Recent policy changes in a program run by Sandals Resorts International have caused an outcry among a number of Sandals-selling agents.
The March 1 changes in the Soon Come Back program, which protects agent commissions on future bookings made by clients during a resort stay, cap these commissions at 10% on all bookings, the same level they’ve been at for most agents participating in the 5-year-old program.
The cap primarily affects Sandals' top-volume producers in the Chairman’s Royal Club, who formerly could earn up to 16% on the bookings.
Agents also are prohibited from transferring the bookings to tour operators to earn a higher commission than the one paid by Unique Vacations, the worldwide representative for Sandals and Beaches.
The new rules require agency clients to send written instructions to Unique Vacations to indicate that they want the booking transferred to their agent.
The changes are not sitting well with some agents, including the 120 members of the Travel Agents of Suffolk County (TASC) on New York’s Long Island.
“We decided to take a stand for our members to let Sandals know we are not pleased with the [Soon Come Back] changes,” said TASC President Susan Bonesso.
“Most of our member agencies book through various tour operators where they have established higher commission levels. Now Sandals wants to cut out our tour operator, thereby cutting our commission. Basically, they are stealing away our clients from us.”
TASC also is unhappy with Sandals’ new requirement for agents to claim their booking.
“Our clients have to write letters to request the booking be given to the agent who sent them there in the first place,” she said. “We feel if we allow this to pass, who is next? Will it be the cruise lines who will cut our commissions when our clients book another cruise while sailing with them? Other suppliers might feel they don’t even have to pass on the booking to us at all and just cut us out completely.”
Kevin Froemming, president of Unique Vacations, said the program changes resulted from the mounting costs of operating and administering Soon Come Back as well as staff time associated with transferring bookings back to agents.
Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations in Whitehall, Pa., said that while the procedural issues were sometimes a hassle even before the new policies took effect, her agency “is not going to stop selling Sandals.”
“However,” she added, “we will forewarn Sandals clients to avoid the Soon Come Back desk. We have found they do not offer better deals than what our agency can find, and our clients waste precious vacation time sitting at a desk without access to comparable rates.”
Doncsecz's advice is, “Always follow up with the client upon return. We’ve taken the offensive, as well, putting a notice in their documents not to make a hasty decision on a return trip while in the throes of vacation bliss.”
Kim Caudill, president of K&S Travel in Fort Wayne, Ind., a top producer for Sandals, figured that “commissions had flat-lined when I saw the letters come out about the program changes. Yes, I’ll take a bit of a financial hit, but in the end, Sandals does so much for me as an agent, helping with the marketing and costs of bridal shows, the collateral materials and support and the free-room incentives when I book the high-end room categories.”
Sandals executives are meeting with some of their top-volume agents this week to walk them through the program changes and to explain the reasons behind them.
One agent said, “Sandals has always operated with the travel agent in mind. Maybe we took Soon Come Back for granted. All things change, and we have to change with them. Whatever Sandals has to do to stay alive and competitive in the marketplace, they must do.”
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.