Calling the practice “stealing” and “backstabbing,” and expressing their sense of “betrayal,” travel advisors are registering their dissatisfaction and concern with suppliers that make special offers directly to an agency’s clients to win direct future bookings.
Nine out of ten advisors who responded to a survey conducted this month by the Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA), said they want suppliers to stop offering these special “Come Back” deals and discounts.
It has been a common practice for some resorts to offer special deals and discounts to guests at check out, or to obtain the guest’s contact information to send them direct offers after they return home.
If suppliers insist on maintaining these programs, 93 percent of advisors believe they should be credited automatically for future bookings and nearly 88 percent said they should receive full commission for those sales. Some 11 percent said they would accept partial commissions. More than 360 advisors responded to the DWHSA survey.
"As travel advisors, we believe strongly that our clients belong to us," said Lisa Sheldon, DWHSA's president and the owner of I Do Island Weddings in Janesville, Wisconsin. "We book our clients as guests with suppliers — we're not sharing those clients. And, as the survey results show, we don't need the help of suppliers to follow up with our own clients.
"We've done the hard work and shouldered the expense of turning consumers into clients," she said. "It's unfair — and unethical — for suppliers to take our clients' information, talk them into future bookings at rates we can't always match as agents, and reap the profit from those sales."
John Hawks, DWHSA administrator, cited the major cruise lines as a model for better collaboration. "If our clients book future voyages onboard the ship, many cruise lines credit the agent of record automatically and pay commission on those bookings — no forms, no hoops to jump through, just a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship."
One agent, responding through the survey’s open-ended questions, agreed with Hawks, saying “Cruise lines do a good job when it comes to crediting,” but feels resorts and hotels “are trying to squeeze us out any way they can.”
DWHSA didn’t ask questions about whether or not the issue has increased recently, but one respondent to the survey felt that it is a growing trend, especially with resorts that have time share units, including “higher end properties.”
“Many of my guests … have been harassed even after they say no the first time,” the advisor wrote. “So, the push has been stronger this year to convert to non-agent. I warn my clients that it will happen while they are there.”
In one instance cited by a survey respondent, a supplier described to a guest how their agent used previous stay credits “to make what I offered on the current booking look better,” and told the client “they can only get this price by booking on property through them. It makes the client have doubts about me and I am the one that sent them … in the first place.”
DWHSA has not called for a boycott of any suppliers, but some of its members, in their responses to the open-ended survey questions, said they are effectively doing that individually.
“I have moved business for my most loyal clients AWAY from suppliers that do not automatically credit me OR decrease commission on these types of bookings,” one agent told the DWHSA.
With one resort contacting clients post-trip, and allowing agents to “take over” future bookings only with the client’s permission, “these are resorts that I sell limitedly,” the agent wrote.
Said another: “I am less likely to offer resorts and brands that harass clients on property for timeshares and/or reach out to my clients after travel with offers I cannot match.”
Searching for a middle ground
It’s not certain where DWHSA will take their members’ comments and concerns next. It has been speaking with suppliers whom members have expressed concerns about, the organization said.
Some of DWHSA’s members are willing to compromise on an equitable split, while others refuse to give any ground. “I deserve full commission on these bookings,” one agent said. “They’re my clients. I sent them.”
One agent considered a precedent of less than full commission “a slippery slope.”
Others were willing to compromise. One agent offered the concept of an 80/20 split, where the agent receives 80 percent of a normal agent-only booking. Another said, “I would be OK with a minor 2-3 percent reduction in commission, but not a commission of 10 percent or lower.”
“It would be much more of a team approach if the vendor would tell the agent of any specials/promotions that might be offered to our client. Then the agent can follow up and demonstrate to the client the power of our agent partnership with the resort/travel vendor,” offered one survey respondent.
A sense of betrayal and lack of respect
The many issues that agents have with these programs could be seen in more of the open-ended responses. One agent noted how they felt advisors weren’t being respected for all of the consultative selling they perform.
“My service involves account management, service and advocacy for my clients. It is more than booking a flight and a room,” one wrote.
A strong sense of betrayal fills the comments provided by agents, with one agent calling the practice “rude.” “It shouldn’t happen ever,” another agent said, adding that “they need to respect the role we play in filling their resorts!”
Another agent likened the tactics to “friend stealing.” They told DWHSA: “I introduced my client to their product, not the other way around.”
Respondents also noted that direct offers often damage a client’s relationship with the resort and the agent, because the customer fully expects the two parties to work together to provide superior customer service for the entire trip.
“I have had that experience two times in 10 years, when clients contacted me after they booked through the resort. Both thought I knew and were expecting my awesome customer service experience. Which they did not receive,” the agent wrote.
As a result, Come Back programs undermine the profession because they send a message to consumers that a travel professional only facilitates transactions, versus being an adviser and service provider. “It distorts the agent/client relationship, giving the clients the image they don’t need the agent to book that particular supplier,” said one agent.
Interestingly, 7.4 percent of respondents said they “have no problem” with supplier Come Back programs, while 2 percent said they don’t feel strongly one way or the other.
“I wish they wouldn’t, but in the end, they’re in this business to make money,” wrote one agent. “There are some agents that don’t follow up well with their clients and our suppliers know that. It’s hard to fault them for seeing an opportunity and capitalizing on it.”
“I don’t mind the suppliers offering specials while my clients are onboard or on property,” wrote another. “That is the best time for clients to rebook while they are ‘in the glow’ of a great vacation. I always encourage clients to take advantage of that but let me know when they get back so I can service them afterwards.”
The survey was conducted online Nov. 8-11, 2019, from a database of 5,520 U.S. and Canadian DWHSA member agents, those who have participated in past DWHSA classes and events, or who have had other contacts with DWHSA. The organization said the survey has a 95 percent confidence level, with a margin of error of 5 percent.