Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments June 22-26

It's been a hefty news cycle this week: protests in Iran, John and Kate's divorce, Perez Hilton's fight, and the loss of three American icons. While most media remains abuzz on these matters, we're sticking to travel industry issues.

More On Paper Vs. Electronic

In last week's wrap up, one of the more highly-discussed issues was Carnival Cruise Line's plan to abandon paper documents for electronic ones. While some of last week's comments were on opposite sides of the issue, it appears this week that most agents are united in opposition to the plan. For the most part, readers want the freedom to choose as they are concerned about the costs being passed on to them and the potential appearance of unprofessional presentation before their clients.

For instance, Stephanie Diehl commented:
Agents should have the option, edocs are great for last minute bookings-however they do not represent quality or professionalism. Cruise lines are passing the buck of the cost of printing in a disguise of "green" and with higher NCF than ever, I have a hard time recommending cruise product.

Nina Sherman seeks options as well, stating:
Many times tour operators or cruise lines are judged by their documents. Edocs unless it is last minute reflects a lack of pride of their product or as many of my clients a CHEAP vendor. Let us choose what is appropriate for our clients. Perception is reality.

Meanwhile, Janet is happy to see support for agents, writing:
Thank goodness that an organization is going to bat for travel and cruise agents. I have opted for paper documents for my clients everytime that they are offered, and I have voiced my objection to e-docs to Princess, NCL and other cruise lines which miss the opportunity to continue public relations and PAPER PUBLICITY that goes directly into the passengers' hands ... which they (usually) read !

Finally, Ellen offers an alternative the the potential pricing dilemma, posting:
I agree 100% with the push-back of travel agents against all cruise lines' discontinuation of travel docs. When I spend that much money on a vacation, I do not expect to have luggage tags made of flimsy paper - I don't care how much they "pop"! And I don't see our commissions being raised to compensate for additional expenses - maybe they could take a little something out of the "non-commissionables"!!!

Going green ain't easy, particularly when so many are getting slapped by the economic slump. Carnival's decision makes sense, to me, from a business standpoint, but reading your comments reiterates how important it is to consider the agent's business and not just the supplier. Echoing Janet's sentiment, I'm glad to see that you are getting support from associations and from each other.

Agents & Social Media

I've been having fun (perhaps too much fun) over the past few weeks in taking the opportunity to make parallels between the travel agent's competition with online travel agencies and the cinematic battles of humans versus machines in this summer's Terminator Salvation and Transformer 2 films. So when it comes to travel agents and the role of social media technology, I'll leave those movies to rest (for now).

When Ruthanne Terrero moderated a panel of travel executives on a variety of topics, we posted the portion that focused more on social media and how it may hurt or benefit agents and the travel industry. We thought we had most bases covered, but apparently we left something out, pointed out to us by Joanne Hunt, who said:
Point not addressed is that an agency is not compensated when their valued information/experience is out on the social network sites for anyone to read and utilize on their own. Even if a booking is made issues of proper handling of credit card payment exists..we are held responsible by suppliers for totally unknown and possibly dishonest clients.

Peg Welch concurred, saying:
Exactly. How many lawyers and accountants give free advice in social networking? We MUST ALL stop giving our consultations away free.

As much as I am a "web guy" here at Travel Agent, I must be honest and say that I have been trying to avoid Twitter at all costs and that I don't care what shoes Ashton Kutcher is buying or that eating a pork sandwich during the swine flu scare made Beyonce Knowles LOL. I reluctantly joined Facebook about a year ago due to constant harassment and repetitive "come on, man" from friends to join.

I can see how the existence of this media makes it tricky for agents to protect their talents and business. For me, though, what will be trickier is seeing how social media continues to evolve and adapting along the way. Five years ago, Friendster was all the rage. Then came MySpace. Now, Facebook makes MySpace look like Friendster. Twitter is about to do the same to Facebook, and it's only a matter of time before the next big thing annihilates Twitter.

But speaking of social media and agents, if you haven't joined AgentNation yet, you should sign up today to network with your peers in a safely efficient manner.

ASTA Takes On Another Airline

Earlier this year, ASTA wrote an open letter to the industry in which it blasted Delta Air Lines and American Airlines for not recognizing the important role that agents play in booking flights for consumers. Now, the Association has targeted a United Airlines plan that will directly affect an agent's finances, and it didn't take long for our readers to share their two cents on the matter.

Carolena seems lucky enough, for now, that the plan won't affect her business, but she's not sitting comfortably just yet, stating:
Our agency has our own credit card processing agreement with our bank because we also sell retail items. However, our merchant agreement specifically prohibits us from processing airline ticket charges in-house. Fortunately we weren't one of the agencies targeted by United, but I wonder how long that will last.

Meanwhile, Ginny Gordon isn't amused, or maybe she is. Here's what she shared:
The well thought out plan of United is laughable. Agents will either differ business to another carrier or purchase directly on the website. As a NON ARC travel provider I am thrilled not to deal with such issues and spend the time being profitable.

Finally, Margaret Fleming is ready to make adjustments to avoid the imminent storm, writing:
Thank goodness United is not in my primary cities. However, I do sell some United from cities that are 4-5 hours away. Starting July 20, I will not sell United at all.

If only United took a lesson from the book of Air Canada. I don't know much about the airline industry's relationship with travel agents, but you would think that a business facing tough economic times, high oil prices, and a decrease in passengers would want to extend its hand to a group that can increase business for them, right? Hopefully we'll see some type of catalyst in United's plan before it goes into effect in July.

Mexico: Good or Bad?

It's been a rough couple of months for Mexico, from gang violence to the swine flu scare. In an attempt to bring some more business to the destination, as well as symbolically testify that travel to the country is safe, Classic Vacations is going to hold its long-term strategic planning session in Los Cabos this coming weekend. While most in the industry would appreciate this gesture, a certain reader, named BeSafe, seems to disbelieve, with a passion, the notion that travel to Mexico is safe, writing:
Mexico is not a safe country to travel to period. Think about the recent fire at the day care center. They DO NOT have a "commitment" to safety. Swine flu is the least of your worries. An alarming 32% of all non natural deaths of U.S. citizens outside this country happen in Mexico. Many of these deaths are a direct result of poor or non existent safety standards both inside and outside of the resorts. To read tragic Mexico vacation DEATH stories as well as stories written by victims that "survived" their Mexico vacation go to: WWW.MEXICOVACATIONAWARENESS.COM

A bold statement, perhaps, but Travel Bug does not appear to be moved, writing:
This is great, I wish the best for Mexico. It is a beautiful destination with tons to offer. From the beaches to Copper Canyon to ancient ruins, Mexico is an amazing vacation destination.
As for the other post here, I am sure if you run the same numbers for other countries, you will find them just as "unsafe" as Mexico. Americans travel to Mexico more than any other international destination - that could be why the % of incidents is at 32%. I have a good friend who was robbed and beaten in France and another killed on ski trip to Canada, does that mean I should not go there?  No.
I looked at the site provided by the listing below. Use common sense, don't get stupid drunk and do stupid things, don't swim in the ocean when you don't know the ocean, and don't be an ugly American, and you will be fine.  Anything can happen anywhere - even in your own home town

Laura doesn't see the threat either, commenting:
in response to vacation awareness- im sure half of those deaths all involve drunk stupid college kids who make dumb choices!!

I was once a drunk stupid college kid who ran into trouble while traveling, though not in Mexico (see the week's wrap up from two weeks ago for a hint). Since then, I've traveled to some not-so-friendly areas of Amsterdam (where I fortunately avoided a mugging), lived in North Philadelphia (where the same crackhead bugged me for change everyday) and lived in the middle of Greenwich Village in New York (where crime has been increasing as of late), and I'm still around without any scars to prove it. I concur with TravelBug and Laura in that anywhere can be as dangerous as how unprepared you are. So, if I had the time and money right now, I'd have no fears about traveling to Mexico. Oh and as for the website BeSafe listed, if you are going to try to use our comments section as a means of getting traffic to your site, I hope you'll reciprocate and link to our website through yours.

God & YTB

You didn't think we'd finish up the week without evoking the name of YTB, did you? Although the story is not super recent, a reader recently commented on George Dooley's piece about YTB's legal and financial troubles in the state of California and did some evoking of his/her own.

SE Wolverton wrote:
You need to rewrite this article. Your wrong on many points. We are still in business and doing quiet well. Its a shame we live in a country where people try to smere others names and businesses. You people need help and to get down on your knees and ask God for forgiveness.

I am no theologian nor do I believe my perspective on God and religion is something to bring into message boards about travel or in any discussion, for that matter, unless I'm asked. So, all I will say to Mr./Ms./Mrs. Wolverton is that I'd like to believe that God has a lot more important things on His/Her plate right now than fact checking Mr. Dooley's reports. I'd also suggest that if you do claim there are factual errors on our site, kindly state the correct facts in your retort so that we can facilitate a constructive dialogue.

On that note, I invite all users and readers to share your opinions and thoughts here on this blog or elsewhere on the site. Also, don't forget that you can address these and other matters in real-time at AgentNation, the only online social community for all types of travel agents.

See you next week!

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