Looking Ahead: Wish List 2007

As the New Year quickly approaches, Travel Agent has its eye on the industry's future. We asked insiders for their New Year's wish list: What would you like to see from your travel industry peers in 2007? 

Paula Hayes

Club Med North America

Paula Hayes, senior vice president of sales, Club Med North America, has two "wishes," one for agents and one for agencies. "We're aware of how often agents have needed to reinvent themselves in the past," she says. "I would like to see agents either continue or renew their interest in education. It's important for agents to remain current with their suppliers."

Paula HayesHayes ticks off the various opportunities Club Med offers agents to remain up-to-speed: the Club Med Sales Specialist training program, road shows, fams, agency visits from the company's inside sales team and DSMs.

"As far as agencies are concerned," says Hayes, "I'd like to see them really value their partnerships with suppliers. There's a choice of preferred suppliers out there, and we all know the competition is fierce." Hayes counsels agencies to ask themselves: Is it going to be a profitable relationship? Has the supplier allied their business strategies with you?

"Look at it honestly and carefully," says Hayes. "No matter the size of the agency, you can still be a big fish with a supplier."

Marj Abbott

Martin's Travels and Tours

Sometimes the slightest improvement can make all the difference when it comes to upgrading the relationship between an agent and a supplier.

Marj Abbott

For Marj Abbott, an agent for Martin's Travel & Tours in Los Angeles, suppliers need to get rid of the middle man on the phone (or the middle prompts, for that matter). Abbott, who has been an agent for nearly 25 years, says before she gets a good contact for a tour operator, she usually has to jump through hoops to get someone on the phone.

"Once you get to know a particular supplier, then you know exactly who to call and what extension they're at," she says. "Before you get to that level, I usually find myself waiting to get someone on the phone for at least 10 minutes. It doesn't sound like much, but anytime I lose during the day is big."

Abbott also says she wishes suppliers would a bit more technology savvy. Without mentioning names, Abbott says she recently tried to book with a supplier who told her it couldn't book airlines or hotels through that particular airline or hotel's web site, only to do it herself shortly after.

"I really don't think a lot of suppliers know enough about booking online," she says.

Chuck Maida

All Seasons Travel

If left up to Chuck Maida, purchasing a cruise over the Internet wouldn't even be an option. That is because the president of All Seasons Travel in Jacksonville, FL, finds it unfair when an Internet site undercuts his business by selling cruises at discounted prices.

Chuck Maida

"There needs to be a level playing field as far as pricing," he says. "We do business the old-fashioned way; we speak to clients before booking."

This is just one of the things Maida would like suppliers to know in the New Year. He believes there are many things suppliers can do to help agents sell more travel, and, by doing so, suppliers can boost their own sales.

One of these is to offer more onboard value-adds. Maida says something as small as a bottle of wine waiting in each guest's stateroom can go a long way to attaining repeat business. Other products, such as a Disney Cruise Line's memory box, can go a long way in creating a memorable cruising experience.

While value-adds are important, pricing integrity probably trumps it. Travel agents such as Maida have done a tremendous service for cruise lines by extending booking windows. However, as a cruise gets closer to embarkation, many suppliers will promote new discounted rates, which are less than what customers may have paid when they booked far in advance. Maida says that it's imperative that lines then extend those rates to existing bookings.

"If the rate goes down, then I should get that," Maida says. He does say that DCL is one line that will reprice for him. And although this may reduce Maida's commission, in the long run it will keep customers coming back to him. "I am much better off with them coming back, telling their friends and getting referrals, than getting a higher commission," he says. "Yes, I want the best sale, but more important, I want future business."

Maida would also like to see more marketing support from suppliers, such as performing mailings on agents' behalf. Tweaking web site booking engines to make them more user-friendly would also benefit Maida, who says that there is more flexibility booking through a suppliers' web site, rather than a GDS.

Bob Dickinson

Carnival Cruise Lines

Besides being one of the largest private wine collectors in the United States, Bob Dickinson, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, also knows a thing or two about the cruise industry. And, just like a fine wine, Dickinson has cultivated many opinions over his years in the industry—he's been with Carnival since its inception in 1972—on how travel agents can best sell cruises.

Bob Dickinson

While wine collecting is steeped in esoteric terminology and laborious study, Dickinson's recommendations to travel agents are less confusing. "The first thing to do is learn how to sell," says Dickinson. "Agents need formal training, and there is always a need for more." Proper training, says Dickinson, will allow an agent to be less of an order taker and more of a vacation shaper.

"When someone comes in about a resort vacation, they tend to come right out and say, 'How about Vegas or Orlando?'" Dickinson says. "A successful agent will qualify that client instead, asking he or she questions such as: What are you looking for? How many are in your party? How have you vacationed in the past?"

Dickinson says asking these questions allows an agent to conjure a vacation recipe, which, more often than not, a cruise can fulfill better than a resort or destination. A strong agent, he remarks, will be able to say, "'I can give you what you are looking for, how do you feel about that?'" Dickinson also cites trust between a client and agent as a major deciding factor in a transaction."A consumer has to be confident that the agent knows what he or she is doing. Asking questions of the client, coupled with product knowledge, is a sign of that."

–David Eisen, Joe Pike, Mark Rogers