Travel industry suppliers should rethink their business development managers (BDM) relationship with travel agents, members of MAST Travel Network said during the consortia's annual agency owners summit.
BDM relationships or lack of them were the liveliest part of the one-day summit John Werner, President and COO of MAST said. "Our agencies feel that, in many cases, as they have learned how to cement relationships with their customers, suppliers are not paying attention to the relationships they have with the agency community."
"Agencies feel sales territories are too big for BDMs to adequately support them. They noted that cost cutting has meant fewer BDMs and less money for co-op marketing. BDMs are often not empowered to make decisions quickly, have too many restrictions placed upon them, and have to deal with lack of support for them by their companies," Werner commented.
"Agents want BDMs to help them source new business, share best marketing practices, educate them on points of differentiation in the marketplace, provide problem resolution and be an advocate for them within their companies," Werner says. "Our members tried to defining the level of support they need from suppliers in order to meet the expectations suppliers have of the agent community."
MAST Owner’s Summit is an annual one-day conference for MAST's 200 agency owners. Speakers included Dondra Ritzenthaler, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Celebrity Cruises who addressed brand identity -including Celebrity’s Modern Luxury brand. "Her comments on how agencies can establish their brand identities resonated with MAST agency owners," Werner said.
Other speakers included George Prescott of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and educator Mike Marchev who spoke on industry and consumer travel trends.
Concerning supplier direct bookings, MAST members said they recognized a segment of the marketplace wants to be ‘do-it-yourselfers’ but feel that suppliers who work with travel agents only, should receive strong support from agents.
When it comes to direct consumer marketing, agency owners felt supplier marketing is overly aggressive even by companies who are quite supportive of travel agents, Werner said. "Often, the message says to consumers, contact their call centers to reach an experienced and knowledgeable reservationist who is ready to assist you in booking your vacation."
"MAST members believe suppliers who support agents should move the message to the top, “We recommend planning your trip with a travel professional." Agents feel if suppliers really believe this as they say they do, this would be a very visible method of demonstrating their commitment to agents," Werner said.
MAST agencies strongly support the anti-rebate policies of companies such as Oceania Cruises and Crystal Cruises and want to push other companies to enact similar policies, Werner reports. "They feel the consumer wants to know they are getting the best value and with rebating, the consumer never knows. " FAM trips are important to agencies, Werner said. "When it comes to the importance of FAM trips, agency owners feel that beyond seeing a destination and hotels in the area first-hand, FAM trips help agents judge the quality of products and services, attitudes of the people that will interface with agency clients, and the overall experience their customers would have," Werner said.
Werner said the Summit session concluded with a discussion on brand strategy ending on four points which an agency should focus upon. The key points made by MAST's Werner:
1. Establish yourself as the expert for another brand - with your credentials, your specialization, your connections, your access, your resources.
2. Establish your personal brand - what you do, describe your service, how you work, and deliver on all these things on a personal level.
3. Suppliers can also help by saying to a customer who calls direct - "let me recommend a travel professional in your area that will help you plan every aspect of your trip, who knows more about where you are going, and what you want to do more than I can."
4. Learn everything you can about your preferred suppliers, their partnerships with other brands and what these brands do to engage and connect with their customers. Leverage this ability.
MAST Travel Network has nearly 200 agency members in ten states and Canada.