Maureen: Spam and TripAdvisor - a travel agent's worst enemies

Maureen: Spam and TripAdvisor - a travel agent's worst enemies

Spam and safari woes

When oh when will the pantomime season end? It's March and we're still being treated to performances twice a day here in Gillingham.

Our office seems to be a centre for budding performers wanting to audition. I wouldn't mind if the acts were any good, but take the pair that came in requesting brochures for an African safari and you'll see why I despair.

"I want to see the big five," announced the wife. "I'd like to see the gorillas," said her husband. "I don't," replied the wife, gesticulating at her husband, "I already live with one!"

Cue the boom, crash of cymbals.

 "I suppose you're right," I said, "they don't do a lot. Just sit and stare, scratch and pass wind."

"My point exactly," she continued, "and you don't have to go abroad to see that. Come to my house while the football's on."

When she asked if there were any other brochures they should be considering, the urge to say, 'they're behind you' was difficult to resist.

The next couple had less to laugh about.

Regular clients of ours, they usually book a coach trip with their friends and always travel as a foursome.

The wife drenches herself in Estée Lauder's Youth Dew and, like one of the Bisto kids, you can smell her coming before she arrives.

So, as my nose prickled and my asthma started up, I braced myself for a session examining coach tours.

"Could you check the availability of this?" she asked as soon as she reached the desk, pointing to a summer coach holiday.

"Will it be for the four of you as usual?" I asked.

"Oh no! Quite definitely not!" The wife was emphatic to the point of venom.

"Well that's a surprise," I said.

"I doubt we'll ever travel with them again," said her husband, "not even on the bus into town."

"Oh dear, it sounds as though you've fallen out," I said.

"We have," replied the wife, "all I did was make an observation and they snapped at me in front of everybody at the senior citizens' lunch club."

The husband picked up the story.

"At the end of the lunch we always have a prize draw and all the money raised goes towards extra treats for the club. Last week our friend's wife won a packet of Earl Grey tea bags and some bourbon biscuits. Then this week she won a tin of chopped ham and pork.

"All my wife said was 'I suppose next week you'll win the tin of creamed rice because so far you've won your afternoon tea and your dinner.' She stormed out and hasn't spoken to us since. Her husband accused us of upsetting her and implying that the draw was fixed in their favour. It was like being in a scene from Emmerdale."

"Life's too short to fall out over a tin of Spam," I said while internally trying to reconcile a cheap meat product with the 10% loss of commission it had cost me.

Now I know why Spam filters matter

TripAdvisor devotees

How I hate TripAdvisor. The wretched site is costing me time and money. People talk about the democratisation of travel through these sorts of sites that invite members of the public to offer up their two penn'orth, but frankly, when it comes to selling holidays, I'm a benign dictator.

If I hear one more client call to tell me that they've 'just been on TripAdvisor' and now 'need to change hotels' I think I will scream.

When I make a suggestion about accommodation I do so from a position of knowledge. That's the point of using a travel agent, surely? I know what is available in the client's price range at the time of travel.

The idea that I would sell inferior accommodation when something better might be available irritates me. In some instances, however, clients have insisted on my finding alternative accommodation based on one poor review on TripAdvisor, no matter how inconsistent it is with others on the site.

My solution is to sit those clients down in front of me and look at the reports on I explain that I prefer to read reviews written by travel agents. They may have been wined and dined in the best hotels in the world, so have a more accurate, but no less critical, view of what represents good value.

It's a case of 'trust me, I'm a travel agent' and it seems to work.

Maureen Hill works at Travel Angels, Gillingham, Dorset

Read more columns by Maureen


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