I'm happy you're reading this column. I say with confidence, though, that I am happier to be writing it. You see, I suffered a quite minor stroke on March 17. I have no obvious physical impairments and am not aware of any cognitive loss issues. You will probably be a better judge of that than I.
This business that we have chosen lacks an overarching set of standards for conduct and best practices. And it isn't because travel is a minor part of a household's expenses. Indeed, it is likely our average client spends far more annually with us on travel than they do on attorney's fees.
I recently asked on several travel-professional-focused Facebook groups about how much personal data the participants gathered on their clients.
Some suggested I was being overly intrusive, others professed no understanding of why they should gather such data and still others felt uncomfortable asking for such "personal" information.
Physicians, attorneys and other professionals ask for personal data. You are no less a professional than they are.
About 23 years ago on a Sunday, one of our outside agents called to tell us that a ValuJet DC-9 inbound to Miami had crashed and burned in the Everglades.
Except it wasn't an inbound flight. It was outbound from Miami to Atlanta.
A hasty trip to the office (this was before we had remote computer access) with a sense of dread indeed found we had two clients -- newlyweds, who had been married in St. Thomas while on a cruise -- and one of our outside agents, who was returning home from her first cruise, on the flight.
Over the next few months we learned about commission payments to estates, that simultaneous deaths of intestate newlyweds result in family disputes regarding asset distribution and that the travel agent who booked the air and cruise arrangements was in the middle of it.
More to the point, we had key information regarding payment methods, trip insurance, wedding planning and more that would have been learned eventually but was vital since time was of the essence.
For those still mulling over this whole information-gathering thing, you can legitimately say that it is your client's responsibility to tell you if they have a DUI conviction in the U.S., an offense that is a felony in Canada. They may not be going on that Alaska cruise, and they're going to lose thousands of dollars.
Or that they need a notarized statement from nonaccompanying parents to take a minor out of the country.
And then there's that pesky requirement to have a passport for a cruise from Newark to Fort Lauderdale that calls in Bermuda.
There are dozens more examples of things a travel professional needs to ask that I don't have room to list.
It's like this: If you can't/won't ask the tough questions and render the requisite service, how are you any different from an impersonal online agency or internet booking engine?
If you aren't better, if you don't do more than these others, what possible reason would someone have to be booking with you?
Be a difference maker and not a space taker.