Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Do Travel Agents Earn the Distrust of the Public

I previous wrote an article about some travel agency practices that I believe were inappropriate.  As a rare exception I withdrew the post; not because I believed the conduct was proper, but because I am not the integrity police...I just call it as I see it...but because while there were certain facts I did not know, the hassle just wasn't worth the potential downside.  I am, alas, in business to make money through the selling of cruises and other vacations; not as a paid journalist.

But I still do wish to speak my mind on the subject...especially since in the brief time the article was posted I received emails from some complaining of the same situation, but with other cruise lines.  So let me try it another way

I am one of the top selling travel agencies for The Yachts of Seabourn - worldwide - and I am one of the top selling agents - worldwide - as well.  I do not spend a fortune on advertising or mailers.  I do not bombard my clients or prospective clients with emails.  I try to focus on what my motto and business model is:  "Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard."  In other words, I work very hard to assure my clients and prospective clients are treated like important human beings; not lemmings who will follow the lead without thinking.

It is hard work, time intensive, patience driven...and it requires lots of education, both research and life experience.  I pride myself and Goldring Travel on being able to confidently give accurate advice on this city or that cruise or some hotel.  I also have a great desire to listen to those who have other experiences and opinions, as I find saying "I don't know" opens doors to learning, rather than the closing of doors through a fear of being seen as incompetent.  (Seriously, wouldn't you rather hear your travel agent say, "Let me look into that" rather than be given an inaccurate or non- answer?)

The result is that travel agencies with dozens of agents and outside agents are, almost without exception, less proficient and less efficient than I am.  Does that make some other agency or travel agent worse or better than I?  The answer is:  It depends how you want to answer the question.

A potential client came into my office the other day to discuss a taking a cruise on Seabourn.  He had found my name through the Seabourn travel agent locater which lists the top Seabourn agents by location.  But something was bothering him before we could really discuss his potential cruise:  It was the hounding of him by another travel agent...one he doesn't recall ever dealing with.

He sent me a copy of the emails and I was especially angered by one which stated, "Seabourn sent your information to us since we are their preferred vendor as well as an Amex rep. Our rates are often times less than others and if you have a Platinum Amex, it's even better." Leaving the "Seabourn 'preferred vendor'" business (as clearly if such a thing existed Goldring Travel would most definitely be designated as one), it is the rest of the emails that truly bothers me. 

The emails bother me because it displays a philosophy that (a) if you beat a potential client over the head with multiple emails and mailings they will eventually succumb to the barrage and book a cruise with you...just to get you off their back; and, (b) that it is OK to be dishonest or skirt the truth...as long as the potential client "thinks" it is true.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty:

Seabourn gives absolutely no priority to American Express travel agencies. Further, let's review the benefits of using an American Express travel agency:________________.  In other words, I am not aware of a single one. 

- First, American Express Platinum benefits are available to all approved travel agents - such as Goldring Travel; not just American Express affiliated ones.  In other words, if you have an American Express Platinum or Centurion Card and desire the $300 or $500 onboard credit and gift benefit (bottle of wine), Goldring Travel can provide that to you just as any Amex affiliated agency. 

- Second, speaking of Platinum and Centurion benefits, American Express Platinum Travel charges you full price for your cruise (and Amex affiliate travel agencies???).  Goldring Travel always provides you with a discounted price and, on many cruises, the option of Ensemble Travel Group benefits (either a $300 onboard credit or a high quality tour + cocktail party) which usually matches or exceeds the Amex Platinum benefits.  Here's a little bit of Goldring Travel history:  One of my motivating factors in getting in this business was my frustration when I found out that those "complimentary" Amex Platinum upgrades and exclusives were actually paid for by Amex charging you higher prices than were otherwise available.  Two instances (obviously from years ago) stick in my mind:  One where Amex Platinum tried to charge me $300 for an internal flight in Turkey that I was able to purchase for $40; and, a luxury hotel in New York gave me the same complimentary upgrade on a room I paid $200 less per night for...using my Amex Platinum, but booking it directly.)

- Third, Goldring Travel provides some of the best service in the business; not a claim that Amex can honestly make...and you don't read it in its marketing either.  As mentioned above, you hear about the added benefits...you know, the added benefits.

- Fourth, most of the Amex Platinum and Amex agents have never "been there" or "done that".  They read off a computer screen to give you a brief description of a hotel or a cruise ship or what to do in a particular city.  Not quite the same thing at Goldring Travel.  You read about it almost every time you stop by and read this blog or visit The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum(And if you aren't sure what you really want, do you want an "order taker" or an expert?)

To be sure I am not targeting American Express or that one particular travel agency.  What I have explained is unfortunately common throughout the industry.  So what is the person who is looking for an honest and expert travel agent to do?  Exactly what was done here.  Ask questions, question the answers and then make sure you are dealing with an honest and responsible travel agent.  There are no guarantees in life, but there sure are ways to reduce the chance that you will be duped.  Alas, and fortunately for you, I am not the only good travel agent or agency out there. I enjoy meeting up with some of the best in the business at various business functions.

Some of you may be asking, "So how do I know Goldring Travel is that good?"  Read my blog, read the message board, review the testimonials,  email or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or +1 732 383 7398.  I love to be challenged or even just to chat.

In the meantime:  Do you homework and, if you do that, make sure your travel agent "Will Treat You Like You Will Be Onboard!"