Agent Issues Hyatt and Valerie Wilson Travel swap industry insights By Kate Rice / November 17, 2014 Share 1 -- A single trip is made up of countless components with multiple players taking care of travelers. Agents and suppliers have to make what is frequently a unique set of moving parts work seamlessly and effortlessly in order to make a good trip a great one for clients.And with the goal of making sure that happens, last week about a dozen New York City hoteliers and travel agents got a behind-the-scenes look at what their counterparts actually do in taking care of the clients they share. They were participating in a new program called WISES (Walking In Someone Else’s Shoes), the brainchild of Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, and Tristan Dowell, vice president of Hyatt global luxury sales.The goal: to help agents and hoteliers learn more about what the other does, for their own benefit and to improve the service their mutual customers get. Staffers from Valerie Wilson Travel and the Andaz Fifth Avenue and the recently opened Park Hyatt New York shadowed each other at their jobs. Many participants had worked with each other before. Amy Ettenborough, sales coordinator with the Park Hyatt New York, works with consortia and had been in meetings at the Valerie Wilson offices. But job shadowing an agent on the job gave her a whole different viewpoint of an agent’s job.Her two big takeaways: the vast knowledge agents must have and the team-oriented spirit at Valerie Wilson.“It’s easy to get tunnel vision and focus on the hotel,” Ettenborough said. But a day at Valerie Wilson showed her how “expansive” a travel agent’s job is. Agents are dealing with a variety of suppliers, not just hotels but airlines, car rental companies, destination management companies and more.“It takes so much knowledge,” she said.Sarah Cavanaugh, a reservations analyst with Hyatt who participated in WISES, said she now considers such cross-training essential.Maria Bhim, sales coordinator for Hyatt global sales, said that visiting Valerie Wilson gave her a timel ine of how agents reach out to their clients, which she said will help her when it comes to helping fulfill client requests and expectations.Sheena Young, who is responsible for strategic special projects with Valerie Wilson, spent the night at the Park Hyatt and job-shadowed at the Andaz. What impressed her was the internal and external communication about each brand and how consistent that message was, whether it was delivered to staff or customers. That helps her in her work of helping clients make the right choices.For example, she said Andaz is for the professional bohemian, and its bar pulls in customers who work near the hotel, which is across from the New York Public Library, as well as hotel guests. Young said that as soon as she saw that, she was trying to think of ways to market to that clientele.Debra Fini, who is responsible for meetings, incentives and special events with Valerie Wilson, learned more about how the Park Hyatt designed itself — both in its layout and in the way it handles guests.“Our clients are very demanding,” she said. “You have to be comfortable handing them off. I am so impressed at the length they go to make sure the experience is flawless. Nothing is left to chance.”Walter Brindell, general manager of the Park Hyatt, said that the hotel takes its responsibility to take care of an agency’s clients seriously. The last thing he wants is to have an agent get a phone call about something that went wrong at the hotel. Wetty and Dowell came up with the job swapping idea two years ago over cocktails while attending ILTM.“We both felt it was a great opportunity for our brands to build and strengthen our relationship,” Dowell said.Dowell said that the travel industry is fast-paced and dynamic, and general perceptions about travel are changing rapidly. One of those changes, he said, is that travel agents are becoming lifestyle managers. A travel agent’s job is about creating memorable moments, he said.Wetty agreed that role of travel agents is continually evolving. She said that she went to work for Valerie Wilson Travel shortly before airline commission caps and cuts hit in 1995. As a result, just weeks after starting in travel, she was shown on New York 1, part of a group of agent and suppliers picketing in midtown Manhattan.“Are you sure you want to do this?” she said her husband asked her. “Yes,” she told him.“And we are far better and stronger and more passionate,” she said.