John Frenaye, founding agent of the JVE Group, Annapolis, MD, won the respect of travel agents and a fair measure of fame when he put up an online petition urging travel agents and industry suppliers to take action against the proliferation of card mills and multi-level marketing companies.
To Frenaye's surprise, the petition made headlines and won the support of more than 2,700 agents from across the U.S., who joined him in opposing MLM companies and card mills—two issues that deeply anger agents. Roughly half of the petitioners added comments.
"The response surprised me—I expected perhaps 1,000 agents might add their support to the petition. Obviously I struck a nerve. The response underscored the depth of agents' anger and ongoing frustration with card mills and MLMs," Frenaye said in an interview with Home-Based Travel Agent.
Frenaye also believes that the response underscored the frustration of travel agents with the lack of professional respect and recognition. "Travel agents work hard and spend a lot of time and money on developing professional expertise. They are justifiably angry when nonprofessionals get recognition and perks."
The petition—followed up by letters to key industry suppliers—was taken at Frenaye's initiative. And it made clear that Frenaye was a special kind of professional travel agent—one who is willing to rise above the day-to-day struggle to build a business and get involved with the industry.
One is tempted to call Frenaye a new breed of a responsible, involved agent. But he is quick to point out that the travel agency industry has long benefited from a tradition of professional agents volunteering their time and talents to associations such as ASTA and ARTA or the NTA or serving on advisory boards.
Frenaye is a "new breed" of agent in that he is very media and technology savvy and adroit in capitalizing on the advantages of the Internet. His JVE Group includes Travels With Fred, a hybrid online/offline nontraditional agency with a group of independent agents who deliver client services.
He began his career as the owner of a Carlson Wagonlit Travel franchise in 1998 with two branch offices and several home-based and onsite locations. By 2001, sales neared $15 million. At the same time, Frenaye began his affiliation with TRIPSO, an online agent forum and MSNBC, the network news affiliate—two connections that continue to this day.
While he ended his affiliation with Carlson in 2005 to go it alone, he developed TRIPSO Forums with more than 4,700 members, 700 of which are travel agents. The TRIPSO forums started as a consumer forum and morphed into a consumer-agent forum. Travel agent participants are validated before they can participate (www.tripso.com).
If this weren't enough, Frenaye then became managing partner of Single Parent Travel (www.singleparenttravel.net), a niche tour operator that specializes in travel for this demographic. The program shows Frenaye's flair for marketing and includes a new Harry Potter Tour to Scotland, cruises, dude ranches and tours to Peru and South Africa. Exotic trips include six to 10 families.
"Travel agents are entrepreneurs at heart. They bring an entrepreneurial drive to the business, whether as a host agency or niche tour operator. They are small, flexible and can respond to market opportunities. These are characteristics that earn respect and admiration." Frenaye says.
What about card mills and MLMs? Here Frenaye is frustrated. Despite the strength of travel agents' response to the petition, supplier response has been largely indifferent. While welcoming pro-agent policy changes by Royal Caribbean International and Carnival, he predicts the issues will be around for a long time. "All we can do as agents is keep the pressure on and focus on delivering quality client service ."