What we learned listening to travel agents

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What we learned listening to travel agents

Last month, our online marketing partner ran a survey with U.S. travel agents.  They asked both customers and non-customers to fill out a brief questionnaire. We learned quite a few interesting things about HighView Travel’s performance, of course, but also about the travel agent’s perception of travel consolidators in general.
This survey was  extremely valuable for us, giving us a reality check on our own service and performance to our partner travel agents.

As importantly, though, it gave us clear insights into today’s agents needs and wants from the industry overall.
We felt it would be valuable to share some of the latter findings with you.

Travel Agents’ Opinion of Travel Wholesalers is positive – but…

As it turns out, wholesalers or consolidators enjoy an overall favorable opinion with agents, with nuances…

“What is your opinion of Travel Wholesalers   in general?”

On average, the “appreciation score” of travel consolidators was 7.28/10
The nuances, however, coming from reading the agent’s open comments, were eye-opening.
What did the agents who scored in the 5-6 say? What caused their relative negative rating?
Here are some representative comments.

I use them when I need to. I prefer direct contact with the suppliers.“ – Rating: 5

“There was a time that we did all of our international travel through Wholesalers. I Find tremendous savings in Business class, but I can generally find better schedules and rates on my own for economy.” – Rating 6

“It’s important that they take the time to evaluate my needs and provide value”  – Rating 6

The lessons learned are:

A. Agents want good prices but also great service from consolidators.

In a nutshell, agents expect advantageous pricing with high margins from consolidators, but they place enormous value in convenience and service – in the form of flexibility, professional and attentive service.

When service is lacking, pricing alone will not guarantee a positive opinion or continued business…

B.   Agents see more value in using consolidators for higher-priced, more exclusive or complex fares – outside of Economy. This is in line with the expectation of a higher-level of service.

Let’s look at some of the more positive comments, and see it all coming together.

“They are generally very knowledgable and helpful” – Rating 8

“They know the destination.  Good value for clients and better commissions.  Know you will be paid vs. booking a single hotel and not being paid.” – Rating 9

Travel Wholesalers provide value in trying to find those hard to find flights” – Rating 8

“They offer lower rates than booking directly with the airline or hotel.” – Rating 10

“I have to trust the partners I work with” – Rating 10

“The wholesaler/consolidator that I use are very helpful and easy to work with.  However, one of them is going down is service and attitude of their reservation department and lately I have trouble understanding some of them.  They do not return calls when they say they are going to call back.  Even though I have used them for over 10 years it is time to look for a new company to work with.” – Rating 10

As you can see, prices are mentioned but the comments show again that the value of  “ease of doing business” “service”, “knowledge” and “trust” mean a lot more than pricing alone.

We heard you, dear travel agents: service, service service.
But what within “service” do agents care most about?

2. 3 key areas for improvement that matters most

The following 3 areas  scored the lowest for travel agents, and further point to service as an important value for them.
1. After hours Availability:

  • Only 42% percent of agents (non HighView Travel customers) agreed or strongly agreed that consolidators were adequately available after hours,
  • 13% disagreed
  • 45% had no opinion or said it didn’t apply to them.

2. Incentive Programs:

  • Only 27% percent of agents (non HighView Travel customers) agreed or strongly agreed that consolidators offer valuable incentive programs, or any such programs at all
  • 17.5% openly disagreed that they did
  • 55% had no opinion or said it didn’t apply

3. Flexibility:

  • Only 46% percent of agents (non HighView Travel customers) agreed or strongly agreed that consolidators were flexible (with changes etc.) programs, or any such programs at all
  • 22.5% disagreed
  • 42% had no opinion or said it didn’t apply

These three areas had both the strongest correlation with the overall score above AND the highest percentage of “no opinions/ does not apply”.
This apparent paradox means that they have the highest influence on the negative (or positive) opinion travel agents have of their travel consolidator, even though agents may not run into the need for such services often. This goes to show that when agents need us to go the extra mile, our response will have a significant impact on their opinion and our future relationship.

Conclusion:

Listening to you through our survey helped remind ourselves that we are, first and foremost in the service industry. Partner agent, your expectations are high – and justifiably so, since you yourselves also are in the business of serving our clients, and we must never stop to find better ways to serve you, bring you value so you can shine in the eyes of your clients.

Pricing, while important, is only half the battle if service is not impeccable with every booking.

While we, at HighView Travel are happy that our scores in most areas where above the industry average, we also heard from you, our partners, where and how we can still improve.

This new year will be one in which we will take up this challenge and respond to your specific needs better than ever.

We want to thank you for the past 15 years of business, your participation in this study and we’re looking forward to serve you better for another prosperous 30 in the industry we all love.

We also want to celebrate our 2 prize winners who were drawn last week for taking part in our survey.
Congratulations to Doria, from DBA Travel and Judy, from Windows of the World!
2017 starts on a HighView note for you!  Thank you.

We’d love to hear your thoughts or comments, email us at: highview@highviewtravel.com

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