here is no greater pejorative to hurl
at a travel agent than the epithet "order-taker." Suppliers give
commissions happily to those who "sell" their products, and
grudgingly to those whose desks just happened to be at the right
place at the right time when a buyer came along and decided to buy.
You might well ask if a supplier truly cares about the skill
level of an agent who sends in a deposit check, as long as the
deposit check gets sent in. It has been my observation that the
check gets cashed, regardless.
Don't get me wrong -- I certainly understand why suppliers
support "sellers." Traditionally, they're the ones who provide
reliable volume, and they unquestionably merit a supplier's
attention in the form of training, co-op dollars, fam trips and
On the other hand, the order-takers provide the equivalent of
found money -- found money with a higher margin, since it arrived
without an investment in training, co-op dollars, fam trips and
overrides. And if you look at the margins on which some suppliers
operate -- particularly tour operators -- I'd guess that in some
cases, "sellers" provide the operating cash flow and "order-takers"
the whole of the profit.
In the online paradigm, the reverse is likely true. Online
agencies have built highly sophisticated tools that enable them to
be the absolute kings of the order-takers.
There was a lot of truth in the common wisdom that traditional
agents who were mere order-takers would be put out of business by
online agencies -- not because online companies had perfected the
art of selling, but because they had perfected the art of
In fact, online agencies have done such a good job that they
don't even have to take the order -- the customer fills out the
order form. (Back when Expedia used the slogan, "Be your own travel
agent," I thought it wise not to add the tagline, "... and we'll
get the commission.")
I'm not intending to belittle the success of the online
agencies. Actually, my intention is to acknowledge the importance
of the practice of order-taking. In fact, its importance is
Airlines eliminated base commissions because they were so
certain that orders came to travel agents regardless of an agency's
ability to sell. Airlines were confident that people were flying
because they wanted to, not because they were sold on the idea.
As it turned out, they were, to a large extent, correct. But
then, for reasons still mystifying, airlines spent large sums
directing passengers away from the no-cost agency channel and into
their costly call centers, while simultaneously spending small
fortunes marketing through the online travel agencies, which, at
that time, were little more than order-takers that still received
commissions. (These are the same airlines that are now in such poor
financial health. Go figure.)
The reality is that travel articles, word-of-mouth, advertising
and marketing all drive a portion of every agency's business. It's
equally true that a part of every travel seller's success can be
attributed to putting him or her in the path of someone ready to
It's also equally true that an increasing, not decreasing,
number of travelers know where and when they want to travel and
seek only to come across an efficient outlet that enables them to
complete the transaction.
That's the real online revolution. The generation now coming of
age is empowered with a tremendous amount of information and is
increasingly conscious of the sophisticated techniques used to
market to them.
It doesn't mean they're immune to your consultation, but they
nonetheless herald the day when travel sellers will happily seek to
be the upcoming generation's order-taker of choice.
By all means, sharpen your selling skills, but make sure your
order-taking technology is every bit as sharp.