Thursday, August 5, 2010

Professional Travel Agents Deserve Some Respect!

Although I will normally try to come up with an interesting or relevant topic of information, today I want to "sort of vent" a little.

I received a call from a prospective new client late (and I mean late) last night. The lady was pleasant enough starting out - was interested in finding the best deal in Oct, Nov, or Jan since she was flexible on when she could take a cruise. This is a good thing - be flexible on your time frame for vacation and a professional agent will take the time to find the best deal (read this as pricing or value as the prices of cruises do vary week to week based on many factors.)

She did have a specific cruise line in mind as her past passenger level entitled her to a special discount when booking balcony cabins. So far so good! Without going into a long story (I've actually started this over twice), I spent the time looking at sailings during the 3 months and embarkation port she was interested in (this is 13 different sailing dates mind you) and found the weeks with the lowest pricing. I told her what the price would be, and then she wanted to know what I was going to "give her" for booking with me. I asked myself "When did I join E-Bay or become involved in running an auction?"

Why do people think they "deserve" something for booking with an agent instead of doing it themselves or booking direct? Especially after having the agent do the work they are too lazy or not capable of doing themselves!

Do people think that agents just arbitrarily make up the pricing of cruises? Then, they can or are willing to "negotiate" the price like car dealers, home remodeling contractors, or vacuum cleaner salesmen? Those type businesses can use inflated prices so they can "make you think" you got a "deal" with the "discounted" pricing or extras thrown in. How can they do that? Because you the consumer, are never told what the MSRP - Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price - actually is for that product.

In those scenarios, you are not dealing with the Manufacturer or Owner of the product, but are dealing with a "retail" seller who bought the product from a local distributor, who bought the product from a regional distributor, who bought the product from a wholesaler, who bought the product from a rep who might actually work for the manufacturer. Guess what, everyone gets to make up their own pricing along the way and add a profit to it. Then the person who has the store you buy from has to make a profit and also makes up their own pricing. They can put on a "SALE" and say the regular price is $xxx but they are discounting it X %. Guess what, they made up the regular price, and then offer a discounted price to what they want to sell it for to get their profit margin and make it sound like a good deal.

Well guess what! Cruise Lines do the same thing. They put out a brochure price (the MSRP) and then run various promotions or discounted pricing from that MSRP. But there is a difference!

You know what the brochure or MSRP price is for that cruise but it is still the owner of the product - the cruise line - that determines at what discounted price their product can be sold to the consumer at, either by themselves or by authorized agents. The agent is only a rep to handle the reservation on behalf of the cruise line! But the agent, who is paid by the cruise line by commission, is responsible for then handling everything for their customer before booking (doing the research to find the best deals and value and right product for the customer), after booking but before sailing (making sure payments are made in a timely manner, answering questions, help with pre-cruise registration, documents, and much more). For doing all the work, the cruise line offers the agent a pre-determined commission based on the pricing of the cruise that they, the Owner of the product set.

And guess what folks, the agent does NOT get paid their commission on everything you actually pay. Sometimes more than half of the price you pay is "non-commissionable" to the agent. The agent though, has many expenses to stay in business and to be able to provide their customers with the service they expect and more importantly, deserve.

Asking the agent to "negotiate" and discount the pricing the cruise line sets, is the same as asking the agent to pay for part of your cruise out of their pocket (it comes from the commission they earn) but then, the customer still expects to be able to get the same service they would normally would for being the "customer." Would you be willing to do the same job you have now if your boss asked you to work for less money? Then why would you ask an agent to do that? I haven't figured this out yet but it happens all the time. It's like going into a restaurant and telling the waitress "the diner down the street sells their hamburgers for the same price so I want to negotiate the price of one if I am willing to eat here."

As a Professional Travel Agent and Franchise Owner, I take great pride in the service, and many times, above and beyond service I, or my agents provide to our customers. We hope our customers come back to us again and again because of this "extra value" we provide and are willing to do even more extras for that loyalty (we have an exclusive Client Loyalty Program for our regular and repeat clients).

We continuously spend our time (and money) to learn as much as we can and gain more knowledge to help you make wise decisions for your vacation and to be sure you get the best pricing and value offered by the cruise lines.

If this extra service and information is not important to you, then do the research yourself and book with online websites or direct with the cruise lines. But wasting an agent's time to do research and asking them to then "negotiate" pricing is just wrong. The cruise line will not do it with you (in fact, most cruise lines now do not allow agents/agencies to discount or negotiate the prices they set) but there are agencies, especially the "online" sites that still will. Eventually, they may lose their "booking privileges" with that cruise line and since they can't do business with them, you are the one who will suffer!

If you find an agent/agency willing to "negotiate" pricing and then book with them, or book direct with a cruise line or an online website somewhere, don't call us to complain when you have problems later on getting in touch with them (they might be out of business, or do not return phone calls even when they are supposedly open). We cannot help you (and yes, we get many calls from people who have booked elsewhere looking for our help) nor will we. You found a "deal" and now you have to live with it.

We agents deserve a little respect for what we provide and the ones who don't think so should go find another line of work. I love what I do but never said I was a non-profit business.

Note: to learn about our Client Loyalty Rewards Program, and what extras we offer to our clients, go to http://arichman.cruiseone.com/travel/cruise_articles/display_editorial.do?edOid=1611791767.

2 comments:

Kishore said...

Great insight I have been in the business about ten years as an associate and there are a multitude of stories like this one. While I understand everyone wants the best price 99% of the time I can get that price unless a CCL PPV is trying to undercut me but that is a whole different story. Thanks so much for putting in public forum what many us are thinking. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to do this and hopefully you will keep it real while others can say things in obscurity on the business center…

Al Richman said...

Thanks Kishore. I'm usually pretty positive about things, take things in stride; and not get focused on things I cannot control. But sometimes.............