Amanda Matthews, managing director, Designer Travel
We all understand and know we have to live with direct online discounting by suppliers.
Mainstream travel agents deal with online discounts of 5% on a regular basis, even in an agency like ours in which this only affects a very small part of our business.
But when you are trying to support suppliers that are giving nearly all of their commission away, and sometimes unnecessarily, it smacks of desperation or businesses that have no clue of what’s going on.
Some operators are giving away huge online discounts when their prices are already hundreds of pounds cheaper than their competitors.
If they had more sophisticated yield management systems or competitor analysis I am sure they would be a lot more profitable.
It’s bad enough in this marketplace having to compete with ridiculous online discounts from suppliers which have their own distribution channels, but now we are facing it from independent suppliers which tell us that they still value independent travel distribution.
They really are shooting themselves in the foot.
I understand direct business has to take place but we stock brochures, promote brands in branch and online and we are the ones recommending these products, only to feel totally devalued when a supplier offers almost all of our commission to clients if they book direct.
This equates to zero respect for travel agents in the holiday chain, yet often we are the ones with the valuable relationships with the end consumer, we are the ones with the power to convert or recommend and this is somehow being totally overlooked and, to be honest, it is disrespectful.
Are suppliers saying it costs zero to transact with a direct client? What about the marketing and administration costs? What about the telephone call centres, what about the merchant fees and bad debts?
Surely if these costs were factored in then dealing with good quality travel agents who are passionate about their clients can only be a sensible thing to do.
Operators need to decide if they are direct-sell or whether they genuinely support the trade, they need to be realistic in terms of the cost it takes them to book direct versus through an agent.
It does cost operators to take a booking direct, so please stop justifying your online discounting by saying that you are saving money as you are not paying an agent.
As agents we are offering partners free brochure distribution, free pre- and post-customer service, free postage and client communication, free marketing and free travel advice for their holidays.
Where would the likes of Cosmos, Jet 2 Holidays and Olympic be without any of these things being offered free by thousands of outlets across the UK?
Partnerships need to be valued and mutual respect is the key to success. We work with a number of partners who love to see us doing well and we will support them first and foremost as we are on the same side.
Suppliers like Classic Collection, Kuoni, ITC Classics, Wendy Wu, the list goes on, thankfully.
We, and I am sure most independent travel agents, would be happy to support any supplier who shows us the respect that we deserve for caring about our mutual clients but for those suppliers who only pay lip service to travel agents, come clean, go direct and at least this way we will know where we stand once and for all.
The market is moving more direct, and clients who want to book direct will, but there is an absolute need for good travel agents.
Suppliers are pushing agents further down the track of dynamic packaging or getting their own contract deals. We don’t want to do that but we will have no choice, and it is something we are now having to look at very seriously.
At Designer Travel we aren’t as affected as much as others on the high street but it is still an issue for us.
Agents need to stick together and react to the changing market place to survive, it’s just a shame we can’t do it together with suppliers that need us, who will probably not realise it until it’s too late.
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