Travel Agent’s inbox has been flooded in the last week or so with loyal Sandals Resorts agents peeved about 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,” Kevin Froemming, president at Unique Vacations Inc. (UVI), worldwide representatives for Sandals and Beaches Resorts, told Travel Agent. “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.”
|Kevin Froemming, president at Unique Vacations Inc., worldwide representatives for Sandals and Beaches Resorts, responds to upset agents|
As for not allowing agents to transfer the bookings to other operators, Froemming contends that Sandals is merely eliminating “administrative complications.”
“A client would make a booking on ‘Soon Come Back,’ then that agent would get it and they would then want to release that booking to a certain tour operator and get their points with that operator or what not,” he says. “But we found that agents and operators were spending hours of their day manipulating and moving these bookings back and forth. So what we did is we streamlined this program because those hours being spent moving bookings back and forth should be spent selling Sandals.”
Froemming, however, did admit that the cap on the commissions was simply a way for the company to cut costs. But without the cap, the program would be facing extinction. Froemming noted that the repeat bookings made at the property continue to be a very small percentage (about 2-4 percent) of Sandals' overall bookings.
“The hotel industry is under great, great strain,” says Froemming. “The economy is not improving nearly fast enough. We want to continue being aggressive in the market, but you have to put things in place that make sense. We are not going to cut programs that help agents. But we did have to make some small changes to it if we wanted to keep this thing going.”
To further slam those points home to agents, Froemming says an emergency meeting, which will include himself, Sandals Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart and Sandals CEO Adam Stewart, will be held this week with agents. Froemming says several of Sandals’ top-producing agents will be flown to Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma, The Bahamas, to discuss their concerns about the rule changes.
"Listen, we get it,” Froemming says. “No one likes when you take something away from them. But we are perhaps the most loyal resort company to agents. You will hardly see any TV ad of ours that doesn’t include, ‘call your local travel agent,’ at the end. Everything we ever do is for the agents. We wouldn’t do something just to upset that agent community. We wouldn't do something if it wasn’t necessary for keeping this program around.”