Some travel agents are unhappy about a new marketing initiative by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts that promotes direct bookings.
A spokesperson for the hotel management company told Travel Market Report in a written response, "We deeply value the partnership we have with the travel advisor community. The strength of that partnership is based, in part, on transparency and ongoing communication. We respect the relationship and tremendous value they provide to their clients, and thank them for the trust they continue to place in Four Seasons."
Still, though, the company did not address specifics around its new promotion directed to clients of its top producing “Preferred Partner” agencies.
An email sent by Four Seasons under the signature of senior vice president of global sales Jonathan Sicroff read in part, “This month, we will begin testing the use of closed offers promoted through targeted email campaigns. In those campaigns, we are excluding your core clients, those past guests who book exclusively through Preferred Partners. We know that those loyal Preferred Partner clients see immense value in the travel consultation services you provide. Past guests who have booked through multiple channels, including a Preferred Partner, may receive an email.”
The travel agents who spoke to Travel Market Report on the basis of anonymity said the company has not addressed questions about client booking history.
“It talks to us like we are fools,” said one agent. “If my most loyal clients made a direct booking with Four Seasons at some point in the past, or maybe on business through their corporate travel department, Four Seasons is saying they think it’s OK to market directly to them. At least be honest or be more open with the exact criteria.”
The email promotions are bookable via agents, but another agent was upset that Four Seasons apparently won’t disclose what the offer is. “So I have to ask my client, what are they offering you?” this agent said. “Other hotel companies give us the offer a day or two in advance so we can reach out to clients and close the deal. The execution of what they are doing makes me look like I am out of the loop.”
Another agent said, “I just did a $50,000 booking at a location where the client didn’t even know there was a Four Seasons hotel. I happen to have a good relationship with the general manager, and the hotel the client was interested in for this trip wasn’t the right hotel. I had to convince this person to stay at this Four Seasons; he said, ‘Four Seasons are for my dad.’ I sold him on why this property was great, then I open my email and get some like this. It’s a real insult."
This isn’t the first time Four Seasons has done a direct-booking promotion, but "it’s new in the past year or two,” the agent said. "There is a lot more competition in the luxury segment and more choice. More and more I have clients who are interested in other hotels and I have to explain to them why I recommend Four Seasons. (Four Seasons) isn't’ the only game in town. I do a great job booking suites, and I am a Preferred Partner because I deliver sales, and this is the reward. It doesn’t taste very good "
Asked if this will impact his choice of hotel partner in the future, one agent said, “Definitely. Since I received the email there are several bookings I could have delivered to Four Seasons but there were other equally good alternatives, so (the bookings) went to Mandarin and Peninsula.” The agent said, “I’m really disappointed. Four Seasons does a really good job in terms of delivering a great product. If they had targeted clients who have booked directly or via other channels in the past two years or something like that, I would have at least been, ‘That’s reasonable.' But this makes my blood boil.”