The agency community is agitated by a social media campaign
from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts that has been appearing on Facebook,
touting perks when booking directly with the company.
While travel advisors say the campaign diminishes the value
of their services in the eyes of consumers, Four Seasons maintains it is
committed to the agent channel but is seeking to reach consumers in a variety
of channels; it does not believe its Facebook campaign targets travel advisors'
Some of the ads include language such as "complimentary
perks when you book with us."
Keith Waldon, founder and director of Austin, Texas-based
Departure Lounge, wrote in an email, "Obviously, travel advisors and
travel agency owners are not happy with this campaign, as it is misleading our
clients to believe they can receive more/better perks if they book directly
with Four Seasons. It feels like a slap in the face to those of us who have
strongly worked to support Four Seasons."
Ben Trodd, Four Seasons' senior vice president of global
sales, said in a statement that the company remains committed to travel
advisors and agencies, calling them valued and "important partners."
"We continue to look for ways to innovate, respond to
travel trends and connect with travelers through a variety of channels and
partners," Trodd said. "This holistic approach ensures that we are
providing guests with an enhanced booking experience that is seamless,
convenient and ultimately provides the best value."
Trodd said the "exclusive offer campaign" launched
in 2017 (though advisors report seeing it appearing with greater frequency in
the past several weeks). He said Four Seasons consulted with travel partners on
it and most were supportive.
"Very few have raised concerns, and our commitment to
rate parity across booking channels remains," he said.
Trodd also said many of the company's guests book through
advisors, who "add significant value. In this campaign, we are not
specifically targeting travel industry clients and would not explicitly
intervene in these important client relationships."
Other hotel companies have embarked on similar
direct-booking campaigns in recent years.
A screenshot of one of Four Seasons' social media ads touting perks when booking direct.
ASTA's Mark Meader, senior vice president of industry
affairs and education, said ASTA continues to address the issue with hotel
companies and remains publicly vocal on the issue. The Society's efforts have
resulted in actions such as the removal of certain ads. He specifically called
out Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott as companies that have taken some kind of
action, "each to a varying degree."
With regard to Four Seasons, he said, "According to
feedback from some ASTA members, Four Seasons has not historically worked as
diligently as others to tout and take advantage of the value the travel advisor
plays in the hotel-booking process -- whether leisure or corporate focused,
consortia or independents."
Consortia advocate for including advisors in advertising
"Bypassing [agents] is penny-wise and pound-foolish,"
said Nicole Mazza, chief marketing officer for the Affluent Traveler
Collection. "Travel advisors know their clients best and have always
delivered the highest-yielding customers. Suppliers that convince consumers to
purchase on price do so at their own peril. Certainly, there is choice in the
marketplace, but we believe relationships matter."
Karen Goldberg, Virtuoso's managing director of hotels and
resorts, said that Virtuoso is Four Seasons' exclusive agency network. In a
statement, she wrote, "While we understand the motives for direct-booking
campaigns, we strongly advocate for the inclusion of travel agencies as a
She cited statistics from Virtuoso and YouGov showing that
luxury travelers who book through advisors spend 42% more on travel than luxury
travelers in general, illustrating the value of promoting the agency channel.
Waldon said Four Seasons' campaign was a surprise and an
unwelcome one, as clients are seeing it "daily" on Facebook. As a
result, he told the company it is no longer welcome at client events at
Departure Lounge nor at his annual advisor retreat.
"It is a really bad move by Four Seasons," he
said, "especially as their direct competitors are embracing the agency
distribution channel more strongly with preferred agency programs and marketing
Nancy Cutter, owner of Court Travel in Charlotte, said she
books a "substantial amount" of Four Seasons, and the latest
direct-booking campaign could change that in the future. "Why should we
support a brand if they're not really looking to support us?"
Harris Travel Service in South Miami books a "fair
amount" of Four Seasons, said vice president Andrew Harris. While he said
he won't stop booking Four Seasons upon client request, he might steer them to
"The cruise lines will say contact ABC Cruise Line or
your travel advisor," he said. "Those little words mean a huge
difference to the travel [advisor] community. When you see a partner that's
been such a strong partner for so long turn around and say, 'Book direct,' do
you want to keep supporting that partner?"
Christina Jelski contributed to this report.