Travel agents are up in arms about a recent comment by Marriott International's President and CEO Arne Sorenson, who said that Marriott has “seen significant growth in all digital channels … What has declined a bit would be travel agents, in part because people are moving online and doing things themselves.”
Agents who spoke to Travel Market Report say Marriott is reaping the fallout from its own policies, which have disrespected travel agents in favor of direct bookings from consumers.
“Marriott is probably seeing a decline in bookings from travel agents because they have been the first to cut commissions and do everything possible to cut us out. Because of this, they are never the first option I offer clients,” said Susanne Yonts, Certified Travel Consultant at Any Seasons Travel in Odessa, Texas.
“Also, I rarely if ever book hotels direct," she added. "There is a lack of trust that hotels will actually pay commission if we book direct. By booking with a tour operator, we know we are going to get paid and we know we have backup if anything goes wrong. Unless they are getting reports about individual agencies from the tour operators, they will never know if we are booking or not.”
Sara Locke at Vacationisms Worldwide Travel in Bedford, New Hampshire, agreed: “I would dispute the online landscape causing a decline in travel agent bookings with Marriott and instead argue that it has more to do with Marriott's unfriendly agent policies and procedures, and rather transparent disrespect to the profession as of late. Most of my clients, right now, are Millennials learning the benefits of a personalized and value-driven experience, along with Gen Xers who have boomeranged back as they find that being bombarded with information online costs more time and energy.”
Shelly Phillips, owner of Travel By That Girl in McCalla, Alabama, said: “I booked a lot of Marriott for corporate clients in the past, but now we can’t put in our clients’ rewards numbers online; you have to call them. I’ve heard it’s a glitch in software, that they’re correcting it on their TA portal, but finally a rep told me they’re discouraging agents to book and get the member-direct rate. They are not supportive of agents.”
Canadian travel agent, Mary Lynn Villeneuve, of TravelOnly in Brockville, Ontario, commented: “As a travel agent and a consumer, I have always been a supporter of Marriott. When I first started in this business 12 years ago, they were also a strong proponent of the travel agent community. What I don’t understand is why would they be surprised by the decline in travel agent bookings after they launched their digital campaign 'it pays to book direct' to consumers in 2015. What did they expect to happen?”
In short, said another agent, “The fact that this guy is so arrogant, enough to think that the decline is because more people are doing it themselves online, just really irritates me (I'm being nice). Just who does he think he is? I think the decline is because we are not offering his product. It's happened before with CCL and Renaissance Cruises.”
In the end, said Charlotte Graham of Travel by Charlotte in Schererville, Indiana: “Travel agents’ numbers are declining, but only with your brand. Cutting our commissions, changing our IATA's once booked so that we can't claim our commission, fighting to get our commission or having our clients be told to book direct for better rates, does not make you a business that travel agents wish to align with. So, of course you think the numbers are down. But ask your counterparts, those that back travel agents up and don't try to get their clients, brands that state in their marketing, 'contact your travel agent.' They'll tell you that travel agents are a very big part of their business!”