anant, who said:
I am not knocking there business model it is obviously successful but I think Orbitz is underestimating the memory of Travel Agents.
I'd like to suggest Anant check out our exclusive report in which Orbitz addressed the traditional travel agent community for more.
Pet Airways is a new service that provides flights for pets only. It's a great service. But we are not Pet Airways and cannot keep answering questions about it. Time after time, after time, after time again, readers post comments on our initial story about the company asking us to work miracles or assuming we are Pet Airways. The latest is Linda Burns who requested:
I need to ship a Collie LA to BALTIMORE---would love to use your service but it is at least DOUBLE any other airline. You say we need an extra large crate--we show and travel and always use a #400 crate - a large medium. Is that why you charge so much? Thank you, also- is the price one way or round trip???? You quote the same for both.....Thank you, Linda Burns
I'm near the end of the plank here. If we get one more reader asking us a question as if we are the airline and not realizing that we are a media outlet that is reporting about the airline, I am going to have to put a disclaimer on the article. And that's just embarrassing.
As always, I hope agents and readers keep the conversations going. I'm out next week but will be back for a Wrap on August 27, and hope I find plenty of user feedback at our site, at our Facebook page, at our Twitter page, or at AgentNation.
May 21, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: May 17-21
While much of the conversation amongst the travel industry of late has focused on such crises as Icelands's hindering volcanic ash or the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, readers have had some positive, if not constructive, things to share with each other at TravelAgentCentral.com in recent weeks. Let's take a look.
Arizona's Air Travel Addition
While the immigration law in Arizona may have kept some suppliers wary of doing business in The Grand Canyon State, it appears JetBlue is not intimidated as the carrier launches service to Phoenix from Boston. It's great news for the state and anyone involved in selling tourism to the region. Clearly, one reader is excited. Diane wrote:
The state of Arizona welcomes you to our state!! Go Blue...
I know my cousin-in-law, who was a wide receive for the University of Arizona's varsity football team, may not appreciate this but isn't "go blue" also the mantra for the University of Michigan?
More Reasons to Tout Your Profession
You may have read Ruthanne Terrero's initial column which offered 10 reasons to choose a travel agent, and you may want some more. So she delivered with 10 MORE reasons to select a travel professional when planning a trip. Most of the readers were glad with the read, as one would expect. Yet two don't seem two enthused. Jane Ellis wrote:
With today's internet, you'd have to be an idiot to do any of the things described in the article. The article is an argument for common sense and minimal research, not for a travel agent.
Andy Jarosz agrees with Jane, commenting:
These are reasons why people with no commonsense should not travel at all. I seriously doubt any sensible people would make these mistakes, and the people who would do these actions would the type of nightmare customers that an agent would want to avoid! Made my laugh though :)
Before sharing some of the more postive feedback, I'm curious if any readers or agents out there agree with Andy and Jane. If so, why and what do you suggest as an alternative?
Meanwhile, readers like Jess Kalinowsky, clearly disagree with Jane and Andy, stating:
With the advent of the internet, digital photography, et al, everyone thinks they can do it better than a professional! If one believes what they read on the net, then, I am sorry, they deserve what they get, a hotel in the boonies, dirty at that! ANd no "life line" to help them! The Iceland volcano eruption solidified our clients forever! Not one penny was lost, and all were re-accommodated or fully refunded within hours!
More "honest" ammunition!
We don't want the conversation to end here. So keep the comments coming, please.
More Feedback on More Tips
Ruthanne's not the only one dishing out top 10 tips to our readers. Last week, we shared a guest column on how agents can build their revenue-generating e-mail lists for marketing purposes and John Frenaye, a frequent reader and commentator at TravelAgentCentral.com who has engaged readers as well as yours truly in conversations before, shared his two cents, saying:
You need to be very careful about putting names into your marketing database manually. Simply asking for an email address at the end of a phone call IS NOT implied consent to receive your email promotions. It is best to have an opt in(preferable to a double opt in) program to keep you out of trouble with the CanSPAM Act.
And putting your sign up form on your Facebook page is very simple and a good move.
Sounds like good advice to me. Anyone object?
More on Vacation Rentals
The dialogue on agents taking advantage of the niche markets that is vacation rentals continues this week, as Susan throws her hat into the right to solicit business from (and for) agents. She posts:
Vacation rental homes are the way to go. We have many guests who will be staying in a home for the first time vs staying in a Disney hotel, they never go back to hotels. We pay a 10% commission to travel agents and are happy to work with them. Our website is www.orlandovacationhomes.com
If any agents are getting new business through Susan's company, or others, please let us know. We want to spread the wealth (but not in Tea Party fear of Obama policies sense). Susan's offer comes on the heels of a new report on how real estate rentals benefits second homeonwers as well. We shared this story on our Facebook page and received feedback from Stephanie Shaw Gregory, who shared:
I have only had a few request for vacation homes here in the Pacific Northwest. One was a coastal home and one a cabin near Mt. Rainier. Neither places had dealt with a travel agent before but we worked it out and the clients loved the properties...
Seems to me like these opportunities are paying off for agents. Let's hope it continues to gain steam.
Susan J. Young is at it again. After writing about potential fuel surcharges on the rise and how they may affect agents, the cruise expert recently explored the notion of inclusive features on cruise ships for clients and what it means for travel professionals. Harold Hodges was the first to reply with some constructive feedback, stating:
While my cruise sales haven't diminished, All Inclusives have picked up even more. Some clients specifically mention that cruises cost more because of all the items NOT included. Since agents know at least some of their client's likes and dislikes, we could sell more cruises if certain items (perhaps even to just a certain limit) were included. $100 in bar credits, onboard credits etc. As the article points out, you must be careful as to what is included, to be sure that you don't exclude previous cruisers on a familiar itinerary. A general credit is probably the best, is of known cost and could be commissionable with hardly any extra effort on the part of the cruiseline.
For those of you agents who are note Mr. Hodges, what's your take? Have you already experienced cruise inclusivity's effects? Is it good or bad for your business? Let us know.
Targeting Traverus, NCL
It's been more than a years since George Dooley wrote his initial report on Traverus, and it's potential place as a multilevel-marketing company. No surprise to me, the comments keep coming in on the subject. There's been a bunch posted over the months, and here's the latest, submitted by Denyse H Turner:
Wow, you all are now defending TraVerus the way "we" had to defend YTB. Feels horrible, right? And since this article was written, some of you have even "seen the light".
I just want to know who has seen this magical light and what exactly is in this light that is so exciting.
But Traverus is not the only company under fire this week, so is Norwegian Cruise Line. In late 2008, Dave Eisen wrote a brief about Kevin Sheehan being named the new CEO of the cruise line and some readers aren't necessarily upset with Sheehan, but aren't too happy with his company. The latest is Gregory Guess who, when responding to another reader's comments, wrote the following:
Good luck getting a response from NCL. I did multiple contracts for NCL and when I needed to leave due to a family emergency they advised me that I could never work for them again if I did. They were correct they will no longer employee me and the worst part is that no one from the company expressed any sorrow for the death of my brother. Great company huh?
Considering the that cruise industry is the bread and butter for most travel agents, this is disappointing to read. I hope your relationships with the supplier improve, if they need to.
Goodbye, Mr. Whitley
As you may have heard, Bob Whitely, longtime president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, passed away last week. In addition to the heavy loss for his friends and family, the travel industry clearly misses the leader. Here's what readers posted on our site to share their thoughts on the man.
I only met Bob and heard him once but remember his kind manner and I appreciated that he wanted to see Cuba opened up for tours which I was glad and surprised to hear him say but his travel experience and professional manner was an inspiration to me and sure to others - He will be missed by many - hope his family has great memories and stories for their comfort
I had the priviledge to know Bob for over 30 years. He was among the true gentlemen in the Travel Indusrty. I will miss my friend and colleague more than words can express but will keep his memory alive with many fond memories
Phil Sheldon, Hanns Ebensten Travel
I participated in the US-Cuba Travel Summit in Cancun last month where Bob was an active participant. He may have been in the industry for a long time, but he was forward-thinking to the end. He was instrumental in trying to bring the various players together to open up American tourism to Cuba in a responsible way. I am grateful for everything he contributed to our industry.
He was a giant. And one of the finest industry leaders ever, My heart goes out to Carol, Kelly, Scott and Shaun.
jack richards, pleasant holidays
Goodbye my friend. It was a privilege knowing you.
Bob Was A real Gentleman and very wise. My prayers go out to his family. Top shelf hall of famer.
Agents have shared their thoughts about Whitley on our Facebook page as well.
Kim Haring wrote:
Sad to know this dynamic man is not longer with us.
David Carnegie shared:
Another of the great Tourism Industry giants who will always be remembered for his Leadership exemplified by his giving spirit. May we all learn to use these attributes from his example. My condolences to Bob´s family and friends. May God Bless You Always.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bob's family, friends and colleagues. The industry will miss him, but it moves on. With that in mind, we hope you continue sharing your thoughts on any topic, whether by posting a comment here at the Weekly Wrap or at other articles. Don't forget to contact us at our Facebook page, or at our Twitter page. Of course, there's always AgentNation, where you can talk about any topic in real time. Until next week...
March 26, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: March 22-26
Most comments I read over the week are posted anywhere but here at the Weekly Wrap. So when someone shares their opinion on a previous column, I prefer leading off the next one with their say. And this week it's John Frenaye, who commented on last week's wrap, saying:
@Kirk, I can;t speak for YTB, but as I have repeatedly said numerous times over the past few years, this is NOT about YTB. This is about MLM.
YTB (for good or bad depending on which side of the fence you are on) is the poster child due to their rapid growth, their arrogance, the fact they are publicly trained, their lawsuits, the consumer rip offs, and the lack of training for most of their participants.
The fact remains, you cannot squeak level upon level of compensation from a 10% industry. The penny can only be sliced so thin.
MLM does indeed work when there is a product that can support the payment structure and it is run and managed ethically.
Rather than taking pot shots at both YTB members and myself, why not do you own investigation and not rely on me, Doug, or any of the other TA sources and present your own conclusions?
And in terms of the hate-hate relationship, I am on very good speaking terms with several people currently involved in YTB--from lowly RTAs to Coach's Corner, to Directors to a few employees. I am friendly with many who have left--also in those capacities.
As to Tracy (who declines to offer her last name, but I do know who it is), I am not looking for your respect. But I do find it interesting that when I make a point, rather than debate the issue, most in YTB will resort to name calling.
Just a correction of a typo...
publicly trained=publicly traded
Thanks for writing John. I don't think I've ever taken any pot shots at you. In fact, I think if you read past pieces that you'll find I've said some fairly neutral and/or positive things about you (after all, you could be one of Travel Agent's most involved and engaging readers). If you do find a pot shot I took against you, please send it my way or repost it below and I'll take responsibility for what I wrote.
As for pot shots at YTB, I have made light of some of the weirder things some of its alleged members have posted here at Travel Agent (especially those that reference their interpretation of God's viewpoint on the matter) but don't attack them directly but instead cite the comments that do so. It is meant to stir the pot.
As for my own investigation on the matter, I'm afraid I may be stepping on George Dooley's toes on the subject as he's the one who has his ear to the ground and the connections to investigate. I'll e-mail him over the weekend to see if I can get him to write somehing new. The man has a long reach and could probably knock me out with one punch if I angered him enough (but I don't see him as the angry type).
Finally, props to you for owning up on your typos. Look around the site, and you'll see no one else really does that.
The topic of the week here at Travel Agent has been how agents and/or agencies can leverage social media to create more and better business. It began last week when Michael Browne wrote about the business of social media, which spawned a couple of comments throughout the weekend and into the following week. The first to comment was Marion, who posted:
It would be so great if I could find a website on how to network FACEBOOK, with detailed instructions on how to network FACEBOOK. I have my page on FB but am confused on where to go from there.
Jeff shared Marion's sentiment, and added some color, stating:
It would def be nice to have a "Social Networking Guideline" but in all reality everyone is sailing into uncharted waters and very few people have a proven track record of how to effectively utilize the technology. I would be interested in knowing what kind of return these companies are seeing from their efforts, or are they just utilizing the social media outlets for customer service, brand marketing, awareness, etc...
After reading the comments, our our Ruthanne Terrero responded very quickly— not just on the comment side but on the content side with her own column about agent success stories on Facebook. I hope this satisfies Marion and others.
Other important comments to note on this matter were made by agents who added their own advice to the social networking discussion.
Rick pointed out:
Social networking can help a company, but you must have a plan for coherent communication with your intended customers. Bear in mind, most social networking is just that, social, so it is essentially an extension of word-of-mouth. You need to provide interesting content and specials that keep your customers coming back to your site(s) to be successful with social networks in a business environment. Worse than nothing at all is a lackluster, confusing trail that confuses your potential customers.
The only downside is IF you do not deliver excellent service, social media can expose that quickly as customers now have the ability to broadcast this experience to other potential customers.
Overall, this technology is a great way to engage customers..but id does take time to learn and see the results.
These are all great points, and the best part about them is that they exemplify the benefits of social media. Without little-to-no time constraints or barriers, agents are swapping tips back and forth right here on our site, and are hopefully making a difference in each other's operations.
While we are on the topic of Facebook, I wanted to point out one of the more amusing comments a fan recently posted on our page when we recently asked our dear readers: Cruise lines say they are increasing their prices in April...is this encouraging your clients to book now?
Golden Robert posted:
Cruise lines are still using the traditional peak season calander. I was in Tampa DEC-FEB on land during the coldest winters that city has ever seen. Enough was enough and I decided to jump land and try to book a cruise for 4d5n f $199...guess what? It was full because every Floridian decided to leave Tampa. Cruise line should price accordingly to global warming or sunami forecasts. News 9 in Tampa has the best radar in the world, they can be the travel agent!
Wow. We were all over how the cold weather in January was prompting more flights and travel to the Caribbean, but this little nugget of an anecdote is intriguing. Looks like agents may have a new backup plan for next winter: Florida residents seeking cruises. My buddy Nicholas Ciarcia must have been one of those cruisers. He lives in Tampa and recently took a trip by sea to the tip of South America. I'm still waiting for his pictures.
BTW, feel free to join in on that topic of conversation (the one about imminent cruise rate increases leading to more bookings now) at our Facebook page or at a thread on AgentNation. While you're at it, don't forget to vote in our poll.
Careful with Cuba
In the interest of transitioning as smoothly as possible from one topic to another, I just mentioned the Caribbean so let's talk about Cuba. As U.S. and Cuba officials met in Cancun this week to talk possibilities about travel between the two countries, there's been news about some tour operators tricking U.S. travelers with shadiness— and Walt is proud to not be one of them, at least in his words, which read:
Unfortunately, there are companies/operators who will try to lure individuals and groups and enticing them to "skirt" the law. The article uses the descriptive "some" for those companies and I for one am grateful for that. My business "Cuba Travel Club" does NOT use that questionable tactic as do other legitimate companies. Having said that, we will welcome travelers from The U.S.A. when they ARE legally able to visit Cuba.
Any travel professionals out there been exposed to shady tour operators selling travel to Cuba? I'd like to hear more about it.
Hot and Cold on Cook Travel
Tour operators selling Cuba travel aren't the only ones under fire here at Travel Agent as of late. Although George Dooley wrote about Cook Travel's success online back in December, some are coming back to either attack or defened the company. Two readers seem unimpressed with Cook.
One chose the metaphorical username Cook/AMEX is the worst, and wrote:
My recent experience with Cook Amex in NYC was the worst travel relationship I have ever had bar none. Poor communication, bad prices that they attempted to add an additional 900 fee for themselves, rude, no skilled staff. Avoid at all cost, remember I warned you.
Sam concurred, with his story:
I called Cook Travel twice and both times my calls were dropped. I wouldn't deal with them again. It was a waste of time.
Coming to Cook's defense is Luke, who shared:
I beg to differ. I use cook a lot for my corporate travel and they're great. If I can't get a hold of someone on the phone, I can always reach my agent via text or e-mail. They're tech savvy and they're real human beings. A lot more trustworthy than a booking engine if you ask me.
I know little-to-nothing about Cook Travel but am sure some of you agents and readers out there do. So fill me in, is Luke right in his defense of Cook or are Sam and "Cook/Amex is the worst" just in their criticism? It's two against one right now. Let's see if someone can even it out or tip the scales more in one direction.
iTrek, I'm Sorry, You're Just A Tool
iTrek's "The Travel Agent is Dead" contest continues to brew storms online here at Travel Agent. First is appeared as if Travel Guard and Chartis pulled the plug on the program, which made the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) very happy. But happiness has gone sour as it appears the contest is, sort of, still on and, on top of that, mocking agents on the iTrek website. This did not please ASTA one bit, nor did it amuse any of our readers.
Yet as some readers seem to be encouraged by ASTA (i.e. DONNA, who wrote I THINK ALL TRAVEL AGENTS NEED TO GIVE THEM HELL SO NO OTHER COMPANY DARES TO ATTACK US AGAIN!), two seem to think ASTA can spend its time more wisely.
First, Murray chimed in:
All ASTA is doing is adding fuel to iTrek's campaign. The more TAs complain, the more it will appear to many people that iTrek's claims are true.
Alan Fiermonte added:
I think ASTA has bigger fish to fry, such as 1) stop losing money; 2) find a new CEO; 3) boost membership rolls; 4) come up with a plan for strategic redirection in the face of continued involuntary dis-intermediation and consolidation of small and mid-size travel agents. ASTA should FOCUS on what ASTA can do for agent business development, not on what others are blabbing about in a stupid contest thousands of miles away in Australia.
Based on Alan's his recent history with ASTA, one may say that he's just being bitter. For those who feel that way, I would like to point out what I wrote about the iTrek situation in last week's column:
Who cares what iTrek thinks? Let them play their didgeridoos, drink their Fosters, and argue about whether Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, or Eric Bana is the bigger stud actor from Australia (we know it's not Mel Gibson nor Orlando Bloom).
I don't care what iTrek thinks, but I certainly do care about two comments posted on the most recent story about the insurance firm. Both J Bartz and Pete gave me a good laugh this week. First J Bartz shared a clever idea:
Why don't travel agents start their own promotion "itrek is dead"? I'm sure travelguard/travelsafe would help promote it!
I think J's definitely on to something. Anyone want to pick up the idea and run with it?
Finally, Pete described iTrek with one of my favorite words this year (especially when it comes to reality television), saying:
I wrote to iTrek after the first attack on TA's. I didn't get a response. What a bunch of tools.
Tools! Based on the behavior I've seen at iTrek's website, I agree with Pete. More importantly, thanks to Pete, I can share with you my opinion on what truly constitutes a tool. You see, there's this reality show on VH1 called "The Tool Academy,"where (mostly) girlfriends sign their toolish boyfriends up for a reality show. The twist is that these guys think they are going on a show to be crowned Mr. Awesome, made the spokesman for a lady's energy drink or employed as the party ambassador to Mexico. Feeding the tools' bellies with alcohol and energy drinks, and feeding their egos with actors who pretend to flirt with them, the show gets these guys on camera acting out... and their girlfriends are watching. At the end of the first episode of each season, the tools are gathered together and told (as fireworks go off) that they are not in a contest to be Mr. Awesome etc, but are about to go through therapy and physical challenges in order to win their girl back (as well as $100,000- how else would they get them to stay?).
The show is the biggest can't-look-away train wreck since Brett Michaels' "Rock of Love." I'm not proud that I watch it, but I'm not ashamed either. It's just too hypnotizing. Just take a look at the clip below and you'll see.
And on that note, I hope to continue reading constructive comments from all you readers. Keep them coming by posting comments below and elsewhere. Write us at our Facebook page. Send us a tweet on our Twitter page. Keep coming back to AgentNation. Until next week.
May 27, 2009
Travel Agent’s Japan Fam Trip, Our Tour Guide Yoshi
I’ve had a lot of great tour guides in my time at Travel Agent magazine but none top the one I had for my Hokuriku & Chubu fam trip in Japan. Yoshi Sadamatsu is a certified, freelance tour guide registered with the Japanese government. He is a native of Japan, fluent in English, funny, smart and is like everyone’s lovable dad. He handled our group of more than 20 people, mostly from different countries, with ease and had fun doing it. This guy was hilarious and truly enjoyed every moment and every site he showed us.
When your guide is truly excited and passionate about his work and his country, it rubs off on the group. He made arrangements to show us some sites that weren’t on the itinerary and worked his hardest to make sure all of our needs were met. It is not custom in Japan to tip your tour guide and may even come across as an insult if you do. So, this is my tip to you, Yoshi, an introduction to some of the United States' best travel agents. When booking a group to Japan, recommend Sadamatsu. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By: Joe Pike
May 26, 2009
On AgentNation: Agents List Favorite European Tour Operators
We asked the members of AgentNation, the only social networking site dedicated exclusively to all travel agents, who their favorite tour operators in Europe were.
“I've been very impressed with Trafalgar Tours. They provide an excellent service, with the tour conductor separate from the coach driver, and adding local guides when possible, for the most local expertise. They have a variety of price levels, so you can get people the luxury experience when they can afford that, or go for the budget option for those who want it. Their package prices are cheaper than I can do it ala carte, even with all the expertise they provide. And they have excellent multimedia support and informational training. They're not quite perfect, in that they don't offer B&B options, which are my stock in trade, but I may be in the minority in wanting something like that. Plus I realize that B&Bs are just not practical for the size of groups they usually do. CIE seems to have some good offerings too, though I don't find them as agent-friendly as Trafalgar.”
Luv2tvl, however, pointed out that choosing the right tour operator depends on the destination: “I use Globus/Cosmos/Monograms a lot for the Escorted Europe in general. Had great luck with the Italy itineraries, Great Britain, Spain/Portugal. For Ireland I usually do CIE or Celtic. They offer good fly/drives and have some cool escorted tours as well as golf tours. I use Travel Impressions for ‘on-your-own’ London, Paris, Italy. People who want to explore specific cities on their own. If you need a good FIT company to put together ‘on-your-own’ multi-cities, I've had great luck with Trading Places Intl. They do all the work of piecing it together for you. I love General Tours as well. Their departures are guaranteed if your clients are the only 2 signed up. I had a semi-handicapped person do an Egypt trip and there were 6 people on the trip and the guide was very good at not rushing ahead and leaving him behind…For car rentals in Europe, you can’t beat AutoEurope. They look at many car companies and give you the best rate…For Adventure travel I use Mountain Travel Sobek.”
To read more responses, or to share your own thoughts on European tour operators, sign up at www.travelagentcentral.com/AgentNation now!
By: Jena Tesse Fox
December 03, 2008
Tauck CEO Announces New Brand at Luxury Travel ExpoDan Mahar, CEO of Tauck, just announced at the Luxury Travel Expo that the tour operator is is launching a new brand in January. Tauck Culturious is geared toward active baby boomers and will engage clients with destination rich experiences that focus, for example on food and wine. Tauck last launched a new brand in 2003 when it created its Tauck Bridges product for families.
By: Ruthanne Terrero
November 22, 2008
Classic Launches Aggressive Programs to Assist Agents
Classic's Million-Dollar Club
Travel Agent's editorial director, Ruthanne Terrero, is on Hawaii's Big Island this week where she's covering Classic Marketing Partners Weekend and touring such properties as the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.
Classic Vacations is taking the challenges in the marketplace very seriously and, as a result, has put a number of strategies into play. The luxury FIT wholesaler, which is currently hosting its top-producing travel agencies at its annual Classic Marketing Partners Weekend on the Big Island of Hawaii, said that one of its newest programs allows travel agents to call Classic if they find a competitor with better pricing on a comparable product. Classic will then turn around a competitive analysis within two hours for the agent.
Additionally, Classic— which sells Hawaii and the South Pacific, Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico, Australia and New Zealand— will continue to place aggressive deals into the marketplace that combine hotel deals, airfare credits and travel agent bonus programs. For example, a current program for Hawaii offers generous value-adds from the local hotel market, up to $500 in airfare credits and an offer to travel agents to earn a $100 American Express gift card after five bookings. Greg Bernd, vice president of sales for Classic, said that that program has become the most successful in the company’s history. A similar offer for Europe was just launched and includes a $500 airfare credit for every five nights; meaning if the client travels for 10 nights, they’ll receive a $1,000 airfare credit. A program is also in the works for the Caribbean.
Tim MacDonald, president of Classic, said that the company will launch a booking engine for travel agents on its website in the first quarter of 2009. This is a capability that Classic’s top producers have been demanding for some time, said MacDonald. Right now, the only way for a travel agent to make a booking through Classic is by phone, he noted.
“This is something we've been behind the times on and we're so excited to have this new capability,” said MacDonald.
This major initiative for the company, which will streamline the booking process dramatically and save a great deal of time for both the supplier and its travel agent customers, has MacDonald optimistic for 2009. In fact, he is confident that the increased efficiency in the booking process will counter the tough times the entire travel industry is likely to face next year.
Classic's $5 Million Club
Times are indeed challenging. In Hawaii, overall visitation for the islands is down 25 percent. MacDonald noted that some of that downturn was spurred by the fact that Hawaii had become an extremely expensive value proposition and that, in some cases, consumers began going to Mexico instead. He noted that Hawaii room pricing had reached new record high rates and that airfares earlier this year were in the $1,000 range. Pricing on both hotels and air to Hawaii have come down recently and, for that reason, the destination will now become more of a value play for clients. MacDonald did warn though that it may take time for the perception of Hawaii as an expensive destination to change.
Other news that may help Hawaii tourism is the fact that the Mauna Kea on the Big Island is set to reopen in December; that property, which has been closed to undergo a $150 million refurbishment, is a long-time favorite of affluent consumers. The Princeville Resort on Kauai, meanwhile, is being rebranded as a St. Regis and will reopen early next year. The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki is set to open shortly after being closed for a $110 million refurbishment.
In the meantime, Classic Vacations will continue to enhance its customer service levels, said MacDonald. The company, which is already known for its top-level service, is focusing on continuously training its reservationists during this downturn.
“The culture of customer satisfaction is a number-one priority at Classic,” MacDonald told the luxury travel advisors at the Marketing Partners event. “Repeat business and referrals are the key to success for luxury travel agents. Delivery customer satisfaction is vital and Classic is dedicated to helping you with that.”
Classic will also launch a series of webinars for travel agents in 2009, to be presented by MacDonald and Bernd. “We will help you get through this time,” said MacDonald.
In other news, Classic announced that it is once again taking group bookings from travel agents. It had moved away from that practice but found that its agent customers were going to other suppliers who did provide the service; that discovery prompted the reinstatement of the program, said Bernd.
MacDonald pointed out to the audience that Classic now only works with hotels in the luxury segment, forgoing anything below the four-star level. He said that that decision was made because, historically, he has found that the vast majority of customer complaints are generated from hotels that are on the two- and three-star level. When working with such properties, “70 percent of the time is spent fixing those problems even though that level of hotels generates only 30 percent of the business,” he said.
Travel agents will also find that Classic has modified the appearance of its brochures. The new look, which features an elegant cover and larger photos inside, was designed to create and aspirational feel to travel to the places it is promoting. “Our hope is that travel agents will be inspired to place these on their coffee tables and look at it as a ‘wish book’ for travel,” said MacDonald.
By: Ruthanne Terrero