Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bad Travel Agent Philosophies - How to Overcharge and Underdeliver.

I truly try to service every client, no matter what the vacation's cost, consistent with my motto and business plan, "Be treated by your travel agent as you will be onboard!" But I guess that sounds good if you specialize in true Luxury Travel, as I do. 

Why?  Because it is becoming increasingly disturbing to me and others that many (most?) cruise lines are looking to charge you for more and more.  Some do it overtly and others are now doing it covertly...and the latter is the sort of thing that really bothers me.  Honestly, I would rather book a cruise for someone letting them know that they will be charged $1.50 for a bottle of water than book a cruise with "free" or "included" tours or air at inflated prices or upcharging them for specialty dining (and at prices that are clearly unrelated to any increased cost in providing them dinner).

One cruise line (not one of the so-called luxury lines...fortunately) recently sent out an article written in a trade publication which literally gave instructions on how travel agents can do the same thing.  What I truly found of interest is that so many of the "suggestions" are presently embedded in UK and European travel agencies manner of doing business.

You will note that I said "manner of doing business" rather than "manner of providing service".  Philosophically there is a difference.  Most cruise lines and travel agencies look at "passengers" as a commodity.  The rare few actually view people as "guests" and "clients".  Let me explain a bit further. 

The first suggestion is to charge a "Professional Fee".  I pause...as I do...being both an attorney and a travel agent.  I do not believe that I am worthy of charging my travel clients a "professional fee".  Is my role that presumptuous that I not only should charge them 100+% of the cruise fare and declare my importance to be such that I earn the title of "professional" (as opposed, I guess, to "amateur"?).  No thank you.  My clients are treated as I want to be treated...and that is respectfully, with a desire that their first business with me be the "first" and not "only" business...and, most certainly, without the pretense that I am better or more important than they are.

The second bit of advice is to try rolling out the fees on "your least favorite clients".  I think that one speaks for itself!

The third suggestion is to charge a "Cancellation or Change Fee".  This is one that is beholden to almost every UK agency: A 10% fee to change or cancel your cruise.  I, for one, have never and will never charge for changes or cancellations.  Cruise lines may, but I refuse.  Why?  Because vacations are getaways and things happen.  My goal is to make your desires a reality and to have the process be enjoyable.  To me change is part of the process of defining one's desires; not a profit center. 

Some bookings are easy and others are harder.  It all washes out in the end.  If a client because truly horrifically problematic (and I recall only one in the past two years - who in the end lost out because she didn't listen to me and unnecessarily canceled a trip of a lifetime - after making repeated requests and changes to cruises) you just cease doing business with the person.  (It is a bit ironic that the same publication recently ran a story on how to "fire a client".)

A fourth suggestion is to create Concierge Level clients.  In other words, provide all the required services at a premium and short-change those that aren't willing to pay full price.  OK folks, a show of hands:  How many of you would be willing to stay with a travel agent that promised not to give you the best service unless you paid him/her extra?

On The Yachts of Seabourn everyone is treated the same.  Silversea is similar (having eliminated the butler for only certain suites approach) as is Crystal, but they do charge for alternative dining.  Regent Seven Seas still has a segregation dependent on suite category, but then again Regent also charges a cancellation fee and has turned the concept of a luxury cruise a bit on its head by declaring things "free" or "included" while charging you extra to have them "free" or "included".

People do not come to me because I am titled "Professional Travel Agent" nor do they come to me because I am the cheapest guy around.  People come, and stay, with me because I offer significant knowledge far beyond which suite to book or how to get to the ship - knoweldge how to actually "travel", great service, solid pricing and a "Wow! Eric Goldring really cares!" approach. That earns me far more in the way of referrals than a rather tacky "professional fee" or gouging "cancellation or change fee".

Like Seabourn, I believe every person I deal with in my office, on the phone or via email is entitled to everything:  My best efforts, my solid pricing, my focus on assisting them in achieving their desires.  Could I charge a Professional and/or Change Fee?  I guess I could for a while...until my clients found an agency like Goldring Travel now is.  You know the one:  The agent that believes you should be treated by your travel agent as you will be on a Seabourn cruise.

What do you think? Join the discussion at The Gold Standard Forum.