As travel becomes viable and we can see a "post-Covid" recovery, there has been no shortage of sincere statements from tour operators, hotel chains and cruise lines regarding the role travel agents will continue to play going forward.
I think the words are well-intentioned. But in the building where the marketing folks have their offices, I wonder sometimes if the messages from the top floor are filtering down. I wonder how the marketing pros are interacting with the ad account execs to assure that bookings are filtered through the top-tier professional travel advisors. You know who I mean: the folks, like us, whose commission fees are being charged to the guest for a series of implied services.
Sometimes readers wonder why we don't somehow get better organized so we can explain to industry CEOs what we do, what we need and, especially, what we don't need. Personally, I don't think that is really necessary. The CEOs I talk to have a really good handle on the agency side of the business and why it is integral, though not as much as it once was, to the sales success of the company.
Instead, I think it wouldn't be a bad idea if small-agency owner groups could meet with ad account and internal marketing leaders at these companies. They need to hear directly from the seller, the primary seller, how their failure to understand what we really do and their positioning as competitors instead of partners, really destabilizes the product and its positioning while eating away at the motivation most of us have to sell our preferred partners.
I have been told by more than one cruise and tour company CEO that I am naive about the role travel agents/advisors perform.
One put it this way: "I don't think you realize the calls we get from travel agents. They are not the well-informed, thoughtful consultants with product knowledge you seem to assume they are."
The goal, of course, is to drive business, direct business to the company. At least, this is what marketing people believe they were hired to do.
One can easily make the case that suppliers have used the (at least) year-and-a-half Covid break to strengthen direct-booking ties. We are seeing more and more "Call 1-800-XXX-XXXX or your travel advisor." We are seeing companies embracing technologies that now require the booked guests to be in touch with the supplier digitally to provide a wide range of personal information and preferences.
To my knowledge, not one major travel supplier came out of Covid meetings with the most rewarding marketing idea of all: Let's stop taking direct bookings. Let's use our agent advisory board to suggest ways in which we can retain the business of 99% of direct bookers by offering enhanced professional handling of their reservation.
The result would be an explosion of positive industry PR and support from all of the major consortia and home-based agency groups. But no one has thought to do it. No one. Anyway, aren't cruise lines and tour companies' businesses with shareholders? Aren't they supposed to maximize profits?
Yes. But is it ethical to pretend that call center employees working with no direct knowledge of the guest's travel history, health issues, pre- and post options or even the best possible travel insurance are still entitled to charge the commission designed and identified as payment for individuals who truly represent the interests of the client?