By Laura Del Rosso
SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Convention and Visitors
Bureau plans to launch a hotel reservations service on Sept. 1 that
will not pay agency commissions. The CVB said it contracted a call
center to operate the hot line, (888) STAY-N-SF, which will be
promoted in bureau publications and in a national ad campaign
starting Sept. 1.
"It's unfortunate that [those who] promote San Francisco choose
to slap the wrists of those who send the most people there," said
Stan Jones of Montrose Travel in Montrose, Calif., and an ASTA area
director. "It's certainly not an incentive for travel agents to
book San Francisco." Jones said he planned to bring up the matter
at the Society's board meeting during the ASTA World Travel
Congress, which is being held in Glasgow, Scotland, Sept. 7 to
Deborah Reinow, vice president of tourism for the San Francisco
bureau, said the program would have been too expensive to operate
if it had incorporated commissions. "We know people are not going
to like this, but we hope that they recognize that the bureau
provides a high level of service to travel agents and always has,"
The toll-free number connects callers to a center operated by
San Francisco-based Topaz Hotel Reservations. The firm also
operates S.F. Reservations, one of the most frequently called hotel
hot lines in the city. The hot line is designed as a service for
consumers and a revenue source for the bureau, which, like most
bureaus in the U.S., is suffering from declining levels of public
financing, Reinow said.
Hotels that choose to participate -- and all the major chains in
San Francisco have signed on -- pay Topaz Hotel Reservations $19
for each booking generated by the toll-free number. Of that amount,
$5 goes to the bureau, which will use the funds for marketing,
Reinow said. Travel agents calling the hot line are told that
bookings are not commissionable and are given the bureau's tourism
department number for help with bookings that are
Consumers who call are led through a series of questions to
narrow the choice of hotel. Topaz's computerized database of hotels
will give them three choices, selected at random and based on the
criteria the callers provided. Reinow said the bureau has no
projections on the number of room nights that might be booked
during the yearlong contract with Topaz.
ASTA's Jones said he is aware that many bureaus have moved into
the reservations arena, but he said he is not bothered by those
that have set up hotel room clearinghouses for large conventions,
for example. The San Francisco program is disturbing, he said,
because it is a year-round service designed for travelers who
normally might use agents. "It's a big problem to me, because the
bureau is now becoming a travel agent," he said.
In the past, initiatives by CVBs in Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta
to launch consumer reservations services angered travel agent
communities, which led to the scuttling or modifications of those
bureaus' plans. But more and more bureaus are considering such
services, both as a means to generate more room nights and to raise
revenues for bureaus, said Karen Jordan, president of the
International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.
"Bureaus are looking at alternative revenue sources because their
budgets have been cut and they are finding it difficult to compete
with limited marketing dollars," she said.