Clients: Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them

by Ana Figueroa

Travel agent business models are as varied as the agent community itself but they all face the occasional client problem—or problem client, as the case may be!

Travel Market Report spoke to several agents about the issues they most often face these days in dealing with clients. Here’s what they told us.

Victims of success
For Ryan Doncsecz, groups manager for VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pa., organizational skills are a secret to success—but they can also be a source of problems.

“We’re very flexible about changes for our groups,” said Doncsecz. “We let people change dates. Or perhaps their companion wants to come in on a different night. Pretty soon all these variations begin to trickle in.

“I feel that in some ways we get taken advantage of,” said Doncsecz. “We’re glad to try to help all the way to the last minute. But maybe we are being too flexible.”

Group business always places extra demands on agents.

“Sometimes it’s not the easiest thing in the world to teach clients that we do have hours,” Doncsecz said. “But if it’s a huge wedding party, they pretty much expect you to be on call for them.”

Another fact of life with groups: there’s more potential for someone to be disappointed.  

“Let’s say some people in the group want to have rooms next to each other. If the hotel doesn’t honor the request, we will hear about it,” he added.

“Couples don’t like it when their guests are unhappy, no matter what the reason. Even if it’s something we couldn’t guarantee in the first place.”

Working with a good wholesaler helps smooth the process. Otherwise, the name of the game for group business is good service.

“Service is what keeps the group business growing,” Doncsecz said. “For every destination wedding you have, there are tons of guests and relatives who may be planning their own event.

If they’re impressed with how you handle one event, it can lead to others down the road. You have to keep that in mind. There’s always a flip side to client problems.”

Lack of appreciation
For Karen Lantigua, founder of My Wedding Away in Toronto, Ont., lack of appreciation is the biggest beef she has with clients.

“I think education is a big part of our profession,” said Lantigua. “When we speak to a client, we’re sharing our knowledge and experience with them. That’s an asset that we bring to the table.

“But people don’t always see the value in it. So many of them think that the internet is all they need to look up everything for their trip.”

Recently, Lantigua had a client who thought he could use a nickname on an air ticket.

“If he was buying the ticket online, he probably would not have been allowed to fly,” she said.  

Unreasonable expectations can also lead to client problems.

“Clients need to realize that all trips are subject to lots of uncontrollable factors,” Lantigua said. “Flight schedules change. I’ve had people sometimes scream at me and get so angry because their flight has been changed by a day.

“They think that agents are responsible for what the airlines have done. Or they think agents can magically create new flights for them.”

Creating ‘monsters’
Elise Perry, president of L3 Vacations, mentors people that have never known anything about the travel business.

“If someone is interested, they’ll get their product knowledge,” Perry said. “What sets you apart in this industry isn’t what you do; it’s who you are and how you do it.”
 
Problems arise, said Perry, when agents “create their own monsters.”

“People message or text me at ten or eleven at night. Sometimes I answer, depending on who they are,” she said.

“Sometimes I say ‘oh no you have to have some boundaries.’ We decide when to put those boundaries up. If we don’t, then we can’t really complain.”

Perry has been in and out of the industry for years. But she doesn’t have a traditional business model.

“My company L3 Vacations is one and a half years old. It doesn’t have a huge marketing budget. I don’t have a fantastic website. I play around a lot on Facebook so that people know where I’ve been” said Perry.

The majority of her business comes from referrals and repeat clients. But she still endures her share of rudeness.

“I had to call a long list of clients on Christmas Eve to tell them that their charter flight had been changed,” she recalled. “One client reacted as if her vacation was ruined simply because the flight was changed by an hour. I

“In the meantime, my family is serving Christmas dinner and I missed it. But that’s the thing you sign up for. Every business has its ups and downs. I have a sign on my wall that says ‘Get Over It,’” said Perry.

She adds, “Some people save their entire lives to go on one vacation and they entrust me with that. This industry is hard work.

“But it’s also heart work. If your heart isn’t in it, you don’t belong. You’d be better off with a nine-to-five job.”

Online chaos
Connie Riker, owner of Create the Moment Travel in Seattle, Wash., has noticed a client problem that is creating a bit of chaos. And she’s sure she isn’t the only agent affected.

It has to do with Facebook groups run by consumers who present themselves as experts on travel-related subjects. In the old days, they would post in chat rooms.

The problem is that clients get information from these Facebook pages that isn’t necessarily accurate.

“It’s a big challenge that I’ve run into within the last year,” Riker said. “These groups might start out small. It might be a page for families about to take a Disney vacation. Or a page for brides planning to get married at a certain resort.

“It’s a way for them to interact with each other. But there is misinformation there.”

Riker said some of her own clients have fallen victim.

“Clients are getting some so-called money saving ideas from these Facebook pages,” she explained. “One of the sites recommends that brides have flowers delivered to the front desk to avoid outside vendor fees. But most hotels long ago figured that one out.

“So the sites suggest that people have flowers delivered in luggage. It’s crazy. And the worst thing is that clients are very disappointed when you have to burst the bubble.”

In another instance a client read that she could save money on a DJ by partying at the resort nightclub rather than hiring her own DJ.

The only problem: on the day of the wedding, the club was closed.

“The client discovered this a few months before the wedding and was upset that I hadn’t told her. But I had no idea of what she was up to,” said Riker.

Short of having clients sign a release that they won’t rely on Facebook postings, Riker isn’t sure how to solve the problem.

“You’d think that once clients come to an agent, they would trust us as the expert. But that’s not always the case,” she said.

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