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Numbers Aug 25th, 2009 05:40 PM

Travel Agent Question
 
I realize that this is a bit ridiculous on some levels, but here goes. Some background: I have planned two trips to East Africa, one a couple of years ago and another one upcoming shortly. I did all the homework myself and decided to go with CC Africa/&Beyond both times. I didn't really need a travel agent, but chose to get my longtime travel agent involved just to take care of the legwork for me, despite the fact that, by her own admission, she knows nothing about African safaris. Supposedly, the way &Beyond works, it didn't cost me anything extra and, as I said, someone local was available to handle details that I didn't have time for. One can argue whether this was a smart thing to do, but I've been happy with the results so far.

Fast forward to today. I am planning a trip to Botswana for 2011, as I have noted in previous posts. Having at least tentatively chosen to go with WS, I asked my local agent to contact them just to get some brochures and some other background info. They got back to me via one of their contracted agents here in the US, so I now find myself involved with two different agencies. More importantly, I understand from some of Safari_Craig's recent posts, that one can shop around WS prices and potentially get a lower rate. That would seem to imply that having my local agent involved is likely to cause me to pay more, as none of the WS affiliated agents are likely to cut the price for me if my travel agent is going to be (presumably) getting part of the commission. Am I analyzing this correctly, and do I need to get my local agent out of this? Would appreciate any advice you can provide.

Thanks.

cary999 Aug 25th, 2009 05:51 PM

For the moment let's skip over your first TA and talk only about WS agents.Why don't you get a quote from the WS agent you have now. And then request contact to another WS agent and get the same quote from the second agent? Sound worthwhile and reasonable? (I'm not sure it is).

regards - tom

Safari_Craig Aug 25th, 2009 07:29 PM

numbers - good question.

my company sells safaris to many travel agents so i feel qualified to answer this question. we sell safaris to carlson wagonlit, AAA, and about 600 travel agencies through a agency buying consortium called ensemble. we have uniform pricing and we offer the same price to consumers as we do to a travel agent. we do not negotiate on price and would rather lose a booking than discount. that is unfair to booked clients and also unfair to our loyal customers.

obviously, we pay the travel agents a commission. the key is that the agent (a.k.a. tour operator) you found through wilderness will want to work only with you or only with your agent. they won't want to field questions from both. you need to let the agent you found through wilderness know that you want to turn the booking over to your travel agent and that should be the last time you talk to them. otherwise, you need to tell your long time agent you are going to book your safari through another company and ensure them you will continue to book other travel through them.

the travel agent will earn SOME of their commission by filtering your questions and acting as the middle man for you. if you feel this is going to hinder information flow and, in the worst case, cause a miscomunication then you should skip your travel agent and they should understand your decision. the biggest value that a travel agent has to a tour operator (like my company) is that they control the wallet of the client. you have already eliminated this value for your agent so they are in a very weakened position since they did not "bring you" to the tour operator.

i have always fealt that no company owns "clients". consumers ultimately chose their service providers every time the pull out their credit card or check book. your agent should understand whatever you chose to do. i think you should just be upfront tomorrow.

your agent made the first mistake by not contacting wilderness safaris on your behalf. i am not sure (based on reading your story) why your agent gave wildernss your contact information instead of theirs.

craig beal

Safari_Craig Aug 25th, 2009 07:35 PM

reading your post again, i think the decision that would make you feel best is to turn the booking over to your agent.

regarding shopping around: i did not say anything ground breaking about wilderness safaris. it is quite easy from reading these forums to gather the names of at least 5+ companies that work directly with WS. it was someone else that said prices vary by 15% or more (i think?). i suppose +/-15% is the case if you are getting quotes from micato or andrew harper. most other companies that work with WS directly sell in a pretty tight price range from what i have found.

craig beal

HariS Aug 25th, 2009 07:38 PM

Have you considered asking AndBeyond to book your WS camps for you? If you already are a repeat customer to them, you should be getting some benefit here ....... they are able to book WS, Kwando or any other Operator's properties as they are a travel agency in addition to being a lodge operator.

Safari_Craig Aug 25th, 2009 07:50 PM

Hari - that should work in theory but it does not resolve the issue of number's travel agent involvement. i think he/she has a personal dilema over this issue and i appreciate his/her human concern.

guys and gals - don't get me wrong. i think a professional travel agent can bring a lot to the table to provide value. i know tom has a long time agent he has worked with. in this specific case for numbers, i just thing the agents value has been diminished.

craig beal

Safari_Craig Aug 25th, 2009 07:53 PM

&beyond can book other properties like hari said. the only problem is that they have commissioned sales people working out of their homes for dealing with consumer direct bookings. depending on who you get, you may find the &beyond agent to have very limited knowledge on flight from the USA and also on safari lodges that are not owned by &beyond. they are generally VERY knowledgable on the &beyond camps.

i think you would have a tough time finding any long standing and successful independent safari consultant that did not know more than a generalist working for one particular camp owner.

craig beal

HariS Aug 25th, 2009 07:56 PM

Craig,

I'm assuming that Numbers has an established relationship with someone from Andbeyond and won't need this independent agent to do her booking on her behalf, when AndBeyond would do the same thing.

HariS Aug 25th, 2009 08:01 PM

I have booked with an agent from AndBeyond before - very professional, and they knew what they were doing. Won't mention her name here, as she no longer works with the company. Certainly was knowledgeable .........

No idea about international flights and stuff ...... as I always book all of them on my own, including the Air Bots flights. Just like I would my business trips or any other....... it isn't rocket science to find good flight tix.

Safari_Craig Aug 25th, 2009 08:13 PM

hi hari - fair enough. i am certianly not refuting your experience but did your &beyond agent book non-&beyond camps for you? once again, non confrontational but how would you deal with a schedule change if it happened while you were "in the bush"? the airline, if you booked direct, would send you an email at best to notify you. if an agent booked your flight they would know the moment it happend if they were in the office.

regarding numbers - it is my understanding from reading her posts that she worked directly with &beyond then turned it over to her agent in memphis. her agent was paid commission.

craig beal

HariS Aug 25th, 2009 09:07 PM

Hi there Craig,

You talking about the Air Bots flight? It is my understanding that the operator re-confirms the Air Bots flight the day before the departure. That's what always happens in my case - where the Kwando offices checks all departures of passengers, and then schedules the Moremi Air flight accordingly. Only two choices the morning departure or the evening departure.

If you are talking delays in the outbound flight from JNB to home .......... what can you possibly do? In all possibility, you don't have camp reservations anyways - and you are certianly not going to fork out another $$$$ of money just to transit and wait it out in camp.

Regarding AndBeyond, certainly they have expertize in keeping up with the information of competition - especially since atleast as far as Botswana is concerned ...... they are playing catch up to WS and Kwando. Atleast, there is no harm in Numbers talking to her contact at AndBeyond to see what they have to say. Alteast, Numbers may already have done their research as to camps that they wish to travel to ....... it's not rocket science is it, as far as the WS portfolio is concerned?

Cheers,
Hari

HariS Aug 25th, 2009 09:13 PM

Btw, have you seen the Kwando website regarding important contact numbers in case of emergency contacts while being "out in the bush" ? They'd come in handy if the airline changes schedule or whatever ........ as my office would then pass on the message to Maun office.

Safari_Craig Aug 26th, 2009 03:56 AM

hi hari,

thanks. i was indeed more speaking of the international flight. the worst case scenario for a client that booked intl flihgts on their own is when the air botswana flight is delayed out of maun and they are leaving africa strait from safari. in these cases, when we booked the client, we can reaccomodate them on another airline often for minimal cost. if they are on saa to jfk, we can switch them to the iad flight.

i can't comment on &beyond knowledge of other camps in south africa and botswana. perhaps someone who has booked third party properties with &beyond will "chime in".

craig beal

Numbers Aug 26th, 2009 06:06 AM

I don't think I was very clear in my description - I DID in fact have my travel agent contact WS and I have had no direct contact with either them or the TA that WS "assigned" to me. That's how I dealt with &Beyond as well - I identified them myself as wanting to go to their properties and asked my local TA to contact them. I've never had any direct contact with either WS, the agent WS assigned me to, or &Beyond in the case of my earlier trips.

I was only thinking about how having two TA's involved would affect pricing and concerned about the valued relationship I've had with my longtime TA. Based on all that, I believe that Craig has answered my question well. I will continue to work with my TA and let her handle things. Many thanks.

Safari_Craig Aug 26th, 2009 09:50 AM

numbers - glad i could be of help.

craig beal


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