Suppliers, said Vipul Gupta, won't practice what they preach. They tell travel agents to reach out and call clients and prospects and build business by building relationships. But should a travel agent call them with an idea, well, good luck getting through to decision-makers.
Gupta is the second-generation CEO of 25-year-old, family-owned Grand Blanc Travel, in Grand Blanc, Mich. About 10 years ago, he decided to put his MBA to work and expand what was then a traditional agency into one that actively sought to bring marketing programs to suppliers.
He successfully worked with Sofitel on a national TV campaign timed to coincide with the French Open. He also put together a James Bond trivia campaign for Karisma Hotels & Resorts.
"We have to work hard to put everything in place before we talk to suppliers," Gupta said. "But you'd be surprised at how many suppliers are closed off. They have no idea if I'm about to tell them I have a group of 10,000 or am launching a major television campaign. They aren't available to listen."
Gupta said the issue was not whether his ideas were ultimately accepted but rather that he be heard.
For instance, though he ultimately didn't succeed in making a deal with Hawaiian suppliers, he said that Hawaii has a great spirit.
"You feel that warm hospitality," he said. "They don't just talk about the aloha spirit. They live it."
But when it comes to some well-known brands (he asked that they not be named), "it's absolutely shocking," he said. "They don't even respond. Or, even though they're encouraging us to upsell and get clients to spend and spend, if they hear they have to put some money in themselves, they don't want to discuss an idea, don't even want to know the amount."
Is Gupta's frustration an indictment of supplier hypocrisy or a sign of the times and crippling budget constraints? Is it an indication of how busy executives are and how focused they are on their own agendas? Or is it perhaps a reflection of Gupta's ineffectiveness when presenting an idea?
I listened to him with a combination of sympathy and guilt. On one hand, I can recall similar feelings of frustration when I ran my own small business and pitched unsolicited ideas to larger companies. But on the other hand, I've received 159 emails in the last 24 hours as well as a handful of phone calls. Depending on various deadlines, my travel schedule, internal meetings and external appointments, it may be days before I get back even to people I know.
And there are those to whom I never respond. I confessed this to Gupta.
"I appreciate that people are bombarded with requests, but you should make the effort to listen," he said. "If you don't listen, you may be missing a golden opportunity. Without creative thinking and innovation, it's the end of our industry."
In these times, his last comment is worth some reflection. Retrenchment and closed-mindedness carry as much risk as committing resources to the "wrong" opportunity.
But this may well be the time in our recessionary cycle to aggressively pursue new ideas. And it's true: Those ideas can sometimes be found in unsolicited emails and unexpected phone calls.
Contact Arnie Weissmann at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter.