The Advisory Board Asks: 12 Top Questions from Travel Agents to the Industry

by Cheryl Rosen

How much do travel agents earn? What drives you crazy about working with suppliers? How do you find new talent? Asked and answered. 

At our quarterly Advisory Board meeting earlier this month, Travel Market Report asked six of our favorite travel professionals to share a dozen questions—and some answers—for the industry as a whole. Our thanks to the roundtable members, whom we think include the smartest, most conscientious, and most thoughtful travel professionals in the U.S. and Canada, our Advisory Board members: Maryls Aballi, owner, Connection to Cruise, Redlands, CA; Sandy Anderson, president, Riverdale Travel, Coon Rapids, MN; Dan Beschloss, director of industry relations, Valerie Wilson Travel, New York (standing in for Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg); Jennifer Doncsecz, president, VIP Vacations Inc., Bethlehem, PA; Tony Fragapane, general manager, Voyages Concierge Deluxe Travel, Quebec; Norman Payne, Senior Travel Advisor, Uniglobe, Ottawa, Canada; Richard Vanderlubbe, president, tripcentral.ca, Ontario, Canada. 

Q: Why is it so hard to find good employees, and what can travel agencies do to attract and retain them?
A(from a variety of Board members):  

--We’re turning some of our independent contractors into full-time staffers, to discourage them from leaving to start their own agencies. And we are attracting young employees by paying higher salaries. If they are graduating college with thousands of dollars of debt, they don’t want to be an independent contractor in an industry that’s iffy. We bring them in by paying them salaries. 

--An average employee earns $15-$25 an hour plus incentives plus a car. 

--An average employee earns around $50,000. 

--Liberty Travel agents earn a starting salary of $30,000 plus incentives, but they are losing them at the end of the year. 

--The average in Canada is probably around $40,000. 

--Our average is $55,000-$75,000, plus some kick-ass fam trips. 

Q: Why do suppliers get to keep all the money when a customer cancels, and yet still not pay a commission or count the booking toward our sales revenue for the next level? 
A: When I have a customer cancelling a cruise or a tour, I tell them to just not show up rather than cancel. That way I still get the commission. Of course the cruise line misses out, because the ship sails with an empty cabin, and so it loses the incremental revenue. Maybe we could work out an agreement with a cruise line that we will give the cabin back so they can resell it, in return for us getting a commission and the client getting the taxes back. There’s just no rhyme or reason to it the way it is now. 

Q: Why would a resort that charges $800 a night annoy customers by charging $25 to use the spa pool? When people check out of a hotel they don’t want to see line item after line item. Just increase the fee by $25 if you must and be done with it. Vegas in particular is crazy with the resort fees. What can we do about it?
A: We don’t sell Caesars any more, period. 

Q: How can travel agencies get a piece of the sharing economy? 
A: We work with One Fine Stay, which is like Airbnb but commissionable and vetted. 

Q: What can we do about hotels that bombard our customers trying to sell them timeshares? 
A: I try to steer my customers to resorts that do not have timeshares because I have heard so many complaints. 

And some questions that have no answer: 

Why do suppliers use the word “noncommissionable” when they talk to our customers? It just underlines in the client’s mind that suppliers pay us commissions on many things, and it makes customers think they can get a better price without us. 

Why is it that when you book a group and then the taxes go down, suppliers won’t give you a refund? They used to do that. But now they refuse to lower the rate, even though it includes taxes they will not be paying. 

Why do suppliers pad the “taxes and other charges” line with things that really are not taxes? Overall as an industry we lose our credibility, and we lose our ability to lobby government over excessive taxation, when we do that. If you want to change your commission policy just go ahead and change it; don’t just annoy people by raising the rates surreptitiously by calling it something else. I’ve seen $500 cruise fares with $350 port charges—and that’s just deceptive marketing. It’s such an irritant to consumers. Taxes should be taxes. Just put it into the price. 

If a trip is paid in full and then the customer cannot go, why does he still have to pay port charges? And if there is a single passenger in a cabin, why does she have to pay double port charges?  

Why are the airlines the only industry mandated to include taxes in the price they advertise? And how do they get away with advertising “free” tickets based on frequent-flyer points and then charging $1,000 for taxes? There’s an industry mindset and a race to the bottom price, and they lose sight of the impact of all that deceitful advertising on the consumer. Consumers hate all these fees, and we feel that on the front lines every day. 

If a cruise line or resort has an affinity group of any kind taking up a sizeable portion of the space, why don’t they make that information available to travel professionals? I have had a couple on a cruise where 75% of the rooms were booked by an LGBT group, and one where half the passengers were a cappella singing groups. While my customers did not object to the LGBT lifestyle or a cappella music in general, being in the minority made them feel excluded and uncomfortable—and after a few days, they just felt like, “Enough, just shut up already.” 

Why is this the only industry where our suppliers are also our biggest competitors? 

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