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.
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 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.
August 27, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: August 23-27
Two weeks ago, I signed off on the Weekly Wrap for August 9-13 noting that I'd be away on August 20 and hoped the comments would keep pouring in. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Not only did our readers continue the discussion on two then-breaking news items, but new topics of conversation emerged— one of which even inspired comments from John Peters, CEO of Tripology. Let's take a look.
The Ongoing Battle Between Humans & Machines
Peters was the first to comment on an Amadeus report that technology can help agents win the battle for consumers, saying:
Online consumers are time starved and don’t have time for either complicated booking engines or all the useless, generic travel information. Consumers don't want travel agent generalists though - they want a travel professional who specializes in the very trip they’re looking to take. They want someone who has recently been to the destination, who has local contacts and has first-hand experience. They don’t want “I can book anything for anyone.” The days of the travel generalist are numbered. I say, “Specialize or die!” By the way, “cruises” isn’t a specialty any more than “hotels” is. So, if you are a professional travel agent who specializes in either a destination or trip type, you might do very well with Tripology. If you don’t yet have a destination or trip type specialty; get one – fast. I define a specialist as someone who sells a destination or type of travel for which A) they’re an expert B) they enjoy selling and C) make a profit when they do sell.
Jagdeep Bhagat concurred, posting
Human beings are best served by human beings and not the machines. Being Travel Agent (Travel Consultant is a better name) in today's market is a tough job but results can be excellent if online technology is used by travel consultants for better delivery of service and an effective medium of communication rather than letting customer navigate online agencies and search engines for travel products.
Harry Schneider shared his experiences as well, commenting:
We frequently hear horror stories of people booking over the net without realizing all the little and big pitfalls that rather often materialize. In some cases we can help in other cases we cannot. An educated goodwilled agent is worth a lot .Lets get this out to the public.
On the same topic, but featured on a different story, Beth shares her two cents on Ruthanne Terrero's top 10 reasons to use a travel agent, stating:
too true! I hear horror stories all the time from those who "did it themselves". Sometimes, even if you think you're saving up front, you'll pay twice or three times for that savings later. Always use a professional
While it's good to read that consumers are not relying fully on the Internet to book their travel plans, I hope agents are taking note of Peters', and others', comments that speciality and knowledge are key. Show what you've got, but make sure you know what you've got.
Meanwile, there appears to be confusion over at St. Lucia as to whether it's human agents or online travel agencies (OTAs) bringing them all the business. After reading Joe Pike's report on the island's travel road show series, Laura points out an apparent contradiction, posting:
It's interesting that the tourist board would credit agents for their growth, given the fact that they only promote Expedia on their site.
I just checked www.stlucianow.com, the website cited in the story, and I don't see any mention of Expedia. I do, however, see several places where agents can log in to find promotions. Am I missing something?
Two New Comments on Two Big Stories
The biggest stories in the last edition of the Weekly Wrap were that of ME Cancun becoming an all-inclusive property that will offer amenities and access to non-guests and Unique Vacations' decision to terminate its wholesaler agreement with Apple Vacations.
As for the situation involving Unique Vacations and Apple Vacations, Teddi joined the fray, falling in line with other commentators speaking out about Sandals. He posted:
It is about time that Sandals finally discovered that they are not the only game in Jamaica... The Ultra All inclusive just does not give the experiences that our clients expect. Secrets is a great addition to the Hotels in Jamaica. Hopefully Sandals will step up to the task and improve their resorts to reflect the advertising they spend millions on.. Competition is great for everyone
I agree that healthy competition is in the best interest of the industry, including its employees, suppliers and consumers. Hopefully this scenario will accentuate that theory and will not get wrapped up in politics or useless bickering.
Responding to the first comment on the topic of ME Cancun, Nikki wrote:
This is an amazing property and I think this change is exciting. Karen I think the article is poorly written regarding non-guest because I'm assuming it's going to be like any other all-inclusive where non-guest can enjoy the aminities but at a daily fee of usually around $80 per person per day.
Nikki, in regards to your comment of it being poorly written, all I can tell you is we did the best with the information we found. As of now, there are no details about a daily fee or how the property will operate the non-guest policy. If you know (not hypothesize) something we don't, please share and we'll definitely add in the interest of keeping our readers informed.
Speaking of Extra Information
We always encourage our readers and users to share their knowledge on a story, particularly if it adds depth to the information. It appears we are on the cusp of such a situation when it comes to the news that
eTravCo is re-organizing. susan white shared:
Not anywhere in this article does it mention that travel agencies received letters from an attorney telling us it would be usless to go after Etravco and try to get the commissions they owe us. I have the letter and would be happy to foward it you.
Susan, I'll check in with George Dooley about the information of the story, since he wrote it. In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me the letter at email@example.com and I'd be happy to take a look. Sounds like important and useful stuff.
Equal Opportunity to Make Sales
The politics involved in marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples will, seemingly, never go away and, in my opinion, it's best to ignore all the hubub over it. But that doesn't mean that the gay and lesbian travel market should be ignored. Jacqueline Johnson recently addressed this topic with agents and it already received a response from Val, who commented:
Of course,we cannot ignore this market. That's exactly why we decided to spent almost a year to create specific travel guide (Gayjin) for gay audience (for those with iPhones or iPod Touch). While initially it was slow business, today we see that it is a promising market and people are eager to spent they money on quality products (if fact more than average straight person).
While I normally don't enjoy posting comments that are promoting a business, I'm taking an exception here because it directly relates to the issue discussed and could aid agents in profiting from this lucrative market. The info can be found at http://gayjin.info. Check it out, and let me know if it makes an impact on your ability to sell.
As always, the conversation doesn't end here. Keep the comments coming. Post one below or at any of the cited articles (among hundreds of others here at www.travelagentcentral.com). Write us at our Facebook page (where a comment regarding Tropicana Las Vegas has inspired us to investigate the property's relationship with travel agents). Send a tweet to our Twitter page (where Henry Harteveldt, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, commented on our query if 2010 is truly a year of recovery or just a year that's better than 2009). You can always join discussions in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents.
If you share something intriguing, we'll feature it in upcoming stories, like we did when writing about the most outrageous requests clients have made to their agent.
Until next week...
August 11, 2010
2010: Year of Recovery or Just Better than 2009?
At the end of the first quarter of 2010, we asked agents how business was going thus far and many shared positive news. For the most part, we've read several reports that indicate a welcome recovery for the travel industry in 2010:
* The European Travel Commission had a successfull second quarter (which is great considering the Iceland volcano incident).
* Luxury travel is being fueled by demand.
* The top three hospitality data research firms predict positive year-over-year growth for REvPar.
* The cruise industry had good news about bookings and recovery at Cruise Shipping Miami.
* Agencies such as ALTOUR are reporting improvement as well.
But there are those who aren't so confident, warning that recovery may not be coming so soon:
So we are turning to you, the agents and travel professionals, to share with us some insight on what improvement in 2010 means. If your sales are increasing and/or business is expanding, is it because the travel industry is making significant strides out of the current downturn? Or, perhaps, is this good news a tease in that it is easy to tout how things are getting better in 2010 after such a rough 2009?
At our Facebook page, Kerr Berr wrote:
I think it's a year of hope. Our agency has more inquiries than we've ever had, but honestly not many more bookings. Some are taking advantage of good deals, but some have unrealistic expectations or just want to see what's available. So we're very busy, but it's hard to determine who's serious upfront.
We were also thrilled to hear from Henry Harteveldt, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, who tweeted us, saying:
In travel, 2010 is a year that sucks less than 2009
What's your opinion? We want to hear from you. Please post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page, or send a tweet to our Twitter page. Join the conversation in real-time at a specific discussion thread about 2010 at AgentNation.
We'll share your feedback with our readers in special feature stories to come.
July 16, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: July 12-16
Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoy scouring TravelAgentCentral.com to find interesting, engaging and relevant comments posted by readers on the site. But, as I say every week, the conversation doesn't end there. That's way I'm taking the opportunity this week to share what agents, readers and users have been saying where Travel Agent is present in the deeper recesses of the Internet. But before we go there, let's take a quick look at some of the comments that have been posted this week.
Just This One Time
There are many instances where someone will post a comment that, at first, seems like an initiation into a good conversation. But by the time the text ends, there's usually a link listed hoping that our site is leveraged to drive traffic to and promote another site. I'm not usally a fan of sharing such comments in the wrap: A) because it can be a waste of time and B) we're not a marketing firm!
But during George Dooley's extensive coverage of airline ancillary fees and their impact on agents (check out Dooley's latest opinion piece on the topic here), a reader posted a comment that, although it appears to be blatantly promoting another site, could be of use to travel professionals. Commenting on a piece citing the Business Travel Coalition's (BTC) take on the matter, Steven Hall wrote:
I enjoyed your great article on airline fees and I wanted to let you know that since 2008 www.CompareAirlineFees.com has offered an easy to use Airline Fee Comparison tool.
CompareAirlineFees.com is a free web-based airline fee comparison tool helping business and leisure travelers evaluate their options in a straight-forward and logical manner. The site lets you quickly compare airline fees at all major carriers before you buy.
Hopefully, I didn't just waste time and throw someone a bone in vain. I hope this site can aid agents in there operations when it comes to booking flights for their clients.
What Are You Talking About?
Since its acquisition of ITA Software, Google has become an intimidating spot of interest for the travel industry as of late. Related to Google, but not it's latest purchase, is a story at TravelAgentCentral.com that grew some legs this week (and is the focus of our July 19 issue's Trend Watch). Ruthanne Terrero got some inciteful information from Google's industry director of travel about how consumers search online. Someone posted a comment about something, but I don't really know what that something is. Marc Donaldson wrote:
I cannot understandwhat this means:
This term is used over 30 times in this article!
I wish I understood what it meant too, Marc. But a blank space doesn't help much. Looking at the article, I have found a few terms that appear near, if not more than, 30 times: the, travel, consumer, online, a. Is it any of these? Either way, I don't think I can really help you. Sorry.
Bad Guys Busted
As you may have read, 38 people were recently indicted for committing fraud when selling travel. Safe to assume none of you reading this is involved, right? If you were involved, shame on you! You deserve to be riduculed by Bill who shared:
Wow, Look what you get for 44 cents (the price of a stamp) all that protection against identity theft!
As the value of the traditional travel professional comes more to light in the wake of the Iceland volcano crisis as well as the lack of service some find in online travel agencies, it's disappointing to see this story make so many headlines. Hopefully, agents can spin it to remind their current and potential clients about the benefits of using a professional.
Don't Shoot the Messenger
In order to provide travel professionals with as much information as possible to better sale vacations to their clients, we here at TravelAgentCentral.com turn to sources both within and outside of our organization. Sometimes, we share information but spare some details in the interest of space and time, trusting that those who seek more information will click through the links to the respective suppliers and sources. Such did not appear be the same this week when Kim and Misty Ormiston commented on our story about popular vampire themed cruises, saying:
This is fabulous information! My friends and I would DEFINITELY love to hit up one or a few of these cruises (depending on price) =) =) The only downfall about this page is that there isn't enough information. Where exactly are the cruises scheduled to hit and land? What's provided on the boat? How much are the tickets and what do they cover? Discounts? (ex. with AAA card, etc.) PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE email us more info! We are definitely interested however can't make 'the next step' without knowing vital info. Thanks SO MUCH for providing this excellent new "gothic" cruise line ;) :) ~Mintykiss
Kim, Misty, Mintykiss... whoever you are, if you read the piece again, you'll note that Cruise Critic was the source of the information (we provided the link but here it is again in case you want to learn more: www.cruisecritic.com). In addition, we also linked to the respective suppliers: Cruises Cruises Cruises Inc can be reached at www.twilightfanscruise.com; Carnival can be reached at www.carnival.com; P&O Cruises can be reached at www.pocruises.com; and you can reach Viking Cruises by clicking on the link at the end of this piece profiling the line's new itineraries and ship for 2011— but I am going to assume you may have trouble with that, so here's the link: www.vikingrivercruises.com.
By the way, is Misty your given name, Wiccan name, Gothic name, or just what you want to be called? Let me know when you emerge from the beautiful darkness.
Social Community Commentary
Next week, we'll be starting a new feature online titled Keep in Touch with TravelAgentCentral.com, where we'll be sharing all of our latest social media initiatives and interaction in one place for you to find and follow up on with more feedback. But until then, here's what members have been saying at our Facebook page, Twitter page and at AgentNation.
We asked agents on Facebook and Twitter what some of the more popular destination and trip types they have been booking thus far in 2010. Here's what some had to say:
Tracee Grammer Williams: Lots's and lot's of Italy this year!!!!
Serendipity Traveler: Europe and Caribbean
Sharri Moore Cta Ds: European FITs
You can obviously never go wrong with cruises and the Caribbean. It's great to see Alaska cruises in the mix after the state's decision to lower taxes on such vacations. As for Europe, the value of the dollar against the Euro is key right now. If you're selling Hawaii and want some more help, look into the Hawaii Travel Exchange, which just started accepting applications.
Gearing Up for the Games
We also asked on Facebook about what sports events are garnering interest among clients now that the 2010 FIFA World Cup has concluded. The two top items mentioned were the Tour de France and Miami Heat basketball games, obviously due to the Lebron James factor. Of course, there's the 2012 Summer Olypmic Games in London, but I am interested in seeing if the Super Bowl coming to New York is going to pick up any steam.
Sizzling Summer Sales
If you haven't booked any summer vacations yet, and if there's still time, get cracking. According to agents at our Facebook and Twitter pages, the season is bringing in the business. We asked how summer vacation business has been, and here's what some had to say:
At Facebook, Debby Boisse Stevens said business is: Crazy/Busy-much better than last!!!
Meanwhile, HeatherC06 tweeted:, Typically we're slow in the summer, we have been SLAMMED, but loving it of course! :)
Which WiFi and Why?
saykay recommended AT&T, saying it is: bundled with everything else.
But Michael has a little problem with AT&T, regarding an issue I have trouble with as well. He responded, saying
Because I'm on the iPhone, I'm stuck with AT&T, at least for now. The dropped call reputation they have is no myth...it's even worse when you call other AT&T users. But I love the iPhone.
So Andi recommended Verizon because it is: an awesome feature that doesn't use up your minutes!
Somewhere, T-Mobile is crying.
Puerto Rico Points
In addition to feedback on WiFi service, Browne also inquired about travel to Puerto Rico as his friends plan a vacation there. User jeftravel shares some helpful insight, writing:
I did a fam trip with the board of tourism a couple of years ago and one of the things i would recommend is to rent a car and travel the whole island. go beyond san juan. in a car you can see the small towns that are very quaint and quite interesting. don't forget to visit the churches. you might also want to do the rum plant and the forts in san juan (not all of them). the rain forest is nice but the girls might not like to get their hair wet. the flora is worth the trip for great pictures.
One of my best friends (who I saw get hitched in a destination wedding at Killington in Vermont last year) lives in Puerto Rico, and my wife and I plan to visit them soon. Thank you jeftravel, your feedback is certainly going to help us and I hope it helps Michael's friends as well.
Sandals or Iberostar
newjerseytravel asked the following in a discussion thread:
I have a client that can't decide whether to go to the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall in Montego Bay area or Sandals Negril. Has anyone stayed at these resorts and which beach has less rocks, seaweed, seagrass that would danger them from getting in the water.
Wow, this is a really difficult choice. The beaches at both are really clean and well maintained. In May, Sandals added 14 new beach huts that are pretty cool. But I got someone who can answer better than me. Contact Sales Manager Jeffrey Burke (876-957-5216, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Iberostar is also pretty impressive. For a contact there, I'd suggest Luis Velez, inventory manager, at 876-680-0000.
Let me know if you need anything else. You can also e-mail me directly at email@example.com or call me at 212-895-8286.
I visited Jamaica when I wsa six years old, and don't recall what resort we stayed in or what beach we visited. Recently, I had the opportunity to tour Iberostar properties in the Riviera Maya. Based on my experience, I'd say go with Iberostar. But that's because I haven't had the chance to visit any Sandals properties yet, but I'd be glad too! (wink wink).
As always, don't let the discussion end here. Keep the comments coming here at the Weekly Wrap and elsewhere at TravelAgentCentral.com. Stay in touch with us at our Facebook page and our Twitter page, and keep coming back to AgentNation for real time conversation.
And before I forget, and in the interest of shameless plugging, keep in touch with what I'm following in the print edition of Travel Agent. In every issue, the Hot Buttons column goes over some of the more popular trends in the travel industry. Give it a read by signing up for a subscription or get a copy of the digital edition today!
Until next week...
July 09, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: July 6-9
Predators opens in theaters today. I hope the movie is to Predator as Aliens was to Alien— a highly entertaining sequel that does not complicate plot or toy with any franchise story lines. What does this have to do with the travel industry? Absolutely nothing (unless of course you want to send your clients on a vacation to the game preserve planet where the extraterrestial hunters stalk the characters played by Adrien Brody and Laurence Fishburne among others). But at least we are not discussing Lebron James' free agency decision to join the Miami Heat.
So now that you have some inspiration for what to do for entertainment this weekend, let's take a look at what agents and readers have been discussing as of late at TravelAgentCentral.com.
New Cruise Ship & Policy
It was a big week when it came to cruise industry news. Not only did a long-awaited ship make its debut, but one line is changing its advertising policy— which directly affects agents.
Norwegian Cruise Line's NCL Epic took to the waters of New York City last week, and our own David Eisen was on hand to check out the ship. While there, he spoke with Kevin Sheehan, CEO of NCL, about the new area for the cruise line. Although the focus of Eisen's story is Sheehan and NCL's future, one reader took the opportunity to comment about the new ship.
Rick Anderson wrote:
just got back from new york, crused over from london. it is the worst cruise ship i hav ever been on ! should be called pick your pocket. charges for everything,the only thing that saved 7 days of bordrum was the blues club and slam allen. pick anyother ship but this one.
That's disappointing to hear right off the bat about this ship. Are there any agents or readers out there who can report more positive news about the NCL Epic?
As much as Rick is none-to-pleased with NCL's new ship, it doesn't compare to the ire some agents are feeling about Carnival's new advertising policy. As Susan J. Young wrote, "the line won't tolerate any rebating or price inconsistency in any communications— whether mass media or in personal discussions or -emails to guests, effective August 1." In short, agents will no longer be able to provide discount rates in order to entice clients as the cruise line attempts to shift the consumer's focus from price to value. Needless to say, several readers are furious.
There will be many companies that will not honor this plan. They will offer after cruise "rebates" or some other form of discounting. When a company competes on it's service and reputation rather than the lowest price in town it will be a better world for all agencies.
Will this also apply to Carnival's Personal Vacation Planners who often go out of their way to contact our clients and then undercut us?
From the articel: “... the traveling public seems to have zero loyalty to an agency and will book elsewhere for a bottle of wine or an extra coupon booklet."
That _is_ the reality. Customers DO haggle. They DO shop around and often decide based on price. They do change their mind if they can book elsewhere for $5 less. (I've seen it happen!)
Carnival - NOT just agents - would be wise to invest in educating current/prospective clients on the VALUE of the cruises they sell, then shine a great big PR light on the effort.
Look to Apple's web site for a shining example, albeit for consumer electronics. (They also use level pricing across the board.)
Frustrated Independent Agent wrote:
Make no mistake: This _is_ being done in order to get direct business.
It is going to be very difficult for an independent agent like myself to offer perks up front (which customers continue to DEMAND - don't kid yourself). I don't care how often clients praise and refer me for my service and reputation. It means nothing if I have to use increasing amounts of out of pocket expenses in an abnormally cash-flow poor economy.
Bottom line, this does _not_ make it any easier for agents like me to sell, no matter how I slice it.
Very annoyed and frustrated, even more so because I really do like Carnival's cruise offerings. "Insert rock and hard place here!" :(
So Carnival listened to the 'big guys'. They have the deep pockets to book a lot of group space thus offering lower fares and perks, that we can't match unless we discount. This is just a way to weed out the little guys and strengthen the 'big guys' Sad.
Rich Skinner stated:
Relying on rebating is a sure formula for failure. Selling cruising as a commodity is also a formula for failure. Value added service is the only way to succeed. Carnival will sell direct, but let them have all of those money-losing 3 and 4 day cruises. We need customers not disloyal price shoppers.
Cruise rebating was a hot topic of discussion at TravelAgentCentral.com in December and it looks like the issue is back in the spotlight. Many agents have been discussing the issue in real time via a discussion thread at AgentNation and we encourage you to join in.
AMEX's New Benefits?
When we reported on American Express' new advertising policy that evokes the importance of travel agents, it seemed like a great thing for those who sell travel as a profession. However, one reader appears to be confused about the policy, citing the company's previous strategies.
Tharwat Abouraya, CTIE posted:
During Roger Ballou’s leadership at AMEX, the strategy was not to compete with travel agencies in selling travel. AMEX has two arms: 1) seller of travel products & services; 2) issuer of cards which travel agencies accept for payment. The thinking was that non-AMEX travel agencies pay merchant fees to AMEX Card, therefore, AMEX should not compete for their travel revenue at the same time. It is fine for AMEX to promote its card and its benefits, but the call to action in the new ad campaign should say 'book with your travel agent and use your AMEX Card,' not just 'book with your AMEX travel agent.' Was Roger wrong?
I don't know. But maybe a reader out there does and can shed some light?
So You Don't Have to Turn the Car Around
Summer vacations, which are supposed to take us away from the trials and tribulations of the real world, can be so easily ruined if unhappy little travelers invovled. That's why ASTA released tips on traveling with kids, to ensure a smooth journey. In response, some readers have provided extra advice and feedback on the topic.
Eleanor Anderson wrote:
Make sure to have snacks and your own water. I take empty plastic water bottle and fill up at water fountain instead of paying $2.50 a bottle especially when taking children. You never know if your going to get stuck on the tarmac.
Angela Miller shared:
We started traveling with our children when they were 2 and 3 years of age - first to the Virgin Islands where we took advantage of kids clubs - then later to Europe. By the time the kids were 10 and 11, they had been to Europe three times and were experienced travelers and we had learned how to be parent travelers. We had much happier travels once we gave them a chance to offer their input in the planning of the trip. Even as pre-teens they each had an idea of the kinds of sights that interested them. By giving them a chance to include these in our schedule, we were able to keep them both happy and interested. But we found it was also very important to include some down time and play time. A park visit, hike to castle ruins or rides on a merry-go-round can do a lot to make kids feel like they are getting in some play time. And some evenings with TV and room service can also go a long way. Traveling with kids can be rewarding, fun and educational for all.
Nice to see that Angela has mastered the process on traveling with little ones. Hopefully agents can take her story as a solid example when communicating clients. As for Eleanor (are you related to Rick?), great idea with the bottled water, especially regarding tarmac delays (a recent nightmare for travelers).
Safety & Security on Airlines
Since 9/11, and even more so since the attempted bombing of an aircraft this past Christmas, airline security has been a touchy subject among agents and consumers. We found a Travel Leaders study last April that claimed most travelers were okay with the security process, but apparently wimpie is not one of those travelers. He/she wrote:
I have traveled about 20,000 miles by car this year to avoid the TSA Gestapo and their Nude-O-Scopes of Cancerous Death machines. This represents about $5000 or lost revenue for the airlines, and I know I am not alone. TSA is gonna screw the airlines - Good for them.
Wow, someone really hates to fly, eh? I understand the frustration with the process and the concern about the invasion of privacy, but to compare this to the Gestapo is a little extreme. That's the same language politik nut jobs used during the health care reform debate, insinuating that people would be ripped from their beds and marched to death camps. You definitely have a point, wimpie, but take it easy on the paranoia.
On safety matters, not necessarily security matters, there's another story generating some buzz this week as Irish low cost carrier Ryanair is ready to launch flights where passengers stand instead of sit. Innovative or insane? Mj Lunden believes that latter, asking:
Are they crazy?
Yes, I think Ryanair is crazy. They've discussed charging for use of the toilet, offering smokeless cigarettes and have considered charging a "fat tax" to overweight customers. But are they crazy like a fox or crazy like a loon? You tell me.
Again, Back Up Your Claim
The ability to comment on articles here at TravelAgentCentral.com represents how the Internet can truly celebrate the right to free speech as well as accelerate conversations on meaningful topics. Of course, with great opportunity comes, well, open questions. When Meagan Drillinger recently reported on the new Eventi, A Kimpton Hotel, one reader appears to be upset at the information posted.
Your information is all wrong with regards to the restaurant and food parc may want to have the right facts before you run a story!!!!!
this coming from someone who actually knows what is happening..
Here we go again. A bold statement with no information to support it. Dani, maybe you are right about incorrect information. But, as someone who "actually knows what is happening," why aren't you sharing the correct information? You have an opportunity here to open up what may or may not have gone wronge by backing your statement with this insider's knowledge you claim to have. Yet, you don't provide any, which makes you look like a jackass.
I always invite feedback. But if you are going to make claims without backing it up, please don't waste our time.
As always, the conversation never ends here. Post comments below or at any of the cited articles (among others). Send a tweet to our Twitter page (@travelagentmag). Write us at our Facebook page. Join the conversation in real time at AgentNation, the only online social community for all kinds of travel agents.
Until next week...