Any travel agent watching Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on Monday night would have found it pretty uncomfortable viewing.
In the show, Flight Centre staff were accused of exploiting older customers and ‘blocking’ airline seats to inflate prices, and were covertly filmed discussing every possible tactic to increase mark-up on sales.
It caused quite a furore on Twitter, and the following day Travel Weekly’s inbox and agent social media platforms were awash with comments about the programme – some scathing about the journalism, some defensive of Flight Centre, but most expressing genuine concern about the shadow that programmes like this inevitably cast over the whole profession.
I’ve been covering the travel industry long enough to remember the days when writing stories about agents being branded ‘rip-off middlemen’ was fairly commonplace.
But that point of view has become less prominent in recent years as agents have demonstrated their worth not only by sourcing the best holidays at the best prices, but also by looking after their customers through a host of events ranging from strikes and ash clouds to acts of terrorism.
Flight Centre has been quick to point out that the accusations levelled at it relate to isolated incidents and individuals, and do not reflect company policy or the attitude of the majority of its wealth of committed staff. But for some consumers, the seeds of doubt will have been sown.
Now is the time to ensure we are all singing from the same hymn sheet, and reminding clients of the service, passion and value that a good agent can offer.
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