Travel Professionals, Marketing and Ethics

As a follow up to my blog last week about using and becoming a professional travel consultant, I thought about another topic that many times gets missed.  One reader asked me if I was going to follow up with a blog on how to become a professional travel consultant.  I was a bit at a loss of how to do that.  My story is very different from many people.  How the average person does this is a bit of a mystery to me.  I know that some will enroll in travel schools, which will definitely give you background on how to make reservations and the essentials you need to know about the industry.  I was just offered a job that I wasn’t looking for!  I learned on the job how to make reservations.  I already knew a lot about Disney and especially Disney Cruises so I didn’t have to do much learning there.

Sales, marketing and the essentials about the industry were a big mystery.  The good thing was the company I worked for did all that for me so I didn’t need to learn this.  When I decided to open my own business, I began learning more about this and taking many courses.  As I mentioned last week, going to Disney many times may make you an expert on Disney but it doesn’t make you a travel expert.  The same goes for sales and marketing.  Just because you can spot a great ad or talk up a new promotion and get people to buy the product, doesn’t make you a marketing or sales expert.  This takes a lot of work.  Many travel agencies out there do not give their agents leads.  Some do once they have a certain amount of business and some do right from the start.  This is big.  How many people do you know that would book a vacation with you today?  Remember, you don’t get paid until they travel so you need a steady flow of friends going on vacation each week to make money at this.  Just relying on the people you know isn’t going to do it!  You need to know how to market yourself.

This brings me to an even bigger point.  I think that some people think that booking travel is a lot of fun and they forget that it is a business too.  Businesses have rules, guidelines and codes of conduct which no doubt include ethics.  One of the courses I have taken involves ethics and the travel agent.  There are many things in the past that I just wouldn’t have thought were unethical, but after taking the class, it becomes clear.  Many people practice these things.  In my past job, I didn’t deal with a lot of these issues so I hadn’t really thought about it before.

  • Booking roundtrip tickets when you only need one way.  This is many times done when you need to fly only one way, let’s say to Europe for a repositioning cruise.  You find a lower price when you book a roundtrip ticket than when you book a one way ticket.  So you book roundtrip and don’t use the return flight.
  • Booking multiple reservations at the same time.  This can be with hotels, cruises or even Disney dining!  If you book more than one reservation, with no intention of using the second one, you are preventing others from making a reservation but you are also preventing the company from selling that reservation to someone who really wants it.  This is especially a problem with popular selections.  A cruise that is going to sell out in hours is a great example.  If you ask multiple travel agents to hold rooms for you, this could push the sailing into a higher pricing tier.  Generally when this happens, the prices don’t come back down.  You may argue this is better for the company because they make more money, but that is not always the case.  The price could end up much higher and others may not be willing to pay that much.  Of course there are exceptions to this such as rebooking a reservation onboard with Disney Cruise Line.  If you are already using a travel consultant, you can’t change your original booking, you must book a second one.  As long as you cancel that first booking as soon as possible, it is ok.  As for dining reservations, this can hurt you in the end.  When multiple reservations are made and no one shows up for some of them, the restaurant has unfilled tables.  If this continues, to make the profit they want to see, they will have to raise prices.  We have seen many increases in prices as well as with the dining plan.  Will prices increase if people don’t double book?  Probably, but not to the extent we have seen.
  • Cancelling a reservation to be able to work with another travel agency.  This is a tough one.  You shouldn’t have to deal with bad customer service but if you do your homework and find an agency and agent that you are comfortable with, this shouldn’t happen.  If you do end up working with a bad agent, you can always ask the agency to allow you to use a different agent, but cancelling your reservation is basically saying you expected the agent to work for free.  It does affect the agency as well, but in general, the agent is the one who did the work.  What is worse is if you have already booked with an agent or agency and then ask them to give you more of a perk or match what another agency will do.  You have been happy with their service, you just want more money back.  This is not fair to the agent or agency.  You should research the agency that you wish to work with before you book.  Once you have booked if someone else has a better deal for you, keep them in mind for future bookings, keeping in mind that sometimes getting more of a perk will mean sacrificing on the great service you have come to expect from your agent.  I have had clients cancel reservations because plans changed or they couldn’t afford the vacation anymore and I totally respect and understand that.  When a client asks me to give them a $25 gift card for their booking because another agency will do that and then cancels when I’m not able to match the offer, that is wrong.  Yes, I have had that happen.  Basically what you are saying is that you don’t appreciate or respect the work I have done and that my time is worthless.  Negotiate these terms before the agent works on your vacation.  You don’t negotiate your salary a month after you start working for a company, why should you expect your agent to do the same?
  • If you are booked with one agency, don’t start looking around for a better deal with another one.  If we know that you are booked with another agency, we will not work with you on that travel date/plan.  It is not fair for you ask us to take over your booking if you have already booked with another agent, just like it’s not fair for you to take it away from them.  It is also not fair for you to “test” an agent to see what they will do.  It puts them in a very uncomfortable place.  We don’t want to accuse you of being unethical but we have standards to uphold.  I have heard of some who will “test” an agent, thinking they are helping other friends in the industry.  All I can say about that is you don’t want to get in the middle of something like that.  It can get very messy.

Make sure when you are dealing with a travel consultant that you are comfortable with them before you start working with them.  That is one reason I believe in using the phone, visiting a potential agent or having a few exchanges on Facebook or by email.  You need to get a feel for how that person is.  Referrals from others is also important but shouldn’t be the only thing you consider.  Remember also you need to be comfortable with your travel agent, not just with the agency.  You will be dealing mostly with one agent.  Just liking the agency isn’t always enough. And remember, don’t get insulted if an agent tells you they can’t do something because it is unethical.  They are not calling you unethical, you may not have thought about it that way.  But once they tell you no, that should be the end of it.  If you continue to push them to do something unethical, you are being so yourself.

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