Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments June 15-19


Paper versus electronic, human versus online, YTB (still) versus everyone, and commenter versus author. It's a week of showdowns here at Let's get scrolling...

I Get Called Out 

One of the best (or worst) aspects of this whole Internet thing is that anything you publish is out there for the world to see, making you susceptible to correction by just about anyone. Of course, once your spot is blown up you have the option to immediately correct (unless you have a crappy content management system or blog tool) and then act as if nothing happened. But not me, I prefer transparency and clarity in my work— and perhaps I'm just a bit lazy.

On that note, I'd like to start this week's wrap up of user comments with a shout out to reader/user Jamie. You see, with Joe Pike covering the 16th Annual U.S. Virgin Islands Destination Symposium this week, Jena Fox on location in Virginia, Ruthanne Terrero on the brink of a much-needed vacation, Mike Browne managing Home-Based TA, Travel Agent, and AgentNation, and David Eisen covering the cruise beat while managing Luxury Travel Advisor, I feel it's important for me to chip in some coverage as much as I can when I'm not managing this here website.

So I wrote a news brief about the latest development on Continental Airlines' attempt to gain antitrust immunity so that it may work closer, if not directly with, United Airlines and Star Alliance. I gathered as much information as I could from the reports I read and wasn't too upset when phone calls and e-mails were not returned for further information. Apparently that wasn't enough for Jamie, who wrote:
Strictly speaking, about a year ago, Continental announced that it would leave SkyTeam to join the Star Alliance in October 2009. It remains fully part of SkyTeam until that transition takes place. The other information is accurate.

Jamie, besides a big :(, all I can say is please contact me at [email protected] so that I may contact you in the future to verify the validity of information.

Cruise Sanitation Sanity

It was nice to see that I wasn't alone this week in not doing enough. According to one of our readers/users, the cruise lines aren't doing enough to protect passengers during the ongoing H1N1 "swine flu" pandemic. After George Dooley penned a brief on how CLIA member lines are screening passengers before boarding, Randy chimed in and suggested they do more, saying:
While pre-screening is a good first step, it only catches those with already visible symptoms. Those infected, contagious but asymptomatic are completely missed - a Typhoid Mary Syndrome.
The other real problem is hygiene - or lack thereof. How many times have you seen people use restroom facilities and leave without washing, just wetting hands under running water, or, my personal favorite, the man who wet his hands then beat them on the counter? No soap, no rinse (does the beating kill germs?). I've seen third world country inhabitants with better personal sanitation habits than many U.S. citizens. A national campaign truly needs to be undertaken to address the underlying problems of sanitation.

Well put Randy. You should see how many times I use the hand sanitizer in the office. These keyboards can get filthy, and I don't trust that the restroom we share with an office down the hall is 100 percent clean.

Don't Let the Print Industry (of Cruise Documents) Die

It's crazy times for anything in print. Newspapers struggle to stay afloat, and corporations are making communications more eco-friendly by relying more on technology than trees. While Carnival Cruise Lines is trying to follow such trends, it appears as if the Association of Retail Travel Agents believes the cruise line shouldn't abandon paper documents just yet. Like many issues here on, some agree and some beg to differ.

Nancy Winfield agrees with ARTA, saying:
I agree 100 percent that the documents provided by the cruise line look so much more professional than documents printed on our printers/computers.

Stan Harper agrees with Nancy, saying:
I agree this is BS. Many clients also wish to have real tickets as a memento. ie. Honeymooners, etc.

Clay Saunders, meanwhile, is (in his words) "on the other side of this issue," saying:
E-docs can be reproduced if they are lost or stolen, I don't have to worry about the UPS guy leaving them on the doorstep while I'm out of the country. Plus, E-docs allow me to present them in a folder that showcases my agency, not the cruise line.  As for the complaints about the quality of paper - buy better paper.  32 lb ultra brite paper will pop better than most hard documents - certainly Carnival's blue paper.

Diane seems to think it's not just a Carnival issue, commenting:
I just wish that they would send out DECENT bag tags for us to provide to our clients or provide us with the materials to print nice ones for them like RCCL does. I do NOT like handing my client some strip of paper and saying "staple this around your bag handle and let's hope it doesn't fall off!" I am not having my clients print their docs because a TRUE agent should always review docs first and include their business card before they go out the door.

Barb appears to concur with Diane, writing:
Carnival isn't the only cruise line doing edocs. Princess also does this. It looks so classy when you give documents to your client after they have spent tens of thousands of dollars and all they get is a stack of copy paper.

I'm in the center on this one. As a web guy, I believe electronic communication is the best and immediate way to go. But, after attending Skidmore College for four years and getting bombarded by hippie students (who are now probably in the corporate world) about how I was killing trees with every issue of the campus newspaper I published, the whole "save the planet" communique sometimes falls on deaf ears with me.

Humans Versus Machines, Part 2 

Last week, we scanned some comments about an ongoing price/service war between travel agents and online travel agencies (OTAs), and it gave me a reasonable excuse to reference the latest Terminator movie (which BTW isn't as bad as some pretentious film buffs make it out to be). This week, the organic versus mechanic battle continues as several readers/users commented on George Dooley's piece analyzing competition from online tour sellers. Bob Malmberg said:
OTA's by their very nature do not assume the risk of their actions. At least not in the same way that a local travel agent has to. The traditional travel agent is a respected member of the community who will still be in the same spot when the customer returns. He has a reputation to maintain and cannot risk selling products and services which would place him and his company in jeopardy with his customer base. OTA's have no such responsibility.

Lisa P. Sweet agreed with Bob, quoting him in her comment, saying:
I agree and also think that "the truly intelligent traveler realizes, respects, and seeks-out our expertise. They'll use our services even if it does cost a little more." This is what I think we all rely on as we cannot control the vendors, suppliers nor online booking sites, we can only keep showing people the true value of the Travel Agent and hope they recognize that!

Linn Driessen chimed in as well, writing:
After nearly 25 years in the travel industry,I've heard countless wake-up calls aimed at the travel agent. In this particular circumstance, because we are intermediaries, we're at the mercy of the suppliers that set the pricing. Rebating is frowned upon, but more importantly, it's a practice that devalues us as professionals and gives the consumer unrealistic expectations for future sales. Recently, in this down-turned economy, the Internet gorillas are doing well because so many people are penny conscious. Travelocity, Expedia, etc., advertise pricing that only they can compete with between them. Where do those prices come from? None of my suppliers has them. The tour operators I utilize will attempt to price-match and then cut our commissions in order to get the sale. As agents, we take the loss. However, in all fairness I must say that the truly intelligent traveler realizes, respects, and seeks-out our expertise. They'll use our services even if it does cost a little more.

I whole-heartedly agree that if you are above-and-beyond at your job as a travel professional that travelers will be willing to pay the price for that extra human touch. I guess you just have to keep your head up and keep working on it until that day when humans and machines can work together to make the world a better place for travel, kind of like how the Autobots work with the humans to take down the evil Decepticons in the upcoming Transformers sequel, seen below.

No "Joy," Only Rage

JoyStar has remained quite the unpopular host agency on this site. As it faces liquidation, several readers are feeling schadenfreude, like Deb, who wrote:
As an agent that Joystar owes thousands in unpaid commissions, this IS a victory! Justice is sweet.

Meanwhile, Dave, doesn't appear too optimistic, commenting:
I'm also owed several thousand dollars in unpaid commissions. I find it hard to believe this a VICTORY for anyone but the lawyers. I have no expectations that I will ever see any money from the bankruptcy courts.

Then there's Al Ross, who thinks people are not outraged enough, saying
I'm disappointed that more agents who have been raped by Joy Star haven't posted here for the rest of us to read there plight. I'm is healthier to vent in a proper place, rather than continue the understood anger. I would be thrilled if criminal charges would be brought against Bill Alverson and his wife. What they have done to so many good hard working people is CRIMINAL.

As Yogi Berra once said, "it ain't over till it's over." I'm obviously no legal expert but even if it takes decades, it must still be worth it to agents to get at least some of their commissions back. We here at Travel Agent wish you all the best. You're not alone, there's even a group on AgentNation specifically for JoyStar agents.

More On YTB

I will never grow tired of the ongoing controversy over YTB, primarily because I've been enjoying comments by our readers/users too much. It's great to see that you're keeping on top of each other's opinions to keep this (constructive) dialogue going. Here's a few opinions recently posted about Carnival's recognition of YTB with the Pinnacle Award.

Toni did some user-generated publishing of his own, stating:
A YTB person posted this comment "I would still earn commission on my own travel for the rest of my life! This just makes sense!"
WRONG! That is so Wrong to say that! That means you are not a professional agent and don't take selling travel as a serious professional, which in turn makes all professional agents look bad..

Meanwhile, whether YTB agent or not, MizRispee has a bone to pick with some of you peoples:
RE:Al's comment about agents at trade shows. I, too, have witnessed such unprofessional behavior. But I can't say it's confined to YTB or MLM agents; some agents I've encountered work for local indep. agencies, or other host agencies (large & small). The commonality I see: Selling travel part-time -- & oftentimes winners of the trips & giveaways! My pet peeve: FAM trips with agents (usually older married couples) attending who, quite obvious to me, are really NOT selling travel -- going on FAMS is apparently their priority 'cause their conversations revolve around their last FAM and the upcoming ones. Don't misunderstand, I'm an older person with a retired husband, but I own my own legitimate full time agency (an LLC), & sell travel of all types; only my cruise sales are through a major host agency. I probably attend one FAM a year, if that often.
I take my business seriously & act professionally no matter where...I wouldn't do business with anyone who didn't.

For the record, the Al of whom MizRispee speaks wrote the following:
I don't know if it makes them a "true" travel agency, but it doesn't make them a "PROFESSIONAL" agency. Take a look at the agents at the next trade show.

So I'd like to ask all of you non-YTB agents this: what bothers you most about them, their behavior at trade shows, their occupancy on fam trips, or their competition/claim as a "professional agent"?

Share your comments here or at AgentNation, the only online social community for all travel agents. Maybe I'll put you in the spotlight next week. Until then, have a happy summer solstice!

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