Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: March 22-26

Most comments I read over the week are posted anywhere but here at the Weekly Wrap. So when someone shares their opinion on a previous column, I prefer leading off the next one with their say. And this week it's John Frenaye, who commented on last week's wrap, saying:

@Kirk, I can;t speak for YTB, but as I have repeatedly said numerous times over the past few years, this is NOT about YTB. This is about MLM.
YTB (for good or bad depending on which side of the fence you are on) is the poster child due to their rapid growth, their arrogance, the fact they are publicly trained, their lawsuits, the consumer rip offs, and the lack of training for most of their participants.
The fact remains, you cannot squeak level upon level of compensation from a 10% industry. The penny can only be sliced so thin.

MLM does indeed work when there is a product that can support the payment structure and it is run and managed ethically.
Rather than taking pot shots at both YTB members and myself, why not do you own investigation and not rely on me, Doug, or any of the other TA sources and present your own conclusions?
And in terms of the hate-hate relationship, I am on very good speaking terms with several people currently involved in YTB--from lowly RTAs to Coach's Corner, to Directors to a few employees. I am friendly with many who have left--also in those capacities.
As to Tracy (who declines to offer her last name, but I do know who it is), I am not looking for your respect. But I do find it interesting that when I make a point, rather than debate the issue, most in YTB will resort to name calling.
--John Frenaye

Just a correction of a typo...
publicly trained=publicly traded


Thanks for writing John. I don't think I've ever taken any pot shots at you. In fact, I think if you read past pieces that you'll find I've said some fairly neutral and/or positive things about you (after all, you could be one of Travel Agent's most involved and engaging readers). If you do find a pot shot I took against you, please send it my way or repost it below and I'll take responsibility for what I wrote.

As for pot shots at YTB, I have made light of some of the weirder things some of its alleged members have posted here at Travel Agent (especially those that reference their interpretation of God's viewpoint on the matter) but don't attack them directly but instead cite the comments that do so. It is meant to stir the pot.

As for my own investigation on the matter, I'm afraid I may be stepping on George Dooley's toes on the subject as he's the one who has his ear to the ground and the connections to investigate. I'll e-mail him over the weekend to see if I can get him to write somehing new. The man has a long reach and could probably knock me out with one punch if I angered him enough (but I don't see him as the angry type).

Finally, props to you for owning up on your typos. Look around the site, and you'll see no one else really does that.

Socially Successful

The topic of the week here at Travel Agent has been how agents and/or agencies can leverage social media to create more and better business. It began last week when Michael Browne wrote about the business of social media, which spawned a couple of comments throughout the weekend and into the following week. The first to comment was Marion, who posted:

It would be so great if I could find a website on how to network FACEBOOK, with detailed instructions on how to network FACEBOOK. I have my page on FB but am confused on where to go from there.

Jeff shared Marion's sentiment, and added some color, stating:

It would def be nice to have a "Social Networking Guideline" but in all reality everyone is sailing into uncharted waters and very few people have a proven track record of how to effectively utilize the technology. I would be interested in knowing what kind of return these companies are seeing from their efforts, or are they just utilizing the social media outlets for customer service, brand marketing, awareness, etc...

After reading the comments, our our Ruthanne Terrero responded very quickly— not just on the comment side but on the content side with her own column about agent success stories on Facebook. I hope this satisfies Marion and others.

Other important comments to note on this matter were made by agents who added their own advice to the social networking discussion.

Rick pointed out:

Social networking can help a company, but you must have a plan for coherent communication with your intended customers. Bear in mind, most social networking is just that, social, so it is essentially an extension of word-of-mouth. You need to provide interesting content and specials that keep your customers coming back to your site(s) to be successful with social networks in a business environment. Worse than nothing at all is a lackluster, confusing trail that confuses your potential customers.

Faraz added:

The only downside is IF you do not deliver excellent service, social media can expose that quickly as customers now have the ability to broadcast this experience to other potential customers.
Overall, this technology is a great way to engage customers..but id does take time to learn and see the results.

These are all great points, and the best part about them is that they exemplify the benefits of social media. Without little-to-no time constraints or barriers, agents are swapping tips back and forth right here on our site, and are hopefully making a difference in each other's operations.

While we are on the topic of Facebook, I wanted to point out one of the more amusing comments a fan recently posted on our page when we recently asked our dear readers: Cruise lines say they are increasing their prices in this encouraging your clients to book now?

Golden Robert posted:

Cruise lines are still using the traditional peak season calander. I was in Tampa DEC-FEB on land during the coldest winters that city has ever seen. Enough was enough and I decided to jump land and try to book a cruise for 4d5n f $199...guess what? It was full because every Floridian decided to leave Tampa. Cruise line should price accordingly to global warming or sunami forecasts. News 9 in Tampa has the best radar in the world, they can be the travel agent!

Wow. We were all over how the cold weather in January was prompting more flights and travel to the Caribbean, but this little nugget of an anecdote is intriguing. Looks like agents may have a new backup plan for next winter: Florida residents seeking cruises. My buddy Nicholas Ciarcia must have been one of those cruisers. He lives in Tampa and recently took a trip by sea to the tip of South America. I'm still waiting for his pictures.

BTW, feel free to join in on that topic of conversation (the one about imminent cruise rate increases leading to more bookings now) at our Facebook page or at a thread on AgentNation. While you're at it, don't forget to vote in our poll.

Careful with Cuba

In the interest of transitioning as smoothly as possible from one topic to another, I just mentioned the Caribbean so let's talk about Cuba. As U.S. and Cuba officials met in Cancun this week to talk possibilities about travel between the two countries, there's been news about some tour operators tricking U.S. travelers with shadiness— and Walt is proud to not be one of them, at least in his words, which read:

Unfortunately, there are companies/operators who will try to lure individuals and groups and enticing them to "skirt" the law. The article uses the descriptive "some" for those companies and I for one am grateful for that. My business "Cuba Travel Club"  does NOT use that questionable tactic as do other legitimate companies. Having said that, we will welcome travelers from The U.S.A. when they ARE legally able to visit Cuba.

Any travel professionals out there been exposed to shady tour operators selling travel to Cuba? I'd like to hear more about it.

Hot and Cold on Cook Travel

Tour operators selling Cuba travel aren't the only ones under fire here at Travel Agent as of late. Although George Dooley wrote about Cook Travel's success online back in December, some are coming back to either attack or defened the company. Two readers seem unimpressed with Cook.

One chose the metaphorical username Cook/AMEX is the worst, and wrote:

My recent experience with Cook Amex in NYC was the worst travel relationship I have ever had bar none. Poor communication, bad prices that they attempted to add an additional 900 fee for themselves, rude, no skilled staff. Avoid at all cost, remember I warned you.

Sam concurred, with his story:

I called Cook Travel twice and both times my calls were dropped. I wouldn't deal with them again. It was a waste of time.

Coming to Cook's defense is Luke, who shared:

I beg to differ. I use cook a lot for my corporate travel and they're great. If I can't get a hold of someone on the phone, I can always reach my agent via text or e-mail. They're tech savvy and they're real human beings. A lot more trustworthy than a booking engine if you ask me.

I know little-to-nothing about Cook Travel but am sure some of you agents and readers out there do. So fill me in, is Luke right in his defense of Cook or are Sam and "Cook/Amex is the worst" just in their criticism? It's two against one right now. Let's see if someone can even it out or tip the scales more in one direction.

iTrek, I'm Sorry, You're Just A Tool

iTrek's "The Travel Agent is Dead" contest continues to brew storms online here at Travel Agent. First is appeared as if Travel Guard and Chartis pulled the plug on the program, which made the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) very happy. But happiness has gone sour as it appears the contest is, sort of, still on and, on top of that, mocking agents on the iTrek website. This did not please ASTA one bit, nor did it amuse any of our readers.

Yet as some readers seem to be encouraged by ASTA (i.e. DONNA, who wrote I THINK ALL TRAVEL AGENTS NEED TO GIVE THEM HELL SO NO OTHER COMPANY DARES TO ATTACK US AGAIN!), two seem to think ASTA can spend its time more wisely.

First, Murray chimed in:

All ASTA is doing is adding fuel to iTrek's campaign. The more TAs complain, the more it will appear to many people that iTrek's claims are true.

Alan Fiermonte added:

I think ASTA has bigger fish to fry, such as 1) stop losing money; 2) find a new CEO; 3) boost membership rolls; 4) come up with a plan for strategic redirection in the face of continued involuntary dis-intermediation and consolidation of small and mid-size travel agents. ASTA should FOCUS on what ASTA can do for agent business development, not on what others are blabbing about in a stupid contest thousands of miles away in Australia.

Based on Alan's his recent history with ASTA, one may say that he's just being bitter. For those who feel that way, I would like to point out what I wrote about the iTrek situation in last week's column:

Who cares what iTrek thinks? Let them play their didgeridoos, drink their Fosters, and argue about whether Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, or Eric Bana is the bigger stud actor from Australia  (we know it's not Mel Gibson nor Orlando Bloom).

I don't care what iTrek thinks, but I certainly do care about two comments posted on the most recent story about the insurance firm.  Both J Bartz and Pete gave me a good laugh this week. First J Bartz shared a clever idea:

Why don't travel agents start their own promotion "itrek is dead"? I'm sure travelguard/travelsafe would help promote it!

I think J's definitely on to something. Anyone want to pick up the idea and run with it?

Finally, Pete described iTrek with one of my favorite words this year (especially when it comes to reality television), saying:

I wrote to iTrek after the first attack on TA's. I didn't get a response. What a bunch of tools.

Tools! Based on the behavior I've seen at iTrek's website, I agree with Pete. More importantly, thanks to Pete, I can share with you my opinion on what truly constitutes a tool. You see, there's this reality show on VH1 called "The Tool Academy,"where (mostly) girlfriends sign their toolish boyfriends up for a reality show. The twist is that these guys think they are going on a show to be crowned Mr. Awesome, made the spokesman for a lady's energy drink or employed as the party ambassador to Mexico. Feeding the tools' bellies with alcohol and energy drinks, and feeding their egos with actors who pretend to flirt with them, the show gets these guys on camera acting out... and their girlfriends are watching. At the end of the first episode of each season, the tools are gathered together and told (as fireworks go off) that they are not in a contest to be Mr. Awesome etc, but are about to go through therapy and physical challenges in order to win their girl back (as well as $100,000- how else would they get them to stay?).

The show is the biggest can't-look-away train wreck since Brett Michaels' "Rock of Love." I'm not proud that I watch it, but I'm not ashamed either. It's just too hypnotizing. Just take a look at the clip below and you'll see.


And on that note, I hope to continue reading constructive comments from all you readers. Keep them coming by posting comments below and elsewhere. Write us at our Facebook page. Send us a tweet on our Twitter page. Keep coming back to AgentNation. Until next week.