Peter's portal

Peter Carideo, president of Chicago-based CRC Travel, calls his Web site (www.crctravel.com) a "work in progress. We're playing with things."

In fact, the site differs from most other agencies' because of its emphasis on leading the consumer to a variety of information sources. "We are your travel portal, bringing you all the resources and information you need to book your next trip or to surf the Internet," reads the introductory copy.

The CRC Travel Web site.Under the World News heading, for example, the site provides links to headline news; stock quotes and business; technology; sports, and entertainment news through Excite.com. The current "cool link" is to Luxurylink.com, an upscale travel site.

There also is an extensive list of cruise sites as well as links to cruise magazines and to many general destination sites and search engines, from the Opinionated Traveler to the search engine Islands Information Directory.

By acting as a link to other sites, the agency is setting itself up as low-key resource for its clients -- with integrity. "If I were going to copy everything from other sites into ours, people would question that," Carideo said.

The site also recently linked to one shopping site that offers discounts on products such as camcorders, and another that sells travel accessories. The agency will earn a small percentage on these sales, though, since this service is "brand new, nothing has come of it yet," Carideo said.

Clients can book on the site, and through Sabre's Virtually There can check up-to-the-minute itinerary and destination information -- a very popular feature, according to Carideo. The site also plays up several of the agency's specialties. "We're known for getting hotel rooms in Chicago at difficult times" -- a boon for out-of-town clients as well as local corporate clients who frequently have employees from other offices around the country come in, said Carideo. So the site promotes the agency's special hotel deals.

Carideo, who first invested in the site three years ago, said he doesn't know that it's paid for itself yet but feels it's worthwhile -- especially dealing with an expanding base of clients who "have told us they'll only do business through e-mail and by Web site because it's more efficient."

Fees and the law

Charging service fees does not increase an agency's liability, though there are practices related to fees that might introduce risks, according to Toronto attorney Doug Crozier, counsel to the Association of Canadian Travel Agents.

Agents should consider the following issues:

Doug Crozier.

  • Clients must agree to pay the fees, and they can only agree if the agency has been careful to fully disclose its fees before travel purchases are made.
  • Even if the agency has met all of its legal obligations, the customer might expect more. Unrealistic expectations can lead to costly misunderstandings.
  • If clients compare notes and discover they paid different fees, there could be the same annoyance passengers feel at discovering that a seatmate paid less for an air ticket.
  • If a large number of members of an agency consortium charge lower fees for preferred suppliers than for others, those agencies could be accused of conspiracy by a disfavored supplier.
  • Agents carrying errors-and-omissions insurance should check with their insurance provider to be certain their use of fees has not undermined their coverage.
  • These pointers come from the 2000 national law symposium, titled Caveat Venditor: Current Trends and Preventative Measures in Travel Agent Liability, co-sponsored by Travel Weekly and ARTA with MasterCard International.

    The all-important follow-up

    It seems that today's customers are more ready to complain than ever when something isn't to their liking. What percentage of dissatisfied customers do you think actually complain? Twenty-five percent? More?

    Would you believe it's less than 5%? That's right. Research shows that fewer than one of 20 dissatisfied customers bothers to complain.

    Mark Mancini.What do the rest do? Simply switch loyalties to another company. Worse still, the average dissatisfied customer tells 11 others about his or her bad experience. So what can you do?

    The best defense is a good offense. That means countering any displeasure before it's had time to erode into severe dissatisfaction and negative word of mouth. And the easiest way to do this is to be proactive: Follow up the sale.

    One of the first objections I hear whenever I discuss the necessity of the post-sale follow-up is that it takes too much time away from selling. But follow-up is a part of selling -- an important part. It's through follow-up that you complete the sale by fixing problems and getting ideas for what you did well -- or could do better next time.

    Good follow-up can be quite simple and inexpensive. Consider the thank-you note, the message left on an answering machine, or, for your most important clients, the in-person office visit.

    Furthermore, the time you take today may save even more time down the road. It's a lot easier to make a phone call today than to try to win back the business of an unhappy customer months from now.

    Follow-up also reinforces the notion that you want a relationship with your clients -- not just a one-time sale. And in today's competitive agency environment, it's long-term relationships that are the greatest source of profitability.

    Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles College.

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