Letter from the Editor, March 2016

by Cheryl Rosen

It’s with heavy hearts that we reload “Being a Travel Agent in the Age of Terrorism”—written for us by former ASTA counsel Paul Ruden after the Paris bombings in November—in the carousel at the top of our home page. Our prayers are with all those affected by terrorism and violence, in Brussels and around the world. 

In other disturbing news, though surely not at the same level, we’re concerned about a rumor that ran this week in The Company Dime, a paid newsletter for business-travel professionals, saying Hilton is considering cutting travel-agent commissions on its new HHonors discount rate.  

As part of Hilton Worldwide’s “Stop Clicking Around” media campaign, billed when it launched in March as a way to fight back against the increasing fees charged by online travel agencies (OTAs), Hilton offered a 10% discount to HHonors program members who book direct on the Hilton site, and to “preferred travel agents” who make the bookings for them. Marriott soon followed with an “It Pays to Book Direct” campaign, and ASTA gave both a pat on the back for including travel agents in their promotion.  

But now The Company Dime cites “multiple sources” saying Hilton plans to drop commissions on these bookings to somewhere between 8% and 5%. 

No one will speak on the record, and when I reached out to Hilton I got the following curt email reply: 

We negotiate directly with third parties and do not disclose that information publicly. 

The commission change, limited as it is to bookings by HHonors members on the company website, will not likely make or break any travel agency. But it is a first step down that slippery slope toward commission cuts that we all dread. 

Perhaps Hilton is just floating a trial balloon? Looking for feedback from the industry? If so, TMR votes no. 

Some good news
On the positive side this week, though, online trip-planning site Bucket, well, kicked the bucket this week. 

After three years of trying to become the travel consultant to which Millennials turn, Bucket said it will close permanently on March 23. 

“We’ve had a good run, sharing thousands of buckets with users worldwide, partnering with Airbnb, Facebook, and others to power their interactive trip guides, and most importantly, building a delightful and customized experience for you,” said CEO Julia Lam in a farewell message on the site. 

The site was designed by a team of former Facebookers to “collect trips from across the web, from travel sites (Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, etc.) or friends (Facebook or email), and automatically add in” photos, ratings, and reviews. 

So what happened?  

“People loved the concept. They just didn’t use the product,” Lam acknowledged. 

While she cites a list of reasons why she thinks that was, from moving too slowly to hiring too young a team, in the end she seems to not completely understand what happened.  

“These weren’t your run-of-the-mill recommendations from a Lonely Planet book or a TripAdvisor page,” she noted. “These suggestions were personalized, off-the-beaten path, and tailor-made for the recipient. They were the best suggestions.” 

Really? We at TMR like to think the real reason the customers never came was pretty obvious: People, even young people, really just want someone to do the research for them. And that someone is called a travel professional. 

In closing, I’ll just note that Travel Market Report will be hosting our annual Travel MarketPlace show at the Sheraton Centre Toronto on May 2 and 3.   
 
We hope all our Canadian readers will come out to meet the staff, our 70 exhibitors, and our roster of great speakers. And please enter our video contest (in collaboration with ASTA and ACTA) to win free admission to the show and maybe two free cruise tickets by showing why “Without a Travel Agent, You Really Are On Your Own!” 

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Tip of the Day

As travel advisors, we have to be curious. Curiosity leads to impactful connections that pave our road to success. - Jenn Lee, VP of Sales and Marketing, Travel Planners International

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