Trouble with On the bubble

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Supplier on home-based agents: Industry is mining fools gold

In regards to editor in chief Arnie Weissmanns Aug. 2 column On the Bubble, I have had a home-based sales force for years and probably have talked to more travel agents and wannabe agents than anyone in the business.

Most do nothing, a few do a little and one in hundreds books a respectable amount. Nevertheless, the industry acts like they are a gold mine.

Theyre not.

Steven Gelfuso

President

CruiseBrothers.com,

Cranston, R.I.

Tom OggI read editor in chief Arnie Weissmanns Aug. 2 column On the bubble with great interest. It has been some time since I have seen such poorly researched information presented as fact. (See box at right for another take on the column.)

In a nutshell, the column states that suppliers interest in independent, home-based travel agents is unfounded and shortsighted, bordering on irresponsible with respect to their balance sheets. It states that industry consortia (like Vacation.com) have culled low-producing agencies from their rolls. Further, it claims that groups like mega-host Global Travel International, which provide single-point contact for aggregated home agents, offer a business model that will continue to be attractive to suppliers.

Let me help him out with this.

Suppliers, enabled by technology, have determined that various distribution channels offer varying results in terms of yield performance. Although in the days of domestic airline ticketing, volume was very important, today yield is more important.

Suppliers with finite inventories where yield performance is critical have discerned that the transactions generated by the home-based travel agent channel are among the highest yielding in the industry.

Home-based agents specialize in selling cruises, tours, resorts, all-inclusives and other upmarket products to a sophisticated clientele. They are generally technology savvy. The typical home-based-agent client is buying higher room and cabin categories; spending more on tours, gambling and beverages; and generally has more discretionary income.

Second, Weissmann claims that Vacation.com has eliminated less productive agencies, implying that that includes home-based agents. However, V.com has more than 1,500 home-based agent members who meet all of the groups qualifications. This is almost 20% of V.coms total membership.

Regarding GTI -- I would call it a seller of travel agent credentials, not a host agency. Two very different business models. If you lump card-mill agents in with real, home-based agents and their host agencies, then Weissmanns premise might be true.

However, these are two different business models, and I suspect that he cant discern the difference.

GTI isnt breaking any laws that I know of, and it seems to have stabilized a business that has been plagued by massive failures in the past. I suspect that the guys who started and continue to run GTI are astute and are obviously very successful. But professional home-based travel agents have been fighting a war for decades now against people who simply pay for travel agent credentials for the purpose of obtaining discounts. When you lump professional home-based agents in with the likes of GTI that are in the business of selling travel agent credentials, it is slap in the face to professional agents. 

Consumers pretending to be travel agents are not the same as professional travel agents.

Tom Ogg is editor and publisher of CruiseReviews.com. Although the author is married to the president of the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents, the views expressed above are his and do not represent the views of that organization.

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