In early March, Travel Agent published an article in which we conducted an interview with Kevin Froemming, president at Unique Vacations Inc. (UVI), worldwide representatives for Sandals and Beaches Resorts, regarding controversial changes made to the company's "Soon Come Back" program.
If you didn't happen to see the comments section below the story, Travel Agent figured we'd share some of the most impressive and passionate responses from agents.
First allow us to give you the back story.
Sandals announced in March the company’s decision to tweak its "Soon Come Back" program, a five-year-old program that honors agent commissions on repeat bookings made on site at any Sandals or Beaches Resorts property.
Mainly, a host of agents are upset that the program, as of March 1, now requires written consent from the clients before the agent receives the commission. Other amendments that aren’t sitting well with some Sandals specialists are a new rule prohibiting agents from transferring the bookings to any tour operator and another capping these commissions at 10 percent.
“We were very surprised by all the negative comments we were getting,” Froemming told us. “We were just like, ‘Wait, what are we missing here?’ We have a program where we pay agents commission on bookings made at the property. There is not one property anywhere else that has this program. “
According to an e-mail we received from a Sandals specialist who wished to remain unnamed, the new rules, “effectively cut agents out of the commission for these new bookings unless the clients contact Unique Vacations in writing to assign the bookings to their agents and the agents then claim the bookings from UVI individually.”
But Froemming contends that agents are only being asked to do what they should have been doing their entire career – calling their clients.
“The only way the agent gets cut out of the process is if they cut themselves out of the process,” he says. “An average Sandals booking is roughly $4,000 to $5,000. That’s $400-$500 commission. If that’s not worth a phone call, if that’s too much to ask of an agent, then they are not in the right business. If it’s burdensome for an agent to call their clients, if that one hour on the phone isn’t worth $400-$500, then quite frankly, we can’t be bothered with you.”
And that comment didn't sit too well with agents.
One agent, identified only by the name, "One of the 2-3%," commented, "Really what you're wanting to say, is bring us your clients and you earn 16 percent commission then we'll keep them coming back for you," says the agent. "But you'll only make 10 percent because WE did all the work. Thanks but no thanks. Your arrogant comment of just making a simple call to earn $400 is so far from the truth. Your (Soon Come Back) program has always been more of a headache than it was worth."
According to a comment by Jamison Bachrach, "I have read all the comments and do not sell much Sandals anyway, but I absolutely agree that this is a backward way of trying to cut out the travel professional. I am happy to call my clients any time to discuss ideas and options. With that said, if Sandals wants everything all inclusive, then they should include notification to the travel professional of a booking made on this program directly by Sandals to that travel professional on behalf of that person, as a courtesy. Cruises let you know that someone has put down a deposit. Just like politicians, Mr. Froemming speaks without concerns for those who put him there in the first place. He is obviously too far removed from caring about anything else, but himself and if he actually ever was in the position of the travel agent and not a figurehead of a company, he might figure out a way to re-track that statement."
In an attempt to smooth over the issue, an emergency meeting, which included Froemming, Sandals Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart and Sandals CEO Adam Stewart, was held Friday. Several of Sandals’ top-producing agents were flown to Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma, The Bahamas, to discuss their concerns about the rule changes.
Convened by Stewart following announced changes to Sandals’ Soon Come Back program, the meeting provided a forum for discussion between the resort company and the partners they deem critical to their success.
“We’ve just wrapped a fantastic meeting with our partners and are confident that the relationship we value most is as strong as ever. There can be no misunderstanding in our motives, all actions we take to improve the customer experience at Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts are considered through the lens of our travel agent partners,” said Stewart in a written statement. “We appreciate our Club members coming together and have let them know that they have been heard, understood and that together, our future is bright.”
But what was an attempt to squash the issue, wound up pouring more fuel on the fire since only top-producing agents were invited.
According to Michelle Dion, "For agents who are not in Royal Chairmans Club - their opinions don't seem to matter? For agents working towards the goals to attain it, the tool box is diminishing. If you're a top producer now, the company will likely keep them happy and restructure to provide them the top commissions. If you're not a top producer, you'll have a harder climb up and with less commissions, less marketing prospects to encourage that."
For more updates on this story, keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com.