Charlie Funk
Charlie Funk

A lot of the calls and emails I get from people wanting to "get into travel" have common threads, including how much the caller loves to travel, help others plan travel and more. But many are mainly looking for a way to "travel free."

Missing from most of these dialogs is any indication of having run a business or having studied business operations, sales, marketing, accounting or technology. Some conversations end more quickly than others with the revelation that not only will long hours be involved at times but that this is a profession with responsibilities never imagined.

Business models differ and run the gamut from rebating a hefty portion of commissions to charging hundreds of dollars per inquiry whether a purchase is made or not. World events and economic issues that none of us can control have meant the end of thousands of travel retailers who were successful and profitable until fate befell them.

That is why having to compete with suppliers sometimes is tough. From less than 1% in 1990, direct cruise bookings had grown to 30% by 2010, with one very large line soon after reporting more than 60%. Had the retail channel kept ships filled, this likely might not have happened. Notably, another major line has steadfastly observed and maintained a dedication to the travel retailer.

It's one thing to solicit new business and at least mention the travel professional as a booking source. It's probably a logical extension to survey current clients to ask how the clients booked their trip and what their experience was with the process. It is a totally different matter for a supplier to solicit those clients in the survey with questions that blatantly ask what the supplier needs to do to get the clients to book directly with them the next time, rather than booking with the travel professional.

Yet that is exactly what one very large supplier recently did. As might be expected, the reaction from retailers was immediate and sharply negative.

But of greater interest, a number of clients reacted negatively to the survey, and they let the supplier know they had no plans to change from their agent.

The survey has reportedly been taken down and will not be offered again, but the damage has been done.

Still, it does bring things more clearly into focus. Permit me to digress for a second.

I don't remember the first time I heard these two cautionary bromides, but I was probably young enough that they seemed incredibly funny:

  • The check is in the mail.
  • I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you.

I instantly understood that someone will tell one what they want to hear and that not everyone shares the same goals, even though they might claim otherwise.

It's like this: The owner of a retail travel company has the responsibility to do that which makes her or his agency successful. The owner has to have a goal -- an agenda if you will -- that moves the ball down the field toward that goal. It is incumbent on that owner to measure goals and agendas of others offering assistance against his or her own goals to be sure they favor the owner's company.


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