Fighting back against the Internet

Yes, you can fight back against the threat of the Internet. Consider the two documents below, both written by your peers.

Each does a good job of positioning "high touch" against high tech. The Churchill & Turen ad, from Richard Turen's agency in Naperville, Ill., makes many specific points about the personal service clients can get from a real agency when booking cruises.

"Everyone sits by and lets the Internet merchants assume the mantle of respectability, but they don't provide the best services and the best price," said Turen.

Question No. 3 of his ad (see below) turns standard practice from cruise lines into a major benefit the average agency can provide clients. "When I make the reservation, I get an immediate fax from the cruise line confirming it," said Turen. "So when I quote you a fare of $1,776, I can hand you the cruise line's confirmation and show it to you in writing. When you have a rebater who's going to cut that price by $50, you have nothing in writing to show that [new price]."

With question No. 4, Turen attacks what he calls "the most pernicious threat to the distribution system: the perception that Internet pricing is superior to that offered by retailers who see clients on a face-to-face basis."

"That is simply not true.We have people printing out offers from the Internet and bringing them in -- and nine times out of 10, there's nothing special [about the offer]," said Turen.

And as for the 10th question, about the complimentary limo -- limo service to the airport is one of the services Churchill & Turen provides clients who sign up for a package of agency benefits.

The ad has run several times in the Chicago Tribune and generated favorable responses from consumers who "call and ask us questions about our policies," said Turen. He shares it with other agencies now "in the hope they, too, will be motivated to take on Internet rebaters."

The other piece, from the Travel Store in Dallas, Ore., shows how consumers are severely limited when trying to book airline tickets through Priceline.com. Agency owner John Davis has been using the piece as a ticket stuffer -- but since that means the message goes out to current clients, "I feel a little like I'm preaching to the converted. I wish I could get it out to people who use the Internet. We have a weekly newspaper ad, and I'm probably going to run it there as well."

CONSIDERING BOOKING YOUR NEXT CRUISE ON LINE OR WITH A 1-800 TELEMARKETER?

MAY WE.....SUGGEST THAT YOU ASK THE "AGENT" THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS BEFORE SUBMITTING YOUR CREDIT CARD NUMBER?

1) How do you propose to get to know me in order to make the very best recommendations for my vacation?

2) When will we be getting together to discuss my options as well as the pros and cons of the cruise ships you are recommending?

3) Can you fax a copy of the price you have quoted along with a receipt from the cruise line showing that price and the category discussed?

4) If you have such low overhead, how can a cruise firm in Naperville, Ill., guarantee to meet or beat any legitimate price that you quote in writing?

5) Can you tell me the specific ships you have sailed on and inspected during the past three years?

6) Since my annual vacation is a major expenditure, when can I assume that you will be sitting down with me and my family to discuss the vacation in detail, along with port recommendations, documentation review and on-board activity suggestions?

7) At what point will you be discussing health and safety issues related to my cruise?

8) Since all cruise line executives acknowledge that the cruise "decision" is not conducive to "order-taking" by a clerk but requires the knowledge and experience of a seasoned cruise specialist, why should I assume they support the manner in which you conduct business?

9) I still haven't received the confirmation from the cruise line with the price you previously quoted. When can I expect it?

10) Oh, one more thing, exactly what time will the complimentary limousine be picking us up should we decide to plan some of the best moments of our life with someone we've never met?

Churchill & Turen Ltd. Where your vacation is planned by human beings who have been there -- instead of computers that haven't.

A comparison between priceline.com and travel agency pricing

Priceline.com

1. You must travel roundtrip.

2. Your coach-class tickets are nonchangeable.

3. If an airline meets your request, tickets will be issued immediately and charged to your credit card.

4. Tickets issued through priceline.com are not eligible for frequent flyer miles or upgrades.

5. Priceline.com cannot guarantee that your special needs or requests can be accommodated.

The Travel Store

1. An agency can provide for any travel to meet your needs, including one-way arrival at one city and departure from another.

2. Agency tickets can be changed for a fee by the airline. Your tickets may be valid for a year from the date of issue if your travel plans change.

3. In our agency, you are given an opportunity to decide if you still wish to travel at the price stated before tickets are issued.

4. All tickets issued by a travel agency are eligible for frequent flyer miles, and upgrades do apply.

5. The Travel Store will provide for all special needs of the client. Our individualized service will accommodate needs for wheelchairs, special seating, or for children traveling alone.

Purchasing on the Internet does not guarantee the lowest fare, nor do you receive the personal service of a travel counselor to assist you with your booking. The bottom line: Can you trust your credit card number to the World Wide Web?

A refreshing look at the world

By Phyllis Fine

The second edition of "Travel Around the World," published by Austin, Texas-based Weissmann Travel Reports, is available.

In the past, the report was used mostly as a geography textbook in travel schools. The volume has been updated and can now work well as a refresher course for working agents.

Using material adapted from Weissmann Travel Reports' agent-oriented guides, the book focuses on major national and international destinations, beginning with a crash course in geography terms and reading maps.

Each chapter includes review questions; a map skills exercise, and a selling exercise (for example, "What would you say to persuade friends considering a golfing vacation that Bermuda would be an excellent choice?").

"Travel Around the World" is the first travel textbook to have its own dedicated Web site www.travelaroundtheworld.net.

The site includes such features as photo tours of major travel destinations and Web links to key tourism sites. Also included are maps of important world cities and charts and articles from Travel Weekly, which is under the same corporate umbrella as Weissmann Travel Reports.

The site also features software that readers can use to complete activities and exercises in the book.

"Travel Around the World" costs $39.95, with volume discounts available. Call (800)776-0720, ext. 210, for more information.

Want to be in our pages?

You, too, can be featured in Agent Life if you have a story you think would be helpful, enlightening or entertaining to your peers.

For example:

  • You can toot your own horn a bit. Have you developed a marketing or advertising strategy that stands out from the crowd and makes big bucks for your agency?
  • How about the brilliant way you've handled a supplier or client problem?
  • Maybe you want to tell the story of a particularly great trip.
  • Is there an agent friend you think we should feature, whose business strategy combines smarts and persistence?
  • We're particularly interested in unsung agents who are not high profile but do things with a twist. We're also always eager for pictures and stories of especially good-looking agencies.

    E-mail details to Agent Life editor Phyllis Fine at [email protected] or fax her at (201) 319-1947.

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