Agency takes issue with Mark Travels no-rebate policy

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MILWAUKEE -- Efforts by the Mark Travel Corp. to enforce an antirebating policy through its affiliated Vacation Together Network (VTN) is ruffling the feathers of one of its top producers, Foremost Travel & Tours of Chicago.

At issue is a recent e-mail to VTN agencies informing them of a change to the VTN agreement that prohibits agents from offering any discounts, rebates, bonus, credits or any similar reductions off of any VTN inventory.

Unlike some tour operators with rebating rules, the Mark Travel Corp. has a unique power to enforce the edict because a Mark Travel affiliate, Trisept Solutions, developed the VTN online booking system. The e-mail puts agencies on notice that VTN will cut off their access if they dont comply.

At Foremost Travel & Tours, a top-producing member of Funjets 500 Club, chief financial officer Tom Stelter called the policy anticompetitive and anti-consumer. He said if the agency wants to give a part of our commission back to consumers ... no one should be able to tell us we cant do that. We earn it.

Stelter told TravelWeekly.com that what the wholesaler can do is control how its name is used. The point of power exercised by Tauck and Pleasant Holidays, which already have antidiscounting policies, is in the use of the brand.

Foremosts president, Lynn Farrell, added, The e-mail says you cant discount, but when you have a conversation with them, they say you cant advertise. They come out with guns blazing, but the reality is, you can [discount].

Foremost had a similar dispute with Pleasant Holidays in April 2004 and filed complaints with the Dept. of Justice and the California Attorney Generals office.

The case ultimately was settled, with Pleasant allowing Foremost to advertise its discounts and to use the name Pleasant in its ads, just as long as we are clear that it is Foremost Travel and not Pleasant Holidays offering the discount, Stelter said.

Foremost said it is looking into adding Mark Travel to its open complaint with the California Attorney Generals office but would rather work out an agreement without calling in lawyers.

We want to work with them, not against them, said Farrell. We do a lot of business with them. We have a lot of things moving ahead.

According to Tammy Lee, Mark Travels vice president of corporate affairs, the antidiscounting policy is Mark Travels long-standing policy.

Lee described the enforcement policy as a three-strikes approach, beginning with a notification that agencies are not allowed to utilize our company name in this manner.

If the discounting persists, VTN will contact the agency again, restating the position. If they do not stop within one week, they are turned off in our system and no longer allowed to sell our products, Lee said. 

The policy, said Lee, is designed to protect our agencies.

The VTN group of agencies, originally a consortium, consists of some 175 retailers that use a package of technology tools, including a leisure booking system that agents can link to their own Web sites.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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