Why I Want a Rebate
by Ken Hall
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The school teacher said a lot of the same time problems affected her, and she didn't make nearly as much money as the doctor. Each year, she worked on her continuing education requirements, she graded her pupil's homework and tests late into the evening because there wasn't enough time to do it at school, and she often paid for some of the poorer children's school supplies out of her own pocket. All on a teacher's salary! Nevertheless, she loved what she did and she was willing to put up with the problems.
When asked about her job, the travel agent told a much different story. She talked about the recent "fam cruise" she and her husband had gone on, the wonderful time they had, and the sights they saw. And, of course, this trip cost them only a couple of hundred dollars. When the doctor and school teacher expressed surprise at how little it cost, she went on to describe some of the other great trips they have taken at little or no expense. Of course, the money wasn't great, but the low-cost travel made it all worthwhile.
I listened and marveled at a career where the working conditions are so great and the money to be made seems to mean so little. And, since she didn't mention it, I am sure she didn't spend much time studying or reading to stay current on what goes on in the industry.
Later, I asked her how one becomes a travel agent and earn free trips, and she referred me to several Web sites where I can quickly earn free trips and get commissions for selling something I know little about. I even looked at a couple of them, and she was right -- it looked pretty easy and I could travel for nothing. All I had to do is sell travel to my friends and acquaintances, mainly by referring them to a Web site which would do all the work for me. Seemed like a no-brainer.
When I got into it, I found out there is a lot more to this business than one would expect. My friends were constantly asking questions about weird and minute details. Where is the closest taxi stand to the Sydney Opera House? Does their three-year-old child need a passport to travel to France? What will the TSA allow them to carry onboard their flights next month? What would I recommend they do if they had an extra day in Maui?
And, after I researched all of this -- mainly by calling my travel agent friend -- they made their reservations on someone else's Web site, so I got no commission out of it. And worse, it didn't produce any revenue I can show a cruise line or a hotel to convince them to give me a free trip. Maybe this job isn't the slam dunk I thought it would be.
Now that I think about it, travel isn't all that expensive, and since I know you are in it for the free travel, why don't I just get you to rebate your commission to me?
Okay, so I didn't really try to be a travel agent just to get free travel. But, after being in the travel industry for more than 30 years, I know how complicated it is selling travel, how much time is involved, and how competitive the markets are today. I also know one of our biggest bothers is the client who asks for (and sometimes demands) a rebate. So I have worked on determining why this is so, and why it doesn't seem as prevalent in other professional fields.
After watching numerous service professionals in social settings, I can safely say one of the major reasons is that (unlike other professionals) we focus on the fun part of our jobs and we don't talk about the difficulties we encounter on a daily basis. I'm not saying we should try to make people feel sorry for us, but we should balance our messages (e.g., "Fams are fun, but they are work.").
We work in a very dynamic, highly competitive business where a major challenge is just staying abreast of all of the information necessary to make sure our clients have great experiences.
We spend a lot of time researching destinations, companies, specific itineraries, etc., for clients only to have them frequently make their purchases somewhere else.
We go to morning and evening seminars to learn about new products and ideas, not to win a tote bag or get a free brochure.
Travel may not cost us as much as others would pay, but many other professionals also get trade discounts.
We work long hours, we're available for even longer hours, and we do it because we want our clients to have great vacation experiences. And we do this for amazingly low compensation because we love it.
As with many other professions, there is little respect for the value of our experience or the benefits our clients gain by employing us to plan their vacations. Maybe our clients should look on us more like a professional plumber or expert electrician -- they can study DIY Network and try to do the job themselves, but our clients will save time, save money and have a better experience by coming to a professional travel agent.
We need to do a better job communicating this to them.
Ken Hall is president of www.HomeBasedPros.com,
a subscription e-letter with marketing and sales tips for the home-based
travel agent. The e-letters look at the buying and selling process
from the viewpoint of the customer. For more information, go to