The year has more than nine months to go, but we're going to go out on a limb and award the trophy for the 2010 Bonehead Marketing Award to iTrek, a purveyor of travel insurance in Australia. The company's singular achievement was to sponsor a contest asking Australian consumers to submit homemade video commercials illustrating that "The Travel Agent Is Dead."
Contest materials on the Web as of last week said that 10 finalists will be flown to an awards ceremony in Sydney where they will get to see their entries on "the big screen." First prize is two tickets to the Dungog Film Festival, an up-and-coming annual event in Australia.
All this has been on display at www.itrektravelinsurance.com.au, along with sample entries, though one sample depicting an agent committing suicide was quietly removed last week.
The iTrek website advises consumers that "some travel agents have been known to make margins of up to 50% on travel insurance policies. The time has come for the public to see that there is an alternative. By going online and taking your travel agent out of the equation completely. This 'alternative' could save you up to 50% on the costs."
Travel agents are used to this sort of thing. Sales pitches that seek to "eliminate the middleman" are as old as middlemen. They're part of the landscape.
What moves this enterprise from bad taste to bad business, however, is the way iTrek trashes the business practices of its own partner and principal, Chartis.
The company's website states, "We are an agent of and underwritten by Chartis," whose product line includes Travel Guard, which of course is sold through agents.
That's really what put iTrek over the top in the Bonehead competition: It employs a sales pitch that trashes the use of intermediaries when it is an intermediary itself, representing a company whose business relies on intermediaries all over the world.
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We'd also like to nominate Allegiant for a marketing award, but there's nothing boneheaded about its plan to enter the mainland-to-Hawaii market. Given that this market earned a reputation as a graveyard for new entrants in the early days of airline deregulation, we'd say Allegiant deserves a citation for bravery.
Allegiant hasn't disclosed the details of its plan except that it will begin service with the first two of six 757s in the fourth quarter.
But even without knowing all the details, we think this is a welcome development if it shakes the Hawaii market out of its torpor. Depending on which expert you believe, the market needs more seats, more cheap seats, more seats from the Eastern half of the country or all three.
It is true that low-fare carriers haven't fared well in the mainland-to-Hawaii market, but Allegiant is proving itself to be a different kind of low-fare carrier.
Even if it has gone a little crazy with ancillary fees, it appears to be stimulating demand in small origin markets (Allentown, Pa.; Casper, Wyo.) for air services and packages to top leisure destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando.
It's also making money in the process, netting $76 million last year on revenue of $558 million.
Allegiant is clearly doing something right. Let's hope for Hawaii's sake that it's doing it again.