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Woman's Day Walks Back on Travel Agent Article; Travel Leaders RespondJuly 17, 2013 By: Jena Tesse Fox
In response, Woman's Day posted the following amendment to the article on its website:
Thank you to all the hard-working travel agents who provided feedback on this story. The goal of this article was to inform consumers on how they can get the best prices on travel. Helping readers find value is Woman’s Day’s main objective, and we recognize that travel agents provide valuable services that help women’s vacation dreams come true. We’re very sorry if that didn’t come through with this article. We’re happy to say we will be highlighting these services in the October issue of Woman’s Day magazine and in a story in December on WomansDay.com. We’ve thoroughly reviewed this article and have removed point 9 (about airline commission) based on information you provided. We thank you again for sharing your expertise and doing the great work that you do. We’re looking forward to working with some of you closely on our December online feature story.
Other industry associations have spoken out as well. Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben, Vacation.com/Travel Leaders Leisure Group President John Lovell, Nexion President Jackie Friedman and Travel Leaders Franchise Group President Roger E. Block all penned letters to Susan Spencer, the editor-in-chief of Women's Day, which are reprinted below.
From Barry Liben – Travel Leaders Group CEO:
Dear Ms. Spencer,
No doubt you have seen the hundreds of comments regarding your recent article, “10 Things Travel Agents Won’t Tell You.” While we appreciate Woman’s Day’s attempt at taking a deeper look at the travel agency profession, unfortunately there were more than a few missteps and major errors in the article.
Just like any other business, travel agencies are founded on repeat business and are built on serving the needs of the customer. We want nothing more than each client to walk away from their experience – whether it’s an around-the-world cruise or a visit to the relatives – to be memorable. It all begins and ends with what we do to ensure they have the best experience possible, including their experience with us.
Steer our clients wrong once and they’ll never come back. But give them what they want, the way they want it, when they want it, and we not only have repeat customers, but we have them for life. Unlike online travel sites, we get to know our customers and serve them in their home communities, providing them peace of mind right from the moment they begin thinking about where they’d like to go, right up until they safely return home.
We’re there for our clients throughout their journeys when – all too often – the unexpected can occur, including when flights are canceled and the online bookers are left to fend for themselves. That also extends to the valuable peace of mind when we provide special travel insurance overseas that will cover them for medical care and evacuation that simply isn’t covered by most health insurance policies, contrary to your story.
While we don’t represent or speak for the entire travel agency industry, Travel Leaders Group is an $18 billion powerhouse in the travel industry, having grown dramatically in just the last five years from a $6 billion per year company to where we are today. Travel Leaders Group now comprises more 30% of all travel agencies in North America that are wholly-owned, franchised or member agencies. All totaled, Travel Leaders Group ranks as the largest traditional travel agency company in the United States, and we take our leadership position in the industry – along with the millions of satisfied customers we serve – very seriously. It’s particularly notable that we’ve achieved that without the pervasive use of advertising, but instead through strong word-of-mouth, which stands as a testament to how our clients view us and our expert travel counsel.
I trust you’ll be hearing from many others, including leaders from our various divisions and individual agents who work tirelessly on behalf of their clients. While many will no doubt be irate, I would ask you to please contact us whenever you’re writing any travel story in the future, allowing us the opportunity to provide important perspective from some of the world’s best-traveled people in the industry.
Barry Liben, CEO, Travel Leaders Group
John Lovell, CTC – President of Vacation.com and Travel Leaders Leisure Group:
Dear Ms. Spencer,
The article, “10 Things Travel Agents Won’t Tell You,” has created a considerable uproar, not only among the countless women (and men) whose top priority is to provide travelers with the utmost care, but especially among their valued clients whose intelligence is being questioned in such an offensive and misleading manner.
First and foremost, any bona fide travel agent professional will tell you that their clients and their clients’ needs always come first. Ours is a business built on relationships and referrals.
· We are advocates for our clients – We provide “peace of mind” and we’re there with you every step of the way from the moment you begin planning your travel up until you safely return.
· We save travelers time and money – We maximize and protect your investment, including during your trip when invariably the unexpected happens.
· We provide both expertise and a human touch – We are trained specialists who have extensive travel backgrounds, we listen to our clients to know what they really want and we personalize the process and tailor it to each individual client.
While I take issue with most of the article for misrepresenting the way travel agents do business – to say nothing of the way it takes online agencies off the hook for their spotty customer care – I’ll focus on the very misleading opener that states, “They’re making major commissions.”
With a little bit of research, it would be quite clear that the days of travel agents making significant commissions on travel bookings are long in the rear view mirror. While some commissions do still exist, the travel agent professionals I represent – not only through Vacation.com and Cruise Holidays, but also in our wholly-owned locations – will always work with their clients to match the right products and services to their specific needs. That’s why building relationships is so important – to truly understand what the client likes and dislikes and what they would find value in for their discretionary spending. The clients’ needs come first; it is as simple as that. And once that relationship is established, it’s all about maintaining their trust and confidence.
Today, most travel agents and travel agencies make money by charging professional service fees. Just as you would pay a trained professional if you needed a plumber, or lawyer or doctor, travel agents are paid for their expertise, knowledge and counsel. Think about it, would you really place much value in free advice from a lawyer or would you trust a doctor who dispensed medicine for free? Another way to look at is that just because you can access clippers and scissors doesn’t mean that you are necessarily equipped with the skill to cut your own hair.
Trained travel agent professionals are worth their weight in gold. Our travel agents are passionate about what they do, they actively seek out opportunities for additional training – such as specialization certification for destinations, niche areas of travel (adventure, golf, accessible travel), and specific supplier training just to name a few examples.
Good travel agents do all they can to provide top-notch knowledge, experience and service to their clients. They are trained, passionate professionals who understand their clients and their client’s needs. We are an unbiased advocate for our clients and offer them peace-of-mind when it comes to their travel plans, whether they are for business or pleasure.
Because this is the hallmark of what we do, I certainly invite you to contact us the next time you’re writing about travel agents or any other travel story you’re preparing. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how our knowledge and passion will show through.
John Lovell, President
Travel Leaders Leisure Group & Vacation.com, LLC
Jackie Friedman, CTC, CTIE – President of Nexion
Dear Ms. Spencer,
It was with great interest that I read Anne Roderique-Jones’ story, “10 Things Travel Agents Won’t Tell You.”
I know I’m not alone in being absolutely horrified that a publication with such a proud tradition of supporting women would actively malign an industry notable for being led by female entrepreneurs. Even more perplexing is that it is shilling for the most faceless, impersonal way of booking travel via online travel agencies that contribute nothing to local communities across the country in the way travel agents do.
Please note that in Nexion, the company I lead, we have over 3,000 hard-working, dedicated travel agent professionals. Nexion is known for providing these travel agents – who are in every single state through the U.S. – a host agency from which they can better serve their clients. Not only is the overwhelming majority of our Nexion agents female, but since the vast majority of travel decisions are also made by women, the female influence in our industry cannot be overstated. Women are helping women create memories to last a lifetime. (But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out that regardless of gender, all of our Nexion agents have their clients’ needs and best interests in mind. That’s the foundation from which their businesses are built.)
While most of your article does not accurately present the facts, I was particularly surprised by the assertion that “They can’t book (or price) all airline carriers (without booking a whole vacation package).” That is simply untrue. In fact, our agents can and do have access to invaluable, proprietary tools that enable them to book all airline carriers regardless of packages. Additionally, any of our experienced agents can book air regardless of whether they have an IATA or CLIA number – they’re able to use ours. Also, our agents’ clients gladly pay the nominal fees they’re charged because they know they have an expert advocate working on their behalf throughout the course of their travels.
Booking travel online is no longer viewed as the panacea it once was. In fact, travel is all about personal connections – something the online travel sites have never been able to replicate. We are proud of the personal relationships our agents have built, one client at a time, to meet each one’s individual needs.
I hope you’ll take some time to get reacquainted with the enormous value that travel agents truly represent. We have so much expertise to share at little to no additional cost than booking it yourself. Please feel free to reach out to me whenever you’re writing any type of travel story. I stand ready to assist you.
Jackie Friedman, Nexion, LLC
Roger E. Block, President, Travel Leaders Franchise Group:
Dear Ms. Spencer,
After seeing the firestorm that’s been created from the highly incendiary story 10 Things Travel Agents Won’t Tell You, I’m writing to tell you one critically important and constructive thing to be of assistance. The travel agency community is a very proud one that takes incredible pleasure in making their clients’ travel dreams come true.
Travel agents would never want to do anything to jeopardize the enormous faith and trust their clients place in them. It’s not only about the booking process, but the personal relationships they have forged with their clients in pinpointing the right experience at the best value. We want our clients to “Travel Better.” In fact, that’s the promise of the Travel Leaders brand, which has hundreds of full-service travel agencies across the United States, and we take this promise very seriously.
I realize that you’re hearing from many of my colleagues refuting various points throughout the article, but the two incorrect things our travel agents would most want me to tell you about are, “There’s not much advantage to booking a package with a travel agent over booking online” and “A travel agent won’t necessarily find the best price.” We couldn’t disagree more with either assertion.
On the first point, when you book online, you are on your own. If a problem arises, good luck getting a response from sending a request through the “Contact Us” online form or email address, or getting someone on the phone who has a vested interest in helping correct the situation. Travel agents are unbiased advocates for their clients. Travel agents work hard to ensure all travel arrangements go off without a hitch, and if something were to happen, they are with their clients every step of the way – before, during and after the trip. Travel agents are a traveler’s personal “safety net.”
You may not realize it, but there are many major travel wholesalers who provide excellent tour packages only through travel agencies. Their rationale is simple: they know that travel agents have the knowledge and skill to pre-qualify their clients to ensure that they’re matched with the right experience at the best value. Countless packages are available exclusively to travel agency clients that can significantly reduce the overall price of what consumers might be able to do on their own. After all, travel agents do this day in and day out.
They’re skilled and knowledgeable, and yes, they invest time and energy not only in familiarizing themselves with product throughout the world, but immersing themselves in it. To match the right consumer with the right agent is why Travel Leaders offers our Agent Profiler online at www.travelleaders.com – this way, consumers can speak directly with an agent whose knowledge on a particular destination or specialization can provide additional confidence and peace-of-mind by knowing their level of expertise up front. And by the way, a growing number of those agents are available online for “live chat” to better counsel consumers on their choices.
On that second point, many times travel agents can and do find better prices than individuals can find on their own. But make no mistake, the lowest price doesn’t always equal the best value. Additionally, our travel agents have access to special amenities that are not available to the general public – for example a room upgrade, free Wi-Fi and/or free breakfast at a hotel, shipboard credit on a cruise ship along with exclusive shore excursions, spa credits at a resort, etc. So the overall value of the vacation is far greater than what someone could book on their own.
Our industry really does take pride in delivering the best possible travel experience, literally and figuratively, to our travelers. With the high percentage of repeat customers, we must be doing something right.
Finally, we realize that you may be getting bombarded by many angry travel agents and travelers alike, but we always want to make ourselves available to your reporters and assist them. We’ll always do so in a respectful and constructive manner. Please feel free to contact us at any time.
Roger Block CTC
Meanwhile, the American Society of Travel Agents posted the following response to the article:
"Here are some facts about the over 100,000 U.S. travel agency workers, 67 percent are women, many of whom are your readers. The ‘typical’ travel agency is a small businesses run by people with a strong service orientation and love of travel. It’s true that some charge fees for certain services, yet those that do use a transparent, straightforward fee structure. Travel agents are in one of the most competitive markets in the world where consumers have many options and access to research offering unparalleled transparency. No professional travel agent can (or would) do what the writer suggests and get away with it. ASTA’s conclusion: before publishing more stuff like this, get the facts. Woman’s Day has embarrassed itself, but didn’t have to. We would have been glad to speak to your writer about the real facts about our industry. By the way, the major online agencies are ASTA members too. We embrace all forms of retail sellers; each serves the portion of the market that it seeks. In the end, consumers decide. Last year U.S. travel agents of all kinds sold $84.6 billion in air sales. Must be doing something right."
Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the website as "WomensDay.com." It is "WomansDay.com." Travel Agent regrets the error.