Friday, July 31, 2020

Why Some Travel Agents are Apt to Charge Fees Now (and why some of us won't) - Covid Times

Travel Agents have NOT ONLY become a gateway to planning and booking travel but now ALSO guardians to the health and well being of their customers. 

How do you feel about this? Do you agree we are worth a fee on top of our commission?

First off I'd like to point out from the title of the article that NOT ALL Travel Agents charge certain fees. To date, I have charged only very few for extreme or extraneous circumstances.

Some of you may be wondering why COVID has changed or will change this for many agents but the fact of the matter is that times have changed and continue changing. This has not yet given me the decision to change and charge fees.  Yet.

I guarantee you thought it's a HOT topic with many agents right now. And for good reason.

COVID-19 has changed the way we look at and experience travel. Online Travel Agencies such as Travelocity, Expedia and the big giants handle only Bookings. They are not providing you with a service tracking your trip nor bear any responsibility to taking care of you or "being by your side" when, for lack of a better term to use, all hell breaks loose. Have you ever had something go wrong at the airport or a resort only to feel your stomach tighten in knots making you react in ways you wish you didn't? Exactly my point. (by the way I do not recommend that ANY of my customers react on their own - this is why I am here - to cast your worries my way and give me the benefit of a doubt).

Those giants don't care where you go or what you do or what problems you experience not even how you feel. They care about their bottom line. The rest becomes your issue. They'll sell you anything and be happy to regardless of any false advertising that goes into photos or descriptions or anything else. They haven't "visited" these sites or attended "FAMS" which are events that allow Travel Agents to get to know properties in person. They are casting caution to the wind knowing they cannot be sued for a choice their customers made. About the only thing they can do is worry most about a negative review. And we have seen a lot of those in the news these past few years!  They aren't attending FAMS to see if descriptions and photos are correct or even what's unknown- the changes - the subtleties. And these purchases you make and your own work in planning a trip are now leading to a lot more misinformation. It's the way of the world. People seem to like it because it's become "too easy". Yet, the ones who pay the price for that ease know all too well what our worth as a Travel Agent really is.

The smart ones leave it up to those with expertise. 

Private Travel Agents such as myself ( and many others - we are not a dying breed! And I am not going to be biased and say we are right for everyone or for every reason, season and need ) we are however giving you a service. More than just any service right now. It's not just about expertise or opinions or anything else. It's about having facts and resources at our disposal that you do not nor does anyone else have.

 Each one of us has a career in something - we all (no matter what career we have) make money for a reason. Know-how, expertise, negative and positive experiences. In the age-old of being a Travel Agent (I'm talking pre-1990's here), it was mostly about booking trips because back then it was a service you couldn't get anywhere else (the www was still rather new). Travel Agents were paid commissions on everything. And you certainly could not go online to get your own tickets. Paper tickets weren't yet a thing of the past. Then pre-covid times, and then after the blast of the WWW, it was about providing a service and still a lot of travel agents (for FOMO = fear of missing out) weren't charging any fees at all EXCEPT in the cases of cancellations, rebookings, reissuing, paper tickets, etc. The stuff that really put us "in the black" had we not done otherwise. These were and are often extraneous circumstances. Many just weren't charging service fees. That also has a lot to do with competition and not realizing their own value I suppose. We had to compete with the internet not just with other private agents. Now we have COVID times. How are we competing now? Where it's not just booking but providing a service in MANY areas some that are not travel. We somehow became personal therapists, online booking agents, researchists, babysitters, troubleshooters, insurance agents and now health advocates. The certified are still deemed as experts in our field yet there's a certain something else we are becoming. And becoming trained on.  Not only do we need to have some knowledge of Travel Insurance products in order to sell them (we are not adjusters...) we now need to have a lot of knowledge and the energy to keep up about health protocols everywhere. And the health protocols are changing LITERALLY EVERY DAY. COVID has created an uncertain travel in and of itself. It is and has become an overwhelming amount of work. It's just a whole different realm of travel I don't think any of us as Travel agents / advisors / consultants (whatever you'd like to call us...) could have expected to be dealing with a year ago.

And you know what? A lot of Travel agents are right now working and doing it all for FREE. Some only charge based on your own negative choices or mistreatment as to how you approach travel. For example if you don't show up for your flight and you don't cancel you obviously were not receiving a refund on your plane tickets. Are you really going to DEMAND (no not ask) DEMAND us to go get that refund for you?  When you cancelled (and not for COVID cancelling your flight) who did the extra work to make sure you got on another flight? Or Your refund? Or your Voucher? Who made sure you got on the next flight on a delayed or cancelled flight pre-covid times? Who made it easier for you than having to fight a line of people at the check in counter or phone lines?  Do you think you were not going to pay the airline for changes? So in retrospect you are not necessarily paying US the fee at times. We are passing that buck and we are the ones taking that responsibility upon ourselves or doing only as you demand and insist upon. And Airlines don't even pay us commissions. We make nada. Nil. Yet, we work for YOU. I work for you. And the best kind of customer I can think to have is the one who can go with the flow, trust in me and give me the chance to do my magic. What I was taught to do.

We were working for FREE a lot before COVID times, (Behind the scenes), but now a lot of us will go out of business and close our small businesses due to the many FREE re-bookings, cancellations, chasing refunds, etc. and UNPAID commissions because cruises have shut down, flights have shut down, borders have closed. It has already happened. We are still not a dying breed. We are becoming more important now than ever before.  We aren't earning a dime for doing any of the work right now. No, I'm not complaining about the work or how I get paid or even about helping my customers. I'm just simply passing you the information to realize WE WORK TO GET PAID JUST LIKE YOU WORK TO GET PAID. We work hard. We want to see you happy. We love appreciative customers.

 Travel agents primarily work on commission. We often don't get paid until months after you travel. When you don't travel our commissions are not protected. And in between the time you decided to travel and work with us and use our advice and help to the time you decided to cancel or things got cancelled, we still worked for you.  

That commission we EARNED is like a "Thank you" from the suppliers for selling their products. Nothing else. It isn't for the work or for your appreciation. It isn't a tip. It isn't a paycheck. It isn't a salary. We don't get paid to do training that is involved with anything we sell. We don't get paid for the FAM trips. Many think we do this "for the free travel". Let me be the first to tell you that we do not and I repeat NONE OF US TRAVEL FOR FREE. 

 It has become a small commission and many travel agents have no choice but to work only part time taking on another job or running a full time job on the side, because of this fact. This isn't to complain. IT IS TO EDUCATE!! 

So now how do you feel about the changing times with Agents deciding to come out charging fees now?  

I'm sure this article is going to get a lot of groans. I get a lot of comments about how I cannot be afforded as a person's travel agent so people do the work themselves. Or because "they trust themselves" or because "they like doing it".  Where is the misinformation anyone?  What's TRUE: WE CAN BE AFFORDED. When I tell people that I can be hired for Free people don't know whether to think I'm lying to them or want to know what the fine print is. Where do they read it? Who can blame anyone for that right? I can't. When I hire someone I look for the fine print. When I purchase something I look for the fine print. When I sign a contract I look for the fine print. So I get it. I understand. But the truth of the matter is - I can be hired for FREE.  I run my business my own way. I make my own rules. I CHOOSE my own customers. I don't discriminate. And if I do charge a fee I try to be fair. I've left it up to people to "pay me what you think I'm worth" and I've been surprised with $100 before or a pair of sneakers and a delivery of chocolates, thank you cards and the like. Many people have surprised me. And it has been a wonderful eye opener. It does make me feel wonderful when customers RESPECT my time and UNDERSTAND what I do and why I do it. How hard I worked for them. And it shows appreciation. Something that many Americans still lack. (again, the way of the world....)

Will I change my charging schedule? Hard to tell. If I do, you will be the first to know. I can tell you this. I am worth every penny and more than what I make. You may not see it. You may not feel it. I may not brag about what I've done behind the scenes (I am somewhat modest) and I am learning that people need to be educated more about the work I do do. The work that all Travel Agents do. 

So please share with me what your thoughts are on the subject below. Keep those comments rolling in because I am learning from each and every single one of you every day.

Travel Agents still exist for a reason.


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