Everyone Hate Travel Agents?
Part 3 of a series on travel agents
Is your friendly local
travel agency a help or hindrance to your travel planning?
If you've chosen well,
your travel agent and travel agency will almost certainly be an invaluable help.
3 of a 5 part series - click for Parts
Sometimes it seems that
everyone loves to hate travel agencies.
But is this fair and justified,
or unfair and unjustified?
This article looks at
five reasons why such negative perceptions exist, but in every case, travel agents are getting
an unfairly bad reputation.
Problem 1 - Clients Blame Their
Agent for Everything
Studies suggest that being a
travel agent is an intensely stressful job. Why is this? Because
travel agents are not able to control the outcomes which they
are deemed responsible for.
For example, a customer
calls up and says 'I saw an advertisement for $198 roundtrip
fares to Orlando, I want to buy four of them for my family to
travel next week'. The travel agent's response will probably be
'the fare isn't available for those dates' or 'there are no
seats available on the dates you request', or in some other way,
to tell the person that he can't have the fares he expected. What happens next?
Does the client say 'those
horrible airlines are playing their tricks on me again'? No -
the client gets upset at the agent - 'What do you mean, there
are no seats available? Why not? Look harder!' And this of
course gets translated into problem 3 (below) as well - 'My
agent is incompetent'!
Most of the time, problems
perceived as being the fault of the travel agent are actually
the 'fault' of the suppliers that the travel agent is simply
passing on to you. Don't shoot the messenger who brings you the
Problem 2 - The 'I can find a
cheaper fare' Issue
Who hasn't read one of the
regular articles that appear in the press by a bored journalist
seeking a cheap headline. These stories, sometimes cloaked in
pseudo-science, tell how a reporter called different travel
agencies and got quoted wildly different prices for the same air
itinerary. Invariably, the stories end with the conclusion that
this means that travel agencies are no good!
Time for a reality check.
Just about everyone, except the reporters who write these
stories, know that air fares 'change' a dozen times every minute
as the airline yield computers open up or close down the
availability of different fares for the same flights. And so,
almost without exception, these journalists misunderstand the
real meaning of their experiences.
The real meaning is that the
airlines are making it impossible for anyone to comparison shop
for airfares. They are playing pricing games that in any other
industry would be unacceptable (remember the outcry when Amazon
started offering different levels of discount to different
customers?), and the different prices that the reporter was
quoted merely reflect the bewildering variety of different fares
that appear and disappear. Shame on the airlines, not shame on
In addition, some travel
agents will take a simple request for a fare and then 'add
value' to that request - ie, by suggesting slight changes to the
itinerary or travel times so as to save you money. If you're
looking for the absolutely lowest airfare quote (instead of the
most convenient travel), encourage the travel agent to
investigate slight variations (eg, maybe changing planes rather
than flying nonstop, choosing less popular times of day or days
of the week to travel, changing airlines, etc).
This is where you have to be
a 'good client' in order to get a 'good fare'. Remember - the
travel agent (unlike an airline reservations agent!) is on your
Problem 3 - Some Travel Agents
Truly are Bad!
I'm a great believer that
people are, in general, basically decent. Yes, I know that there
are too many murderers, rapists, drug addicts and pushers, etc;
but in general, I always expect and hope for the best when I
meet a new person for the first time, and generally, people turn
out to be as good as I hope them to be.
So why is it, then, that
when a person has a bad experience with one particular travel
agent, they decide that all travel agents, everywhere, are as
bad as the person that they had an unfortunate experience with?
I'm the first to sadly
concede that there are bad agents out there. But - bad agents
aren't subtle. Their inabilities and incompetence is obvious to
anyone after only a minute or two of interaction. And, so too
are the competencies, experience, and abilities of a good agent
If you encounter a bad
agent, leave that agent immediately and seek out a better agent.
Don't blame all hundreds of thousands of travel agents just
because inevitably a few bad agents briefly work in the
If you applied a similar
standard to the behavior of airline staff, you'd never ever fly
Problem 4 - Suppliers Blame
Travel Agents for Everything
As a former travel agent
myself, I of course would do my own travel bookings. Occasionally I would encounter a problem with a reservation, and
invariably the airline or hotel or whoever would tell me (not
realizing that I was both their customer and also the travel
agent who did the booking) 'Oh, your travel agent didn't ---'
or 'Your travel agent should have ---' (in each case, fill in
the blanks as appropriate).
I took a sad delight in
asking the person 'Are you sure about that - there is no
possibility that it could have been a mistake at your end?' The
person invariably would look me sincerely in the eyes and
promise me that it was absolutely impossible that it could be
their mistake, but instead was of course the fault of my travel
agent. I would then dramatically reveal to them that I was the
travel agent, and that I had personal direct knowledge of
exactly what happened, and ask for their apology for the
outright lie they had just offered me.
But I wasn't so lucky with
my clients. I particularly remember one time that a regular
client of mine was flying from Seattle to Los Angeles on Alaska
Airlines to then connect with a flight to Sydney. Alaska
Airlines cancelled his flight at literally the last minute, and
when he got to the airport, told him that his travel agent
should have got in touch with him to tell him of this flight
At the time that they were
telling him this, they still had not even updated their own
computer system to show that the flight had been cancelled - but
somehow, the customer service agent at the airport told him that
it was all our fault. He missed his connection to Sydney, and
had to choose between believing either us or the Alaska Airlines
airport representative (who had outright lied to him).
Guess who he believed? He
never bought any more travel from us again, and probably, to
this day, still believes that not only did we mess up his
booking but then tried to lie about it, never once suspecting
that the uniformed honest looking airline rep with twenty years
of experience was actually the person that had done the lying.
So, please, don't be too
quick to automatically believe what suppliers tell you - travel
agents are assuredly not perfect, but so too, suppliers are also
not perfect and make probably as many or more mistakes than
Problem 5 - Industry
Commentators claim Travel Agents are Biased
I laugh when I read
checklists of 'things to look for when you choose a travel
agent' - full of unrealistic or irrelevant suggestions that make
no sense at all. Invariably they include a warning that travel
agents might choose to deliberately force you, the customer, to
buy a product that you don't want, just because the travel
agency makes more commission from selling you this product;
sometimes these checklists suggest you ask for details of the
agency's commission contracts with all their suppliers (try
doing that next time you go to any other shop - ask an
electronics store for details on their markups on all their tv
sets before choosing your tv set, and see how far that strategy
I wish that travel agents
really were biased. As a former travel wholesaler, I tried just
about every imaginable strategy to try and get more travel
agents to sell more of my products, including all types of
commission override incentives. But only one thing ever
consistently worked - providing good quality good value products
with good service to the travel agencies and their clients!
And don't just accept my
experience. Look at other situations, too. For example, when the
airlines first announced their first round of commission cuts
and caps, TWA (remember them) said that they would not reduce
the commissions they paid travel agencies, in the hope that this
would encourage agencies to steer more business to them. Guess
what happened? TWA noticed almost no change in market share from
travel agents at all - because travel agents were prepared to
ignore and sacrifice the extra commission that TWA was offering,
preferring instead to concentrate single mindedly on giving
their clients what was best for their clients, not what was best
for their agency!
90%+ of all travel agents
show no signs of any bias at all, and indeed most travel agents
don't even know the details of what overrides and bonuses their
agency owners may have negotiated with suppliers! It is unfair
for these so-called self-appointed 'industry experts' to suggest
that travel agencies are biased when the facts consistently show
they are not.
How can Travel Agencies Solve
part four for some suggestions on this
vital question! :)
Read more in the rest of this
Part 1 we discuss how travel agents can
help you better than supplier representatives can or will.
Part 2 we explain that the airlines'
zeroing travel agent commissions isn't just an attempt to kill
off travel agents, but also an attempt to kill off smaller
airlines. Both ways, you're the real loser.
Part 4 we offer some solutions to
the problems the travel agency industry is currently facing.
Part 5 represents a
bringing together of both this article series and also the
series on how to choose a travel agent and agency, and talks
about ways in which you can now best use travel agency services.
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12 April 2002, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.