Richard Turen
Richard Turen

This Stephen King real-life drama called Covid-19 has impacted the travel and hospitality industries to such an extent that for a six-month period I thought I would refrain from using this space to offer business advice to suppliers or sellers.

But now, with our shared crisis continuing, I hope you will allow me to begin to share some business observations as we continue to fight this battle on so many fronts. 

Suppliers have, for the most part, taken the safe, predictable path. This has meant that hotels, tour operators and cruise lines will begin anew with attractive come-on pricing and all sorts of certifications that new protocols are in place that will make any visit to their "product" akin to the atmosphere one might experience in a high-grade colonoscopy emporium.

But claiming you have better pricing than your worthy competitors while also claiming that you have spent more to ensure a sterile vacation experience is a major marketing challenge, and much of it will fall on deaf ears.

I know I will be accused of being naive or acting purely out of self-interest, but I am surprised, really surprised, that no major supplier has taken an obvious step to seriously enhance their business in 2021 and beyond: Announce an end to direct bookings. 

It is not only self-interest that inspires this advice. Inform the consumer that, with all of the questions they will inevitably have about accommodations, air arrangements, pre/post arrangements and safety protocols, your company works exclusively with professional vacation planners at zero additional cost to the consumer. 

Develop a strategy to convert those who wish to book directly toward a relationship with a trusted advisor who meets your (the supplier) certification and requirements. 

Be among the first to publicly announce that future reservations must be made by the professionals whose fee you are already including in your charges. Now is the time. The agents need you and, clearly, you need them. 

Let's end the dishonest and predatory practice of charging your guests who book directly the built-in travel agent commission even though they are not using a travel agent.

Just imagine the outcome. Your product would begin the climb out of the murky depths of "Covidism," with the full-throated support of a professional sales force. You would be doing the right thing. The ethical thing. You would, in this time of mutual need, be taking the lead in demonstrating what a true partnership means. Every agent and agency owner would be cheering you on for taking that first, huge step. The leading consortia would be singing your praises.

And what would you lose? Most suppliers claim they do about 5% to 6% direct business. But let's double that for the sake of argument. Does any executive in our industry seriously think that the vast majority of direct bookers would actually refuse a product if they received complimentary assistance from an experienced professional?

The pandemic has shown us that we were far too diversified in our product mix. I counsel travel agency owners that any leisure agency that does 90% of its business with more than 10 suppliers is likely unfocused and lacking a clear mission in the eyes of the consumer.

The top tier supplier who ends call center competition with their industry colleagues will reap the rewards of a grateful and invigorated collection of survivors in the booking wars ahead. Make no mistake about it, the best of us will survive this and thrive. And wouldn't it be wonderful if, for once, we had one another's backs? 

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