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Should Tour Operators and Travel agents be involved in travel forums

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Mar 22nd, 2005, 04:45 AM
  #1
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Should Tour Operators and Travel agents be involved in travel forums

I recently noticed a tour operator using the fodors chat room as a selling tool - Selwyn_Davidowitz ([email protected])posted the following regarding travel to Cape Town: ...Btw you should let me try and obtain a further discount for you at any of the two hotels as I am 100% sure that I can gain you a lot of savings via tour operator commission that I pass on to visitors to my great city. If you write to me I will tell you more about this...

My question is - Should travel agents and tour operators be allowed to operate in this manner in travel chat rooms, surely this is a forum for independant travellers to express opinions regarding their travel experiances and advise other travellers accordingly.

Once an agent or operator gets involved, surely the information provided is biased in the interest of making a sale rather than providing relatively objective feedback for travellers?
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Mar 22nd, 2005, 08:21 AM
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Paul
I can understand how you might think Selwyn is posting here in order to gain sales for his business but regulars here know that this is not the case.
Firstly, in the post you quote, what he is saying is that many hotel owners give discounts only to holders of the official tour operator and tour guide licenses. They won't give them to direct bookings. He is offering to put the booking through his name to get the discount ALL of which is passed on to the visitor. None of it goes to him, no commission or kick back from the hotel. He just wants everyone to get the best prices they can.
Secondly, as several of us from here know, when Selwyn befriends and helps people on this board he genuinely relates to them as friends. Many of us have been on guided tours with Selwyn after getting to know him here. And not been charged a penny. Selwyn has been out of pocket but has toured us as guests and friends.
He's also retired from his main career and is now tour guiding for the sheer joy of it. Even then he has so much work he has to turn many of the requests he gets down. He doesn't need or even want more sales of his services.
I have come to know through long time posting here that he participates here out of a genuine love of his country and a genuine wish for every visitor to have the very best trip they can.
I do agree that some posters seem to post in a way that is all about generating business. I report any posts I feel may be of that nature to the editors for them to make a decision on it.
Kind Regards
Kavey
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Mar 22nd, 2005, 08:40 AM
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Good Question. In my opinion, this forum should not be a venue for any type of business solicitaions. If a poster offers his/her e-mail address, a direct contact from a tour operator/travel agent would seem more appropriate and maybe even expected.

That being said, I would not want to discourage the operator/agent from partaicipating here, as I know from experience in my own profession, sharing knowledge simply because you love what you do is very rewarding. J
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Mar 22nd, 2005, 08:50 AM
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Paul - One of the things that I hope for in the forums is local residents advising me where to go, where to avoid, what potential highlights are, etc. As a resident of Cape Town, and a long time poster to this board, Selwyn is generous with his information. Not only that, but he is passionate about Cape Town and about South Africa and freely passes information in this forum. Does being a tour guide invalidate the local information he brings to the forum? In my opinion, it does not. Yes, we see things through the lens of his experiences, but others experiences are related through their views and opinions as well.

If an agent is posting simply to drum up business, then I'd rather they weren't posting here. But, simply being an agent doesn't negate their potential value and contribution to the board.
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Mar 22nd, 2005, 08:56 AM
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It seems to me that the board will be innundated with posts from travel professionals trying to sell something if the Board allows it. So, I would vote "No."
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Mar 22nd, 2005, 01:57 PM
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paultudhill,

I have to enter this discussion and clarify something.

Firstly I understand your sentiments and agree wholeheartedly with regard to your question and statements. With that said let me welcome you to my own real world.

1. I do not need to advertise on Fodors for work as a tour operator as I cannot cope with what I have anyway. Many Fodorites will attest to the fact that in the past couple of years as much as I would have loved to have helped them tourwise I could not do so because of my hefty tour commitments. If you don’t believe me then go to my website and you will see it all!


2. I don’t really have to be a tour operator as I feel that I am financially secure. I however would not want to ever give up being a tour operator as it is such a passion to me to help others in my city and country when they visit us. With that being the case how about starting to believe and understand that some people in this world do things for passion and not money.

With regard to what you ask in your chatboard question I have to refer you to the following website www.capetowntour.com PLEASE UNDERSTAND that this website has been up and running for about 9 months already and I have NEVER published the name on Fodors. Why? Simple! Even though with my original idea I had absolutely no intention of making anything off my website excepting to see the smile on the face of my visitors when they gained a GENUINE discount in their travels by using my offer,after about 3 weeks of the site being up and running and being linked on my website I saw that I was making air miles out of the deal which believe me was NOT the original intention. As my wife said to me at the time “well you tried to help others in a genuine manner and you got something back unwittingly”. Am I using the air miles? Yes I am but how am I using these miles at present should also be answered. This brings me to another website viz. www.boxingchallenge.com. I suggest that you go take a look at this site as it is self explanatory however what is not explained is that in support of Ian Mullane, 2 to 4 children from the township of Kayamandi will be flown to London to be in his corner on the night of his fight. Guess where the airmiles for their flights will be coming from? You will obviously have no idea as to what this means to the kids of Kayamandi but please take my word for it when I say that whatever is the greatest event in your life multiply this excitement by two and you might understand what this will mean to these kids. Was it my intention to pass the air miles out to these kids? The answer is “no” because at the time the boxing challenge project was not up and running as yet. In a nutshell I did not open the www.capetowntour.com website to help myself at all, I did it to help others and when I did start gaining accidentally I found another way to help others even more.

In the past I have tried my damndest to help others on this forum so as to be able to attain one thing and one thing only and that was for them to enjoy my city and its surrounds to the very best of their budget and time availability. I decided quite a while ago that the time had come to try and use my influence to help others gain financially too hence my open handed attitude to want to give travellers to Cape Town and its surrounds a genuine discount. I might have you know that I am running on a very thin line because accommodation venues as an example do not allow tour operators to publicise their discounts in that all operators obtain different commissions. I have got around this by only discussing these commission numbers with those who I help directly in email and by not publishing them on the web or anywhere else that is public. Furthermore I don’t publish with whom I can obtain these discounts even though it generally is anybody who offers accommodation or whatever else to sell to visitors to my country. I have also told a number of these vendors what I am doing and they have given me the green light, after all it means business to them too so why should they not. Who wont be happy with me are tour operators themselves and as far as I am concerned they can stay unhappy as long as I am trying to help others who want to visit my country. This brings me to another question viz. ”are you by any chance not one of these tour operators"?

I would have dearly loved to have published the website address on Fodors in the past purely because I have noticed how the amount of info requests about Cape Town and SA have been dropping on the Fodors chat board. My opinion is that this is because of the strengthening of the Rand. Even though I have wanted to publish the address on the board I have refrained from doing so in that I know that many readers on this board would have understandingly (just as you already have paultudhill) regarded it as advertising because they simply would never believe that some people in this world do things because of a passion and not because of gain. Maybe you should all go read up what the word ubuntu (loosely defined as African neighbourliness) means and then you might realise why I do what I do.

All that I can tell you is that as we speak I am helping at least 10 people coming to SA obtain discounts who I THINK originate from the Fodors board and to one person in particular this means a saving of R3600 which is about $600. Not bad methinks as all that I am getting from this is a hopefully a smile from the visitor when he leaves our shores (I am not touring with him and his wife) and about 6000 Voyager miles which represents about 10% of one of the SAA tickets that I need to send a kid from Kayamandi to London in November 2005. More important is the fact that the visitor to our country as well as all the others that I am helping are smiling like the cat who found the cream

With all of the above said paultudhill you might be surprised to know that I have to agree with both you and sunshine007 in that tour operators should not be allowed to advertise on this board. As a matter of fact I am very, very much against this. With that said you can then say I advertise however I would strongly disagree with you on this issue. You would probably substantiate what you say by saying that I place my name and address on this site. My answer to this is that I do this because I genuinely want to help people and you might be quite surprised to know how many people have written to me in personal capacity because of seeing my name on Fodors. In the last two days three people have written to me as an example and let me give you an example of one of these mails that I received and answered yesterday.
_________

From: K
To: [email protected]
Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2005 16:10:25
Subject: Maybe you can help me too!!

I was cruising the net trying to find information on getting married in SA and hit upon your messages on the Fodor website. I hope you do not think me cheeky in asking your advice as you seem to be a mine of information!
I (Irish) and my SA fiancée want to get married on the 3oth of December this year in Capetown. We hopefully have the reception sorted out but I'm trying to find out where we can get married. I'm quite happy with a civil ceremony but his mother is quite religious (Anglican) and we require a blessing. Would you be able to suggest a nice venue?
Is the registry office really dull? I love your table mountain idea. How would we go about enquiring into that?
Hoping you can find time to reply

K
__________

For obvious reasons I am keeping K's identity anonymous however if you do not believe me then write to me and I will obtain her permission to send you her email address so as to verify the mail as well as my response to her which btw read as follows:
_________

As the registry office is frightfully dull the only suggestion that I have for you is to try and arrange a wedding on top of Table Mountain by calling the St. George’s Anglican Cathedral where you can find out if they can have a minister who could go up to the mountain with you so as to conduct the ceremony. +27 21 424 7360

Hope this helps.
______________

paultudhill you can ask yourself if the above is the type of help you would want to have handed out to people who were writing on Fodors or not. In my opinion it is not the type of question they would want on an open board but rather help they seek privately. Many a time I write to people who have asked me a question via them finding me on Fodors via a private email by asking them to rather publish the question on Fodors so that I can answer their question in a public domain for all to gain from publicly as opposed to privately. Sometimes however, such as in K's case, some people just want to stay in a private capacity due to the privacy of the question hence I publish my email address to try and help people as in tjhis predicament.

The problem that I have about tour operators writing on Fodors is that I know (without patting myself on the back) that I am not the normal type of operator who only has one thing in mind viz making a buck and the question then comes up of how should the Fodors board accommodate me and the likes of me while not accommodating 99.99% of other tour operators. The only answer that I have to this is that the editors of this board seem to know who is advertising or not as I have seen them discard quite a number of blatant "seeking business" mails instantaneously from this board. There judgement seems to be sound in this regard and I would suggest that you leave it in their hands to maintain the standard of this board with regard to your question.

In the meantime you and every other Fodorite coming to my town can gain a discount in most of what you have to do that is touristy by letting me help you for free and I will say that again FREE; after all is that not what Fodors is all about viz excellent, honest, advice or help so as to make travel to Africa more entertaining, educational and cheaper.

Finally may I add that I dont think that there are too many Fodorites other than regulars such Judy, Kavey, Roccco, Traci, Patty, Sandi, Clematis, ArthurSA, Liz and so many others who really know how much time it takes to help others on this board. With that said I think it is about time that some of those who just take from or criticise on this board take note that there are some of us who ARE prepared to give up our valuable time to help others with a very open and genuine heart only because we love Africa so dearly.

Addendum:
To the editors of Fodors.
My apologies for publishing the above web addresses but I simply had to so as to put my total answer to the original mail in context. Hope that this is acceptable to you.

Just my twopence worth.

Very proudly part of the wonderful nation of South Africa

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Mar 22nd, 2005, 08:43 PM
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Paul,

I understand your concern, but perhaps if you had any history (credibility) on this board, your argument would be more valid. As stated already by the others, you singled out one of the biggest contributors on this board, and this after you had ONE previous post (many months ago, I may add) on this board?

I am one of the Fodorites that Selwyn so graciously went out of his way to tour at his own expense while I was in Cape Town a couple years ago. I am not the only one...he has done this many times with other Fodorites, expecting nothing in return.

For my September 2005 visit, I contacted Selwyn nearly a full year in advance for what was going to be a paid multiday tour, but wouldn't you know it, someone had already beaten me to the punch and hogged up Selwyn for about an entire 10 day block!

As a result, I am not intending on visiting Cape Town.

In the future, it would be wise to do a little research before singling out an individual for attack. Also, it would help your case if you first established a shred of credibility for yourself.

But, bygones being bygones, welcome to the board...hope you stick around and become a contributor.
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Mar 22nd, 2005, 10:54 PM
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While I applaud Selwyn's altruistic approach to tourism developement in South Africa I feel the Fodors 'regulars' have taken this a little too personally, and have missed the point of the discussion a tad. In addition to this I would pessimistically assume that Selwyn is very much in the minority as far as tour guides or operators are concerned.

Not being a 'regular' in this forum (I unfortunately lack the time), does not preclude me from posing questions or posting. I also suppose it does not give me a holistic view of the discussions on the site, so my 'singling out' of 'regular' was not a personal attack.

Although Selwyn's post at the outset appeared to be blatant solicatation for business I now understand his motives better and would like to pose a further question:

Lets assume (Selwyn has questioned this assumption) I was a tour operator here in the UK, would I not be put off supporting South Africa as a destination if people such as Selwyn (nothing personal...) where passing on discounts directly to forum members?
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Mar 23rd, 2005, 03:47 AM
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paultudhill -

Selwyn is a gem to participate on this board and impart his knowledge of CPT and the country he loves so much.

If you haven't already figured it out, most who post here regularly have no problem speaking out; likewise wouldn't have a problem telling him (or anyone else doing so, that they) he was advertising, and didn't belong here. Nothing more need be said.
 
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Mar 23rd, 2005, 09:52 AM
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The fact that Paul does not or has not contributed regularly on this forum does not preclude him from asking a very good question. I do not think he was maligning Selwyn..just offering him as an example. I understand that many of you have met Selwyn and that he has much knowledge of SA..however, I think paul's question was...where does this stop...I have seen many of you complain about others advertising in the past.
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Mar 23rd, 2005, 03:37 PM
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Hello all,

After reading all the lastest mails in this thread this is how I now see matters:

1. Mincepie's views are spot on as far as I am concerned.

2. I dont blame paultudhill for misunderstanding my free offer that he quoted as the wording of my offer could very well have been construed as being an advertisement. Defintely MY MISTAKE in this case. It also does seem to me as if paultudhill now recognises what is truly happening on my side.

3. I think that we have a wonderful democratic forum on Fodors Africa and as far as I am concerned whether anybody has written 1 or 1000 posts to the board all should be heard equally. With that said I do agree with Roccco that sometimes one should try and do a little bit more research into the subject etc before "climbing in".

4. As far as advertisers of any nature writing to this board is concerned I have to agree with what seems to be a common concensus that this simply is not on, however here I have to comment further by saying that how about giving the Fodors editors a bit of credit for keeping this site clean of the above in a pretty sturdy manner. Try and find an advert on this page? I somehow or other feel that you will be very lucky if you find one. With that said I have to agree with Kavey when she more or less says "let Fodors editors keep control over this potential problem"

paultudhill in response to your question about travel agents finding out as to what I am doing and then not selling SA as a destination my answer would be as follows:

Yes this could happen but realistically I dont think that it would occur more than once or twice in that agents will do anything to please a client as long as it pays well. In this case they will serve those who want to go to Africa accordingly and I can assure you that I wont be on their mind if they are going to strike a deal. In terms of the pros versus the cons all I can say is that if I help 20 people and that results in one travel agent turning against SA then I think overall SA will come out on the winning side. This as well as the fact that the visitor to my country must obtain the best deal is all that I care about.

To all the "golden oldies" on this forum thanks for your support in this thread. Its great to feel appreciated by you all.

paultudhill keep up your posts as you seem to keep us on our "travel toes" and just like Roccco I also welcome you on Fodors with open arms.

Now who wants a nice stiff discount on their next safari or stay in Cape Town?

Very proudly part of the wonderful nation of South Africa

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Mar 23rd, 2005, 04:20 PM
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How truly ironic Paul...

That of all the tour operators you could have used as examples to prove your point you chose the one who in my opinion is the most generous and least "sales-pitch" oriented. Although I agree that I don't want this forum inundated with tour operators selling their products, I have seen some posts from tour operators that have been helpful. And believe me, those tour operators who openly do the sale pitch are very quickly "flamed" by the regular forum contributors.

In Selwyn's case, he has been very gracious with his information. I appreciate how much he is willing to share his knowledge with others to ensure they love his country as much as he does.

Just for the record, I have never used his services. (Although I wished I had known of Selywn when I visited Capetown in 1995).

Deb
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Mar 24th, 2005, 02:34 AM
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Paul
Just to elaborate: I think, as has been clarified by many posts, you have happened to use as an example a poster who most of us feel is absolutely not posting in order to tout his business but to genuinely help visitors to his country.
However, as I said in my first post, there are certainly others who post messages that are blatant adverts and some who post messages that are less blatant but strike me as motivated solely or mostly by the desire to encourage people to visit their business' website/ contact them.
If I'm suspicious or uncomfortable with these I copy the thread URL and email it to Fodors Editors and let them make the decision on whether the post should be allowed to remain or not.
Where it's incredibly blatant and obvious I'll sometimes post on the thread with a short message that advertising is not permitted in the hope that the offender will read the reply and cross Fodors off their list of potential marketing arenas.
But I do like to give people the benefit of the doubt so I don't do this where I am unsure, I restrict my actions to passing the link on to the editors.
Likewise I don't like to see people lash out at posters who ask what may seem to be a slightly strange question with accusations of TROLL TROLL unless it's very very obvious. If there's a chance the question is genuine I'd rather risk wasting 2 minutes of my time answering genuinely (the information might be useful to someone even if the original poster is a troll) than scaring someone who could potentially benefit from the knowledge on this site into leaving for good.
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Apr 1st, 2005, 02:41 PM
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I noticed immediately noticed that agents were active of the forum. Even though they can skew the information, you must realize in Africa the product is not generic. You're lucky that anyone is willing to volunteer info on a regular basis. I am an independent traveller for that matter.
As long as it isn't commericial on the forum, you should be happy.They are an excellent resource.
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