The matter of the Preview Travel radio ad came to a head rather
quickly at ASTA.
The Society kicked the electronic agency out, concluding that it
violated a bylaw that requires members to "support the continued
improvement of the travel agency industry."
The ad, aired in several cities, ridicules traditional agencies,
leaving the impression they will book anything without regard to
customer requests and, even, end a conversation because the clock
has struck 5 p.m.
ASTA asked Preview to drop the ad, but it is still running (I
heard it while writing this column).
Much discussion has revolved around the offensive way the
traditional agent is portrayed, and rightfully so. However, I would
like to focus on just one line.
A voiceover asks listeners, "Tired of letting someone else
decide when and where you travel?" This leads to a theme line,
"Travel on your terms," which makes a virtue of self-booking on the
For some, self-booking is fine, but ironically the ad creates a
false dichotomy between Preview and other agencies by suggesting
that clients at traditional storefront agencies are being sold
whatever the travel agent wants to sell.
Don't you wish? If you could sell without the consultative
process, you could move market share all over the place. And, if
you could move market share at your whim, you wouldn't be having
the commission income problems that face you today.
Our Nov. 23 News Analysis put matters bluntly: Carriers know
they can cut your pay without penalty because with the cuts
beginning in 1995, agents could not move enough business to hurt
the lines that led the way or to benefit those that held out.
The Preview ad -- despite its offenses -- might be easier to
take if it were right on this point.
We have a kind of convention -- don't we? -- that we can tap the
common man's take on things by talking to a favorite bartender, or
a barber, or a taxi driver.
How about my hairdresser?
During a recent haircut, he asked about the travel business and
I cited the caps, which he knew about. With almost no more comments
from me, he said that "agents won't go away."
"Sure, the public will go direct on the Net, but the agents will
specialize. What does the average person or business person's
secretary know about travel? How long does anyone want to research
a trip? Agents will offer the expertise."
I was astonished and would have thrown my head back to exclaim
in surprise -- except I might have wound up with a lot less