March 28, 2019 Blog

There are lots of vendors in this industry who are amazing travel agent partners. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those vendors who begrudgingly work with travel agents. In between is where the majority of vendors can be found. We should celebrate the first and only work with the latter when there is no other choice (and that’s rarely the case).

So what makes a good travel agent partner? First, the majority of their bookings come from travel agents. Second, they don’t steal your clients. I don’t think either of those is an outrageous requirement.

The first requirement is a very clear indicator of how much travel agents are valued by the vendor. When I say the majority of a vendor’s bookings should come travel advisors, I don’t mean 51%. I mean 90% plus. Ask your vendor rep what the number is – I assure you they know it. If they won’t share it with you or won’t even hazard a guess, then it’s a low number. Those that are good travel agent partners are proud of that number. There are still vendors who ONLY sell through travel agents. Reward them for that dedication.

Those who have been in the travel industry might remember Renaissance Cruise Line and their hostility toward travel agents expressed through very low commissions and their aggressive discounting policy – where are there now? They filed bankruptcy and ceased operations in 2001 just 3 years after receiving the first of their famed “R-class” ships are now owned by other cruise lines. They tried to show the love to travel agents after September 11, but it was too late to turn around their failing business.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting we rally and boycott travel partners. But what I do want you to get is that we as an industry are incredibly VALUABLE to these vendors. If those vendors aren’t good partners to use there are other options in every category. In some cases that means that you just choose not to work with them. In some cases, it means working with a partner who has a similar product.

The second rule is that they don’t try to steal your clients. I have to be honest and tell you that this really makes my blood boil! When I hear about cruise lines or resort chains that tell guests, “Next time book direct with us and we will save you money” it makes me want to put a stop-sell on that vendor. In my opinion, that is the ultimate insult to a travel agent. You can believe that is a policy that comes from leadership of that company. It says a lot about what they think about travel agents.

The same is true if they offer to rebook your clients and then you have to ask for – or even fight for – the booking. Or they gladly give it to you at a reduced commission because they “did all the work”. We all know that’s not true.

Bottom line: When a vendor tells you what they think about you through their actions and policies, believe them. Then decide if it is in your best interest to work with them. There isn’t a vendor out there that you HAVE to work with. I know some of you would debate me on that point, but YOU don’t have to work with them. It’s your business and your decision.

Yes, you have control of this decision. Don’t just accept whatever your client came in suggesting. Ask them questions – not to second-guess their decision, but to understand why they are asking for that product. Why do they want this brand? In some cases, they may think this is the only vendor that provides this service. There are lots of people who think Sandals is the only all-inclusive resort thanks to their beautiful – and clearly effective –advertising.

One final word about partnerships. If you need a new vendor in a category, please don’t just take the recommendation of an “agent” in a Facebook forum without knowing why they recommend them. Some of the advice I see shared in some of those forums is clearly offered with good intention, but is very misinformed.

As we near the end of first quarter 2019, take stock of what you are selling and give your vendors a grade. If they aren’t measuring up, there are others who can fill that void. You owe it to yourself and your clients to upgrade to a better partner.

By Sandy Saburn