As a veteran of the travel industry and steadfast supporter of travel advisors – one who has witnessed everything from airline commission cuts to sneaky direct consumer marketing tactics over more than two decades – it still makes me smile when I stumble upon a circumstance where a provider is caught pledging loyalty to the agency community. Allow me to explain.
I recently returned from a family vacation at Beaches Turks & Caicos, whereby our party of ten enjoyed five glorious days at the property. Despite my extensive travel log, this was actually my first time experiencing a Sandals property of any kind.
Over the years, it has been difficult to miss the many advertisements – in the trade and consumer press as well as television – touting the company’s extensive portfolio, and not feel as if at some point, I needed to see for myself what all the hype was about.
Fast forward to the end of our trip. We were so impressed by the resort, service, food, and what seemed like endless inclusive activities, that we decided we wanted to return the following year. As it turns out, the friends we were traveling with are Sandals repeat customers and they clued us in that if we booked our return trip before we left for home, we would be entitled to a discount. Immediately my reporter antenna went up, wondering how this was going to play out and whether or not I was about to be placed in the awkward position of being asked to “bypass” my travel advisor?
As a travel journalist, I am all too familiar with writing stories of providers circumventing the very agents who brought them the business in the first place. And, here we were, about to sit down for what I assumed would be a sales pitch to “steal” our business from the trusted agent who booked us.
After going over the details of our discount and dates to hold for the following year, our Beaches representative asked if we had used a travel agent to book our trip. I emphatically replied, “Yes!” – honestly a bit surprised he had bothered to ask. I then proceeded to query him on whether our agent would receive commission on our future vacation. “Of course,” he replied. “In fact, I’m going to give you this paperwork with your booking information and you can just pass it on to her to handle going forward.” He then told me, in no uncertain terms, how reliant their company was on travel advisors and how they need them to be their loyal partners. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Upon our return, I spoke to some of my travel advisor friends, who shared my enthusiastic gratitude for Sandals and their motto, “We have a love affair with our travel agents.” I heard from advisors who said they appreciated their loyalty and their lack of discounting or timeshare hassles, especially at a time when other resorts/companies are direct marketing and making it even harder for them to retain their clients.
“From the beginning, Sandals Resorts has always been committed to travel agents because we know our success depends on it,” said Gary Sadler, senior vice president of sales, at Unique Vacations, Inc. “In order to have the best company, you not only have to have the best products, but you have to have the best partners. We grow best when we grow together, and that’s why we continue to invest heavily with them. They are essential in bringing our vacation experiences to life for their clients.”
A few travel advisors did express, however, how Sandals might improve their relationship with travel advisors even more, namely by following the lead of the cruise lines that send an email to the booking agent directly to notify them that their clients have chosen to rebook. “I would prefer if my clients didn’t have to get involved in filling out paperwork and transferring the booking to me,” said one advisor who asked to remain anonymous.
As both a traveler and a travel writer, I can appreciate that suggestion, as so often the sole reason we choose to use a travel advisor is to hand over the burden of booking a trip. Ultimately, we engage travel advisors to render a service that we, ourselves, wish not to be bothered with.
In the end, I was perfectly fine with mailing those booking papers on to my agent, and she was glad to have them. But I wonder, “Will all consumers take the time to do the same?” I’m not sure.
We, however will return to the same resort next year, with not only more great memories in store, but the assurance that this resort company has the back of the travel advisors who keep them afloat. Sounds like a win-win.