Travel Weekly published an opinion piece I wrote in its July 17, 2011, issue under the headline, "It's a business, for crying out loud." It was a rebuttal to a column written by Richard Turen that appeared in the June 27, 2011, issue, headlined "I politely decline." I strongly disagreed with the content of Mr. Turen's article, which I believe contained unfair and undeserved insults toward honest, hard-working travel advisors. I felt a need to defend and set the record straight.
Once again, I find myself disagreeing intensely with one of Mr. Turen's recent Reality Check columns, "Winning Covid protocol: End direct bookings" (Sept. 28). It also, I believe, contains an unfair and undeserved attack on suppliers, including cruise lines. Although I feel certain the cruise lines do not need me to defend them, there needs to be a strong response. Someone has to do it!
Mr. Turen states that the cruise lines (and others) will, during the recovery, take the safe path with attractive "come-on" pricing and by promoting certifications, sanitation and protocols that he feels are the equivalent of marketing a sterile, unappealing environment. This marketing, he believes, will fall on deaf ears. Instead, they should take what he sees as a more obvious path, which is to announce the end of direct bookings.
Mr. Turen, have you taken a supersonic rocket to the moon?
From where I sit, the cruise lines have been fighting for their lives and are immersed in a struggle to simply stay afloat. They are experiencing the weight and stress of financial hardships the likes of which you and I will never know. It's been a nightmare, and I would guess that the last thing on their minds is to announce a strategy whereby they send all of their business -- including from people who contacted them directly and are ready to book one of their ships -- to travel advisors who sell many products, some of which compete with them.
I seriously wonder how they should explain to these direct buyers that their own cruise line is not the place to book and instead should hang up and call a travel advisor who may, in fact, book them on another cruise line.
I certainly agree that travel advisors would be extremely happy to receive the business that currently goes direct to cruise lines. But ... get real. Unless the cruise lines determine that putting an end to direct business is, in some way, beneficial to them, why would they want to do that, especially now? They won't, because, well, it's a business, for crying out loud!
You write, "Let's end the dishonest and predatory practice of charging your guests the built-in travel agent commission even though they are not using a travel agent." That sounds a bit entitled, and more than a bit insulting. An extension of that logic suggests that cruise lines could compete with us by charging 10% to 16% less than we do for direct bookings or do away with commissions entirely and charge 10% to 16% less for booking direct. Then you could set aside your fears about them being dishonest or predatory.
Then again, you don't like competition that relies on "come-on" pricing. But if they were to do that, we'd all be saying, "Good night, Gracie."
It's a very simple concept. The cruise lines are paying us to bring them business. If they cut us out, they wouldn't need to lower their prices. But I believe that this has occurred to them, and they've decided it's most profitable to work with us and work with direct bookings. I, for one, don't want them to lower their prices, nor am I worried about them cutting us off.
You make the following statements:
- "You would be doing the right and ethical thing."
- "The agents need you and, clearly, you need them."
- "You would be taking the lead in demonstrating what a true partnership means."
- "Every agent and agency owner would be cheering you on for taking that first, huge step."
- "And wouldn't it be wonderful if, for once, we had one another's backs."
Your timing in making these suggestions couldn't be worse. From where I sit, I can find very little fault or doubt about anything the cruise leadership has done over the past seven months. They have already taken the lead in "demonstrating true partnership." They have "had our backs" in a way we never would have imagined, far beyond our expectations.
I feel that when they use the word "partnership," they are sincere. They have supported us over the years, so anything they would do now is not exactly a "first huge step."
I am in awe of the many actions they have taken to help the travel agent community keep its head above water -- for instance, just the fact that they are protecting commissions when a cruise is canceled and then pay it again when it is rebooked. Considering their financial position right now, this generosity blows me away. I am so very grateful that they indeed "have our backs."
Your article is distressing because I would not want our cruise line partners to imagine that this is widespread thinking among the travel agent community. It is not. Your article reeks of victimhood. (You might want to go back and read your June 2011 article where you call your competitors parasites.)
The cruise pie has always been big. Everyone can have a piece, so long as you're willing to run a sensible, well-managed, ethical business. Our hope now is that the cruise lines find a way to bake another big pie. The weight they bear right now is unfathomable.
Moving forward, our success or failure as travel advisors won't be dependent on whether or not the cruise lines do direct business. It will be based on our ability to recover, rebuild and produce. We will succeed if we work hard, sharpen skills, continue to gather knowledge and market the product to earn the business that is available to any one of us.
It's what competition is all about, which is inescapable in business.
This is a quote from my 2011 article:
"Focus on making your agency valuable to the cruise lines. We are their army of 'outside agents.' Even if the cruise lines do more direct business in the future, do you think they would want to cut loose any agency that is producing for them? No, they will keep an inside sales force and a valuable outside sales force, because their goal is to fill the ships, as it should be."
I still believe that this is how we will succeed within the partnership we already have.
We at Direct Line Cruises and most travel agency owners are extremely grateful to our true cruise line partners for doing everything they possibly can to help us stay afloat. To them, no harsh words. Only, "thank you."
Helen Coiro is the co-founder and owner of Direct Line Cruises in Hauppauge, N.Y.
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This industry guru has been talking fees since 1984 and not since Covid. But I digress.
Richard Turen raises a great issue in a recent column ("A way forward without charging fees," Oct. 12) about being able to buy the same products at a discount somewhere else without pointing out that those sellers typically don't have the expertise, experience, duty of care, or spend the time that a quality advisor does.
I have always asked the agency community to keep the selling of someone else's travel products separate from the selling of their own services. When I am asked about a client who asks for a rebate, or to match a price, I also say that an agency's policy on travel supplier product pricing is a marketing tool/strategy they have control over. If people thought I was a bit looney suggesting agencies charge fees in the mid-80s, they went postal when I said I wished I could have (when I owned agencies) sell everything at net and charge for our experience expertise and time. In fact, I have client today that will rebate on a travel supplier product sales but still have fees for their service. At the end of the day they make sure they get compensated fairly for their services.
Until owners and advisors separate what they bring to the transaction as being different from selling someone else's product, their income will be solely dependent on supplier pricing and compensation decisions which have no relationship to the services agencies provide to clients, their revenue and compensation is not within their control.
I don't fault Richard Turen for his choice of a business model. But I also think he should not disparage other alternatives. As long as he sells high-commission travel products and the suppliers don't chip away at those commissions, and his clients don't yet realize, or care, that they can get his advice and insight for free and then shop price in all those alternative places he mentions, the more power to him. Me, I am more of a control freak. At the end of the day, we always choose our own path.
Robert Joselyn is the president and CEO of the Joselyn Consulting Group.