The opening of direct reservations centers by tax-supported
enterprises to accept bookings over toll-free numbers or Web sites
is a trend that rightly concerns many agents.
Whether it be Sanibel Island's nonprofit Chamber of Commerce
opening a for-profit unit or the California tourism entity's
proposed deal with a res call center, the centers stand to siphon
off potential business from taxpaying agents.
Although the operations may not be threats today, there is the
possibility they could develop into full-scale agencies -- and take
all bookings once a traveler has dialed the destination or visited
its Web site.
We'd like to think that customers would turn to their own local
agents first. No doubt many will. But agents ideally need not
support a tax-supported enterprise that diverts bookings, however
few, from them.
The California Coalition of Travel Organizations and angry
agents have all but squelched the state's proposed program.
If it is rejected, the state's hotel and motel association could
step in and set up the call center, while working with World Res, a
company that would operate its Web site. That's a fair
ARTA president John Hawks has advanced a compromise to eliminate
the elements of unfair competition inherent in the program and make
the hotel and motel association link agent-friendly.
It would give consumers visiting the state's site or calling a
toll-free number the option to view a list of travel agencies in
California that could book them. Agents calling in or visiting the
site would receive a list of commissionable properties, and the res
center automatically would deliver an agency's IATA number to the
property when a booking is made.
An agent-hotel group task force would oversee the program.
Hotels could benefit from the lower fees that would ensue by
diverting bookings from airline CRSs.
The proposal for the hotel-motel association could send agents
new business and serve as a model for other states that want to
work with a private association to lock in incoming calls.