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The Travel Column 2002-10-17

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We are pleased to bring you The Travel Column, written fortnightly for "The Trinidad Guardian"

TRAVEL AGENTS: OBSOLETE OR ESSENTIAL?

In January 2000 several airlines operating in the Trinidad & Tobago market changed their compensation structures by cutting commissions paid to travel agencies. The airlines indicated that this was necessary to reduce their annual operating costs to compete successfully and return to profitability. This action by the airlines’ dramatically changed the picture for our local travel agencies. Since then I have had many conversations with clients and other acquaintances as to the future of the travel agent.

Travel Agents - Obsolete or Essential?

It would appear that the airlines seem to be doing their best to drive travel agencies out of business. And with the exponential growth in and use of internet travel services, you may be thinking “Do I still need a traditional travel agent?”

Airlines vs Travel Agencies:

While commission reductions are relatively new to Trinidad, the airlines have been systematically adjusting agency compensation globally during the past decade. The world’s major airlines continue to indicate that they need to reduce expenses and say that they can't afford to pay travel agents. In fact, in the USA and Canada, most of the major airlines have eliminated agency commissions entirely. Strangely, although they 'can't afford' to compensate their ‘front line sales force’ they entice you to buy directly from their website and offer discounts off airfares. Not to mention, the double and triple frequent flyer miles for direct internet bookings. It doesn't make sense, now does it?!

Travel agents do represent a ‘cost’ to the airlines – the cost of losing revenue every time a good travel agent advises a client how to save money on an airfare by using a more convenient schedule or a lower fare on a competing airline. Good advice from a travel agent can 'cost' the airline (and save you!) considerably.

Let me ask you this. When was the last time you called an airline to book a flight, and the reservations agent at the other end said, “Oh, sir, I think I should advise you that there is an alternative flight on one of our competitors, leaving at the same time, but which flies nonstop instead of requiring a change of aircraft, and with a fare $250 cheaper than our fare”??? Chances are if you ask about other airlines, they'll probably say “I'm sorry, but our computer system doesn't have that information”. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between booking direct with an airline or with a travel agency! A travel agent offers you alternatives which could save you considerable amounts of time, trouble, and money.

How (good) Travel Agents Help You:

Good travel agents don't just find you “the lowest published fare” and “the most convenient itinerary”. Although, if this was all travel agents did, you'd still want to use them all the time. Good travel agents can sometimes (but not always) help you with the following (airline travel only) services.

Negotiate with an airline to make available seats on flights that are otherwise sold out
Get you priority wait listing on flights
Negotiate with an airline to get you a lower fare even though it is showing sold out in the computer
Help you to get the best seat pre-assignments possible
Treat you as a person and provide, in turn, personal service; and use their personal knowledge of your likes/dislikes/preferences to ensure that your travel plans best match your needs
Pro-actively monitor your flights and fare and tell you if better itineraries or fares come along
Act as your advocate in dispute and problem resolution
Be available for emergency problems and flight changes

However most travel agents can help you with cars, hotels, tours, cruises, etc. Professional travel agents can offer you additional value-added services, which include travel management services and corporate travel policy development.

Confession from an Airline Rep:

Our travel associate, David Rowell, recently reported that he once had a conversation with an airline representative – they were joking about lost luggage problems (not a laughing matter for anyone who has had that experience!). She told him about a couple who had their luggage disappear for their entire two week international vacation, being found literally on the day they flew back home again. David said, jokingly: “So, what did you do for them - give them a free amenities kit and toothbrush?” She said, “No, I upgraded them to business class for their international flights back to the US!” He was staggered by this, and asked what prompted her do such an amazingly generous thing. Her answer, “I knew their travel agent. She called me and talked me into it!”

What do you think would have happened if they hadn't used a travel agent? Yes, they'd still be waiting on hold while calling a “baggage tracking service” somewhere trying to get an update on their claim!

You get the Agent you deserve!

If you want your travel agent to be truly helpful, then you need to open up and share all your plans, desires and needs with the agent, and encourage the agent to in turn “go the extra mile” to help you. Over the past twenty five years I have met just about every possible type of client, from literally screaming lunatics, through drunks, to couples fighting out a divorce in front of me.

And yes, I have also met many lovely people who were a delight to work with. Guess who got the best service? Yes, the polite, pleasant, courteous, and friendly clients who went out of their way to help me to help them. And, that is the key phrase. You need to help your agent to help you. And also encourage them to realize that their work on your behalf will not be wasted - that you truly are going to buy travel from them and that the time they spend working for you will be rewarded. If you do these things, even an ordinary agent will become good, and a good agent will become extraordinary.

Different types of Travel Agent:

Different agencies have different specializations. There is no such thing as a perfect travel agent, able to help you with all your travel needs. Don't try and find such a person. A good travel agent will save you time AND money. I'll write more about how to choose a travel agent in a future column. But, for now, the key thing is to use a professional travel agent for as much of your travel arrangements as possible. We truly are in business only and exclusively to help you!

Catherine de Gannes-Martin, Managing Director
trvlcentre.tt@gmail.com
October 17, 2002

 

Previous Travel Columns

The Travel Column 2002-10-3
The Travel Column 2002-9-19
The Travel Column 2002-9-5
The Travel Column 2002-8-22
The Travel Column 2002-8-8
The Travel Column 2002-7-25
The Travel Column 2002-7-11
The Travel Column 2002-6-27

The Travel Centre Limited / American Express
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Woodbrook, Trinidad, West Indies
Phone: (868) 622-0112 or (868) 622-AMEX
Fax: (868) 622 0894
E-mail: trvlcentre.tt@gmail.com

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