Selling travel the easy way

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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 Net.

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 hair.

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