In this time of crisis, it is important that suppliers support travel advisors who have reliably brought them business time and time again.
Advisors speaking with Travel Market Report this week, took the time to applaud the ones that are stepping up to the plate during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it be through increased communications, compensation, or additional support.
Carolyn Sandgren Kempf, president at Elite Travel Inc. & Cruise in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, said Apple Leisure Group had “wonderful videos and responsiveness by Jackie Marks [EVP, Trade Sales & Engagement]. In fact, every email I sent to upper management was answered quickly and efficiently.”
She added Adolfo Perez, Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Marketing at Carnival Cruise Line, “continues with his engagement of agents with webinars, answering questions personally on his Facebook page, as well as asking for feedback and listening.”
“Keeping the advisor community up to date with what is happening on the supplier side, the changes they are making, and providing great content for us to use with clients to keep their interest during this time is very helpful,” agreed Roxanne Boryczki, President of AZ Trails Travel in Fountain Hills, Arizona. “Regent Seven Seas has done a good job on this for us, as has AmaWaterways. The cruise lines overall have really stepped up for the most part, more so than the land suppliers.”
Webinars are also a good way for advisors to make use of newfound downtime, as well as staying up to date with how suppliers are handling this unprecedented time.
“The continued vendor webinars are great. This isn’t a time for us to sit back – the phone isn’t ringing, but it’s a great time to regroup and learn something new. There’s no other time like this to prepare us for what’s to come,” said John Schmitt, President of Frankenmuth Travel in Michigan.
Another point of contention is commissions. “One of the most frustrating things is that travel advisors do not get paid until the client travels,” Lori Keeley, President of Travel Connections & Cruises LTD. in West Springfield, Massachusetts, explained. “So we will not see any revenue until the public starts to travel again which may not be until late 2020 or mid-2021. Who can exist that long while working for free?”
Keeley said many of the cruise lines, along with the Walt Disney Company, and Apple Leisure Group, are protecting commissions.
“Cruise lines were the only sector of the industry who got it right with commission protection,” Sandgren Kempf said, adding that she would like to see a small compensation for doing double work for no compensation on the first booking.
A supplier recognizing the heavy lifting done by advisors would be Carnival, she said, who protected commission on the first booking and then paid again on the second booking.
Boryczki said the suppliers who are not only protecting commissions on cancelled bookings, but also providing commissions on the re-bookings for next year when they have issued a voucher, “will definitely have my loyalty for helping us survive.”
Linda Hulse, an advisor with Alpha Travel, told TMR that big cruise lines like Disney Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, and Royal Caribbean have all provided the support that she, and other travel advisors, needed by honoring their commitment to paying commissions.
Some advisors are reevaluating supplier relationships
Travel advisors speaking to TMR also said that, while some suppliers are going the extra mile for their advisor partners, other are not, and it's making them second-guess their future with them.
Denise Alvarez, an advisor at Classic Travel Connection, told TMR that her experience with Viking has made her think that “my future with Viking may be limited.”
She had two clients booked for a sailing on Viking’s river product for June, both of who had booked a year out. Viking’s payment policy requires full payment within 30 days of booking, she said, so they were fully paid as of July 2019.
When their sailing was canceled, Viking offered the option of a voucher to use through next year, or the opportunity for a refund.
“They didn’t want Viking to hold their money for so long, so they chose to get a refund for their June cruise,” she said.
When Alvarez contacted Viking about the refund, they told her that commission would only be protected if the sailing was within 29 days from when it was canceled.
“Had they canceled it right now, a month before, then I would have been paid my commission and it would have been protected. They’ve probably been the least flexible, even before the pandemic,” she said.
Denise Trampier of Wayfarer Journeys also told TMR that she’s had issues with Viking. She had booked two couples on a Viking Ocean sailing that was canceled more than 29 days prior to departure. Her Viking rep told her that her commission would be protected if her clients opted for the cruise credit and made a new booking.
“I had been working on this trip since June 2019 and Viking had the audacity to suggest that I could possibly earn commission by 2022 on these new bookings. Other cruise lines have not taken this position,” she said.
Other lines “have protected commission on paid in full bookings and they have also offered clients incentives to rebook their trips. Viking offered the clients incentives, but they have given the agents absolutely nothing. Who can afford to wait three years to get paid on bookings we generate for a supplier? No one.”
Hulse said she had a similar experience with Viking. After Viking canceled her client’s 14-day sailing, she contacted them twice about her commission protection, but didn’t get a reply until she was able to get an account manager’s attention after those two attempts.
“I responded with my displeasure and reminded her that neither I nor my client cancelled, Viking did. I had completed my part of our agreement by booking and paying for my client’s travel and had done work that should have been paid for,” she said.
She got no response.
“This is very frustrating and angers me,” Hulse said, adding that she has been in business since 1979 and “have seen the best and worst of the travel industry and have adjusted how to do business along with way.”
In a statement to Travel Market Report, a Viking spokesperson said "we greatly value our relationships with travel partners. We would not be where we are today without the help of travel partners – and we will get through this unusual time together. We remain the only cruise line with no NCFs."
"Only Viking pays commission on every aspect of a booking – cruise, air, optional shore excursions and beverage packages when booked prior to sailing. And we provide the training that agents need to maximize profits through our Travel Agent Academy and tools that make it easy on our Travel Agent Portal. We also have Directors of Business Development throughout the US and Canada who are ready to help."
The spokesperson also said that "Viking’s policy is to pay travel partner commissions at 29 days from departure – the earliest in the cruise industry. Therefore, for any cruises that were cancelled because of the COVID-19 situation fewer than 29 days from departure, commissions were automatically protected. For cruises that were cancelled more than 29 days from departure, we work hard to communicate to guests the value of their 125% FCV."