Supplier Relations: Good Deeds Earn Agents’ Undying Loyalty

by Marilee Crocker

Travel agents may have their beefs with suppliers, but when suppliers go the extra mile for agents and their clients their good deeds engender confidence, lasting loyalty and a happy partnership.

Travel agency owner Steve Lincoln said he considers the kind of positive relationships that ensue the backbone of his success. “I don’t care what product a supplier offers, if they don’t offer the relationship to go with it, then I’m not going to support them. I feel very strongly about that,” said Lincoln, who is owner of Lincoln Travel in Bridgewater, Va.

We asked Lincoln and other agents to share stories of instances when suppliers took steps that earned their loyalty.

The 2 a.m. food run
Alyse Cori, owner of Travelwize, a Virtuoso agency in Sonoma, Calif., will never forget the hotel sales rep who was there for her clients in the middle of the night. “Years ago I used to do rock band travel. The bands would go play at Madison Square Garden in New York and come home at 2 a.m., and they’re hungry.

“The hotel sales rep at the Ritz Carlton was there to greet them at 2 o’clock in the morning. One of the band members said, ‘Here I am in New York, and I haven’t had any Italian food.’ So she took a taxi down to Little Italy and brought them back food.

“That was something I’ll always remember. Here she is, an older lady, she was in her mid-60s, and she hopped in a taxi, got the food and came back and delivered it.

“Just the fact that someone would even do that––when someone does that, there’s no question that they’re there for you. The loyalty continues.”

Easing the way
Lincoln said he is forever grateful to the river cruise company that took care of nervous clients after they missed their flight to Vietnam. “I had a group flying from Washington to Hanoi to pick up an AmaWaterways cruise down the Mekong. There was a three-hour backup on the interstate, and two clients out of the group missed their flight.

“AmaWaterways had booked their air originally so I called them, and it wasn’t even 10 minutes before they had them re-booked on a flight departing the next day,” Lincoln recalled.

“They arranged a private driver to pick them up in Hanoi and drive them to hotel. That was so important. These are two people who had never traveled, going to Cambodia and Vietnam, and they were separated from the group. They were completely unnerved. It could have been a horrible situation, and they made it good.

“I wrote an email to one of the co-owners of AmaWaterways saying, ‘Because of situations like this you will always have my loyalty. You differentiate yourself in service.’”

‘Tell me if I’m wrong’
Yolanda Meador, president and founder of You Deserve It Vacations, a TRAVELSAVERS agency in Irving, Texas, said she appreciates it when suppliers don’t merely do what she asks of them. She wants her supplier partners to take the initiative, even if that means telling her she’s wrong.

Meador, who specializes in destination weddings, honeymoons, vow renewals and girlfriend getaways, recalled the first time she created a multi-country Europe itinerary for a client.

“I had put together what I thought made sense but in talking to one of Travel Impressions’ Europe specialists, she said, ‘Geographically that’s not a smart way of doing it; you’re backtracking. You will give your clients a better travel experience if you do this.’

“She rearranged the trip to get the most bang for the buck. It allowed them to do an extra day and an extra excursion and kept them in the same price range, versus that long train ride I had them on. They really saved my behind on that.”

“If I’m wrong please tell me. If there’s a better way of doing something, educate me,” Meador implored. “Arm me with something that is going to show that I’m looking out to make sure you get the best value for your dollar.

“Don’t just build it. If it doesn’t make sense, tell me. That’s a true partnership.”

Luxury hoteliers deliver
Janice Adkins, owner/manager of Brevard Travel Agency, Inc., an Ensemble agency in Brevard, N. Carol., said she has more “above-and-beyond experiences” with luxury hotel suppliers than with all other supplier categories put together. “Hotel suppliers, hands down, care about the business,” said Adkins.

“One that made me a hero in my clients’ eyes was the Plaza Hotel in New York City. I had a couple getting married, so they were spending seven days up there. She had been going to that hotel for years, not even using a travel agent. But she wasn’t having any success making arrangements.

“They wanted simple things. They wanted a minister, some flowers, and dinner reservations at a restaurant. They could not seem to get that lined up. She’d been talking to them for weeks. She was beside herself.

“I said, ‘Let me contact the concierge and see what I can do.’ I made one phone call to the concierge. He called her immediately and got everything set up in one afternoon. I was able to get a room upgrade, breakfast and food and beverage credits. She was, ‘You’re amazing.’”

Sometimes it’s the little things
Amy Daniel, CTA, sales manager at Virtuoso member agency Alabama World Travel in Montgomery, Ala., recalled the recent time when a distraught client contacted her during his flight to New York and told her he had broken his eyeglasses.

“I called the concierge of the hotel, the W. When he arrived, the concierge was standing there with a repair kit.”

Delivering that kind of peace of mind is priceless, she suggested. “What if you got on your vacation and realized, ‘I’m in trouble,’ but you’ve got somebody there that took care of that for you without even asking?

“I’ve had clients leave their cellphones in a taxi cab, and the hotel tracks it down and finds it for them, which is not easy to do. Very recently, I had a client who was staying at the Baglioni Hotel in London. They left with some clothing they didn’t want to be without. The hotel went and found it, and shipped it back to them.”

Daniel said that what she really loved about these examples is that her clients knew they could call on her to make a bad situation better. “That’s why we’re here.”

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