Showing posts with label Travel Agents. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel Agents. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How travel agents should be paid.

The remuneration of travel agents has always been an issue of debate, form the halcyon days of unending airline commissions to today’s “nett fare” environment.

“You pay me a fee for me to tell you, independently, that the best way for you to travel is by utilising the carrier/hotel/operator that pays me the most commission,” is not really a solid business model.

It is not a defensible position were it ever to be legally challenged, but it is a position that every single travel agent finds themselves in on a daily basis.

And frankly, from the time that the profession was crawling out from under United Airline’s 2.00pm fax (does anyone else remember that watershed moment?), we have been setting our remuneration on the fly, and based on “what we can get”.

This is, of course, an exaggeration, but not a large one. The simple fact is that clients have no clue what we do and by and large, nor do the agents themselves.

Travel agents are important. They act as interpreters of movement within an impossibly complex world, they are supposed to understand and counsel  the High Theology of international politics, climate variation, currency controls, transportation schedules and a myriad of other arcane pieces of knowledge that are dealt with on a daily basis.

The remuneration, however, is even murkier. A price is quoted by an agent for a specific product at which they can make some money; be this a cruise or a small hotel in Corsica, the principle remains,  each and every product in the world has a price on The Web, and it doesn’t take their clients long to find it. And it is frequently more than the agent has quoted.

And here is the problem; until travel agents distinguish between the architecture and the construction of their product (clients’ trips), there will never be peace, and deception will reign.

Vast amounts of expensively-acquired knowledge are being compensated by a mark-up on a remote (but possibly wonderful) bed & breakfast. Agents are being forced to deceive their clients by transferring their remuneration from their knowledge to the product.

They are not being paid to know that Corsica will fit their professional interpretation of their client’s needs, but are being compensated by adding €20 to the base price of any product in Corsica that can be prepaid; and it is a base price that is known by all who choose to look at the property’s website.

Agents who counsel a couple prior to booking a vacation at a resort on the Mayan Riviera, and whose knowledge is being sought to assure that the choice of resort fits the clients’ needs are not being compensated for that insight.

And here’s the thing; clients, inundated with fabulous photography and endless images of drinks with umbrellas are none the wiser! Often they don’t have a clue, and book based on what their neighbours like, or what day the flight leaves. Travellers want knowledge and are willing to pay for it.

It is time that the architecture and the construction are separated; professional agents with a suitably robust knowledge base should be able to commend up to $300/hour to counsel clients on a complex and expensive trip. After all, if one is going to spend several thousand dollars on a vacation, spending a few hundred with a competent professional is a quite logical and reasonable expectation.

The key, however, is the individual agent’s capacity and competency for counselling; and if there is none, then perhaps that counsellor should seek employment in an alternative field. Given the prospect of billing at $150 - 300 / hour, there is an incentive for travel professionals to invest in their own careers; becoming an expert in a region, a genre of travel or any other sub-speciality will pay off; agencies will grow to resemble professional offices, and this is as it should be.

We need to remember history, and how we came to this position. In Days of Yore, travel agents knew where the brochures were; clients wanting foreign travel had little alternative than purchasing through these specialists; airlines did not appoint agencies unless they wrote a paper explaining why their appointment would be of benefit to the appointed carrier. The profession was meant to be of incremental value.

Today, of course, everybody has access to the information, but not everybody has access to the interpretive skills necessary to maximise the benefit of this flood of facts.

This is the role of the travel agent; the interpreter and intermediary.

By offering clients the opportunity to take counselling and have a plan drawn up that they can purchase on a “cost plus” basis, many will take this option, and once again the agency will shine and be remunerated.

If there is a future in the profession, it is because we take the responsibility of representing our clients’ interests first. Our nominal principals, for whom we were agents in the past, and perhaps to whom we are still tithed, do not compensate us well enough for the servility that is demanded, and in fact, they compete with us for the very same passenger.

The future is in representing our knowledge to our clients, being remunerated for guiding them through the thicket of information and finally, if requested, to finalise these arrangements in the most cost-effective manner with all prices being fully revealed.

I for one am simply tired of the deception.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Travel Agents in an online world

Being a travel agent is a difficult task, at least, being a good travel agent is.

An agent is supposed to keep abreast of the latest trends, every hotel and air carrier on the planet, foreign exchange trends, weather forecasting, potential security issues around the globe, immigration requirements for each end every country and be up-to-date and cheery with the delivery of this knowledge; and always at the lowest price.

Years ago, well, fifteen or so anyway, travel agents, like practitioners of almost every art, needed to know more than their clients about any single transaction. This was not really too difficult, and their role as the gatekeepers between clients and the principals in the business was well established. And then a funny thing happened; more and more information became accessible to the individual and the role of the intermediary became almost obsolete in many fields.

It is true, of course, that unless value is added to a transaction, there is little or no point in paying for the professional services; an accountant who continuously said “That’s a good idea” to each of your suggestions would not last long in that role.

And a funny thing happened in the travel business; the good agents got better, and the poor ones disappeared. Simple, and good for everyone, one would think, but why do so many travellers cringe at the concept of an intermediary when planning their travel?

I shall give you an illustration. Years ago, the most common question that we received was “What is the cheapest ticket to London?” Our answer was always, “Where in London do you want to go?”, and the responses were interesting. Apart from being able to sort passengers onto Heathrow and Gatwick flights according to their answer, a remarkable proportion, nearly 50%, were in fact going to Hull, Cardiff or another variety of UK destinations. Aware that London was a hub for cheap flights, and unaware of the time-geography of the island, they assumed that getting to London inexpensively was sufficient.

As it happens, one can fly to a variety of UK regional airports including Humberside  (for Hull) and Cardiff for only a small additional cost, and many were delighted and flew to their destination happily and with considerably less expense and frustration. Now, however, the question is the same, and the answer from the Binary Net will always be the most economical fare (or quite often, but that is a different matter), and thus completely unaware that their journey could be fare easier they revel in the fact that they “beat the street” and found the lowest fare to a destination to which they really didn’t want to fly.

The web is, of course, a fine tool, but it is not more a tool than the phone system. It is also worth considering that when businesses spend millions developing their websites, it is to maximise their revenue, and not to minimise your expense; and those are completely different questions and requirements.

The web is where much information is housed; little knowledge is there and the key to successful web-use is knowing the correct questions ask. It is a pasteurising environment, with fewer companies, operating under a variety of disguises, selling fewer products.

It is an addictive environment, and a tantalising one where one knows’ that alternatives exist, but tracking them down and using them as building blocks for your vacation or business trip can be difficult.

And, of course, you won’t miss what you never knew existed.