Friday, February 5, 2016

Travel Agency Service Fees - Why Goldring Travel NEVER Charges Them

Over the past years I have heard all the arguments for travel agencies charging service fees, which apparently 81% of travel agents now charge.  The rational for these fees come down to three basic reasons:
  1. Travel agents should be compensated for his/her time;
  2. There are people that want to have an agent do all the work and then steal it and book it with someone offering a lower price (or, at least, seemingly so); and
  3. Because they can.
There are reasons for Goldring Travel earning this accolade
and those reasons still exist!
Travel agents should be compensated for his/her time...But how and why?

I totally agree that travel agents should, and need, to be compensated for their time.  I identify this compensation as "commissions".  If a travel agent's commissions are not high enough to provide sufficient compensation then there is a problem with their business model or their suppliers. Trying to correct it by charging the consumer extra doesn't seem to be a "correction", but more of a "passing the buck".  

In my opinion, if the agency cannot work efficiently, or cannot make enough money (commissions) selling a product then the solutions should lie within the travel agency or the supplier of the product...not the consumer.  Of course, if you want that Carnival cruise that sells for $299 there is really no money in it for the travel agency unless done on huge impersonal volumes. That is why Goldring Travel never charges as service fee...ever and avoids booking those sorts of cruises/trips.  I mean why pass the cost of doing that business onto my other, already profitable, clients? (OK, there is a single exception:  Booking airline tickets, which takes time and is actually a cost since airlines do not pay commissions.)

There are people that want to have an agent do all the work and then steal it 
and book it with someone offering a lower price (or, at least, seemingly so)

I also understand that there are some people out there that believe it is perfectly fine to have me do all the work, explaining the differences between cruise lines and ships, tour operators and hotels, the best time to go, the reasons why some itineraries are better than others, etc....and then go shop prices having taken all that information.  (Ever go to Best Buy for an electronic device, talk to a salesperson and then price shop for it on Amazon and Costco and find it for less?)  And, let's face it:  Writing this blog takes a lot of time.  Thousand of people read it and use the information...and then book their travel elsewhere.  While I find it frustratingly curious that people read my articles because they know I am an expert and accurate, but then book with another agency (or heaven forbid make the horrible mistake of booking directly....which will cost them extra money!), it is just part of doing business.

But what I also know is one can never tell if the person asking all the questions will be your client for life, working you over or - as has happened - will come back to Goldring Travel after booking their trip with that cut-rate agency and not getting the service they really desired or, in the end, it cost them more than they thought because the agent didn't advise them of x or y.  

Goldring Travel truly values every single booking. To show its clients, Goldring Travel provides added value on literally ever booking, whether it be a direct discount, onboard credits, a refund, hotel amenities (free breakfast, upgrades, etc.) or preferred limited upgrades at highly discounted prices closer in to sailings (that those discount agencies do not have access to) or leverage to have my clients placed in better suites when they book guarantee accommodations rather than assigned suites. And, of course, if something goes wrong during the trip and I find out about it, if possible I have it addressed then and there; not upon your return.  I also provide post-trip support for any issues that arise later. [Literally as I am writing this I received a call from a client that doesn't use a computer and needed assistance obtaining a Turkish visa. No problem at Goldring Travel.  It is what we do!]

Personally, I do not want the client that insists on paying what they perceive as the lowest price because they will probably be the ones that will demand the most when there is a charge at a hotel they don't recall or want to engage in the "I deserve a free cruise because..." and expect me to handle that for them even though it really has nothing to do with my services.  Yes, Goldring Travel turns away business so that it can properly service those folks that actually want and appreciate service!

Because they can

The last category is the one that really bothers me.  A very recent article basically stated that since consumers are getting used to being charged by the airlines for baggage, food, changes and more and many cruise lines charge for pretty much everything from room service to soda, the travel consumer has been trained to accept fees as part of travel.  Huh?

Goldring Travel spends its time trying to assure its clients receive the best travel value and avoid all the extra charges (whether it be NCL's "free" whatever slogan as it charges expand and increase or Regent Seven Seas "free, free, free" when you are paying for all of it). So I am supposed to do exactly the opposite of what is the very basis of how I do business by charging you a fee just because I can?  There is one thing in life you can never regain once lost:  Integrity.

If you are interested in booking a cruise or land vacation without any travel agency fees and with the comfort of knowing your travel agent actually insists on earning your business, give Goldring Travel a call at:

United States:        (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:  020 8133 3450
Australia:               (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else:  +1 732 578 8585

Or email us at

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mark Conroy - New Head of Silversea Cruises Miami Office. Huh? Does He Matter?

Mark Conroy and I have a history; and not a good one.  It has been a few years and things may have changed, so I enter this new era at Silversea Cruises (or is it?) with an open mind and the hope of improvements.

Mark Conroy
New Head of Silversea's Miami Office
To be honest, it was much of Mark Conroy's troublesome tactics at Regent Seven Seas Cruises that inspired me to begin this blog and to call things as I see them rather than to pitch to my clients whatever the cruise lines were marketing.  (Rather than rehash it, you can read my article, The Oceania-fication of Regent Seven Seas Cruises - Mark Conroy is Out as President, for a brief explanation.  (There are others you can search for on my blog if you are interested.)

But I do not believe that is wherein this story lies.  It lies, rather, with Silversea Cruises itself!  You see Silversea Cruises has two intertwined, but conflicting, story lines:

 - The revolving door...and reduced titles...Ken Watson, Chief Operating Officer then Ellen Bettridge (2012 President of the Americas), then Kristian Anderson (2014 Senior Vice President and General Manager, Americas) and now Mark Conroy (2016 Head of the Miami Office, which has responsibility for the Americas).

 - The stability of a monarchy, Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, Silversea's Chairman, and his right-hand man, Enzo Visone, Silversea's CEO.

What interests me the most is Manfredi's consistent reduction in title in the first group and his ever increasing control through the second.  And, regardless of where this has led, and will lead, Silversea - as it relates to its luxury product - the obvious (at least to me) conclusion is that Mark Conroy will be essentially a pitchman with very limited authority.

Mark and I have had our differences, and in the past he has expressly rejected any effort on my part (or on the part of others), to move on.  Regardless, and in  fairness, I sincerely hope that what happened in his last year or so at Regent Seven Seas is not repeated, to wit:  Regent hung Mark out to dry.  Mark was told to pitch a new ship was coming...that never was; and, that things were "free" that were really buried in an ever increasing price, while the quality of many aspects of the Regent product suffered (like the "free" tours and culinary quality).

Silversea has a new ship, Silver Muse, which will have its Maiden Voyage in April 2017 while its most popular ship, the Silver Cloud, is being transferred to Silversea Expeditions (my guess is to not further overextend Silversea's classic fleet inventory). And, to me, both Silversea's classic and expedition fleets could use some fresh marketing assistance.

Hopefully Mark Conroy will be given the latitude and tools allowing him to do his job...whatever "Head of the Miami Office" is.

And, hopefully, Mark will bring a fresh approach to how he deals with those that disagree with him.  Frankness and arrogance are two different things.  And, of course, people can disagree without being disagreeable.

Again, hopefully, Mark Conroy's involvement with Silversea will end some of the marketing stagnation I have witnessed.

And, let's face it, my wish is purely selfish:  If Silversea performs I have more luxury product to confidently sell!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bourdain Effect? Skift Is Nothing More Than A Web Magazine Focused on Hype

Skift describes itself as "The largest industry intelligence and marketing platform in travel, providing news, information, data and services to all sectors of the world’s largest industry."  My experience with Skift shows it is something far less than "intelligent", though to be sure it is a "marketing platform"...for itself.

Skift Gottcha:
There is no "Bourdain Effect".
Not only doesn't it exist, there is no correlation between
Anthony Bourdain and increased travel
(Interest in Culinary Experiences?  That's Another Story!) 
I first found out about Skift when it asked to interview me regarding Fathom Impact Travel.  The interview by Hannah Sampson was friendly and the questions were relevant.  But then, as I wrote in previously, the article was a "hatchet job" trying to make Fathom appear as floundering rather than what it really is:  An emerging company that is developing a new type of socially responsible travel experience. 

I wondered why until I received a highly unprofessional attack on Twitter by it's News Editor, Dennis Schaal (followed, fortunately, by an email from Skift's Founder and CEO). Skift is not really about industry intelligence and, to be sure, I have not yet discovered how it is a marketing platform for anything other than itself.  In fact, it seems that its focus is very much on building Skift (a logical goal) and its annual two day Global Forum which you can attend in Brooklyn, New York - which it advertises as being New York City - technically correct for anyone not from then New York area - for a rather expensive $2,595.  Skift asserts "we’ve focused our energy on building the most-read travel industry news and insights media brand in the world".

There is a difference between getting market share ala National Enquirer versus New York Times. For whatever reason (marketing it is presumed) Skift has chosen the former while pitching itself as the latter.

Examples, and there are many:

Today Greg Oates wrote an article, Skift Travel Megatrend for 2016: Food Is Now the Leading Hook of Travel and then subcaptions it and writes "Call it the Bourdain Effect, as we do".  OK, other than trying to get Google searches to find the article and to grab the attention of it's readers, there is absolutely no less data...concerning Anthony Bourdain or how he might be tied to any supposed increase in travel.  NONE. 

"Where's The Beef?" the old Wendy's marketing effort comes to mind, as the Skift article is filled with unsupported, and even illogical, statements.  For example, it references AFAR Magazine partnering with United Airlines "to develop local destination content with an emphasis on food and beverages".  Really?  I am one of the first to advertise in AFAR Magazine and its beauty is explores everything...and there is nothing anywhere about emphasizing food.  The article also mentions Seabourn's partnership with Thomas Keller as if culinary excellence on a Seabourn cruise is something new; the author apparently ignorant of the constantly evolving culinary operations at Seabourn (or its last decade association with celebrity chef Charley Palmer or it focus on the highest quality, specially selected, poultry and beef).  There is even more in the article, but I believe the point is made.

(And if you want to know the real "Bourdain Effect" is, try reading a responsible, factually accurate, article in The Smithsonian, "Anthony Bourdain’s Theory on the Foodie Revolution - The bad boy chef and author weighs in on Americans’ late-arrival to the glorious delights of food culture")

Dennis Schaal wrote an almost unintelligible article on what was supposed to be about Priceline's change in product and marketing strategy, but then came out with his take stating, in relevant part, "Travelers are taking shorter, more frequent trips, and many are booking them on mobile at the last-minute. Their customers are heading to Rome, Georgia more frequently to that other Rome where Vatican tours are available."

TripAdvisor's No. 1 Restaurant in Rome, Georgia
Nice, but somehow it is difficult to chose flying there over Rome, Italy
Let's get beyond Skift's hyperbole (again) about Rome, Georgia being more popular than Rome, Italy. (Raise your hand if you even knew there was a Rome, Georgia), the fact is that that people use their mobile devices to research travel, but the vast majority use their desktop computers or telephones to make their bookings.  (This was a major topic at last month's New York Times Travel Show, which I attended as journalist.)  

As Google's 2014 study on travel explained: Half of the leisure travelers that actually use their mobile device for leisure travel inspiration (that is a minority) ultimately book another way, such as by making a call or using a desktop computer or a tablet. Essentially 75% of leisure travelers switch between devices to conduct the same travel-related planning or booking activity for all types of travel (air, hotel, cruise, car rental) and 87% of business travelers switch between devices to conduct the same travel-related planning or booking activity for all types of travel (air, hotel, cruise, car rental).

I could go on, but the point is made:  Be careful where you get your information from.  Whether it is Skift or TripAdvisor or Cruise Critic, know that just because they market well (even extremely well) does not mean the substance of what they write is true or even based upon fact.

Now, if you want to talk about culinary experiences while traveling, Goldring Travel recommends you don't change your focus:  You love travel, but don't want to change your travel because of a new found willingness or interest in local cuisine, you want to enhance it.  Heck, I may like chicken and pancakes, but I am not compelled to fly to Rome, Georgia to visit TripAdvisor's No. 1 restaurant, Harvest Moon Cafe, and I would not recommend you do either.

If you want accurate and forthright travel information when planning your trip, contact Goldring Travel.  We avoid the hype, are easier to work with and provide more useful information than your mobile device...and we probably have better pricing too!