Chapter 11: Tours of the world.
Selling tours is one of the most time efficient and lucrative products that travel counselors can sell. However, matching the vendor and product to the client is imperative for a successful outcome. This requires sales skills, knowledge of human nature, and the ability to listen to what the client says and does not say. By understanding the various types of tours, the tour operators, and their products, travel professionals can accurately match clients to appropriate tours.
Like all other aspects of the travel industry, knowing the products and answering the client's questions is not worth much if it does not lead to a sale. Tours can be booked in the CRS, by phone, and sometimes on the Internet. Travel professionals understand that certain booking methods may be more time efficient and cost effective than others. Accurate record keeping is essential for tour sales, and by tracking all transactions of each sale, the chance of errors is greatly reduced. Tour payments can be handled in several ways and the way in which commission payments are made depend on the method of tour payment.
Selling tours is an efficient way of generating higher revenue for the travel agency; however, the travel professional knows that far more is involved than just handing out a few brochures.
At the conclusion of this chapter, you should be able to:
* understand the importance of matching a tour product to the client.
* identify the different types of tours and the unique features of each type.
* understand what the client is actually purchasing.
* identify the benefits to the client who purchases a tour and to the counselor who makes the sale.
* define the terms associated with tours.
* know how to compare and select tour operators.
* read and interpret tour brochures.
* understand the mechanics of making tour reservations.
* understand how payments are made and a commission is received.
foreign independent tour (FIT)
inclusive tour (IT) number
special interest tour
tour basing fare
The idea of a tour conjures up images of exotic places, sightseeing, and being pampered. In reality, a tour can be as simple as a day trip to Atlantic City, a month-long around-the-world tour by private jet, and everything in between. Fortunately, there are different types of tours to meet the variety of client needs and desires.
One of the most important tasks for the travel counselor is assisting clients in selecting the appropriate tour. Not all tours are created equally and the tour industry is not a "one-size-fits-all" business. The client's destination, budget, comfort level, and previous travel experience can affect the type of tour that is most appropriate for him.
TYPES OF TOURS
Independent tours are the least structured tours available and participants are basically on their own. In fact, participants may not even realize that they are on a tour. Travel counselors and travelers alike refer to an independent tour as a package because no actual touring is involved.
Clients interested in an independent tour decide on the destination and the appropriate brochures offer a variety of departure dates, lengths of stay, and a choice of hotels. Prices are listed for each hotel and length of stay; the departure date may affect the price. It is not uncommon for a tour brochure to show higher prices for departures on the weekend, days near a holiday, during high season, or during special events (e.g., Mardi Gras, Indianapolis 500).
Independent tour participants are completely free to do what they want. Travelers who want to relax on the beach for a week, shop at all the local establishments, or spend hours in the museums and galleries prefer independent tours because there is no set schedule. Many clients traveling to destinations in the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean select independent tours instead of the other two types.
Hosted tours have minimal structure and offer the services of a host. The host is an employee of the tour company who is available during certain times, usually in an area of the hotel lobby. The host can assist with dinner reservations, theatre tickets, rental cars, and offer suggestions about sightseeing, shopping, and dining. The duties of a tour host are much like the duties of a hotel concierge.
Hosted tours include the same features as an independent tour but may also include some basic sightseeing. The host may go along during the sightseeing or a local guide may perform this duty. A tour guide lives in the destination area and joins the group only for a short period of time. Usually, the included sightseeing provides an overview of the area or city and generally lasts only a few hours. Famous sites are pointed out along the way and an inside visit to a popular attraction may be included.
Travelers who want the freedom to explore but realize that a tour representative would be helpful prefer hosted tours. Destinations in the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and major European cities are popular choices for hosted tours.
Escorted tours are the most structured and a tour company employee, called an escort, is with the group throughout the trip. Travelers selecting escorted tours usually do so because they appreciate the fact that the escort is always present and all sightseeing has been previously arranged. In fact, almost all details of the trip have been prearranged and the participants have nothing to worry about or plan on their own.
Escorted tours are usually very regimented and it is common for the day to begin with breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and conclude with dinner and a show at 9:00 p.m. Participants do not have to attend each planned activity, but there is no refund if they choose to skip an activity. Of course, if tour members want to spend an extra hour shopping and the group is moving on to another city, flexibility is not an option.
Sightseeing on escorted tours is very comprehensive and includes many of the most popular sites and attractions. Participants are usually taken to the attraction entrance and admission has already been paid. Even though the escort stays with the group, local tour guides may join the group for short periods of time. Local guides are experts on particular sites and enjoy sharing their knowledge and answering questions.
Special Interest Tours--Topics
* literary, famous authors
* special event (e.g., Mardi Gras, motor racing, Olympics)
Special Interest Tours--Activities
* adventure (e.g., mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking)
* sports (e.g., skiing, tennis, golf, scuba)
Special Interest Tours--Types of Clients
* physically challenged
* senior citizens
* gay and lesbian
* 18-35 year olds
Travelers to most international destinations may prefer an escorted tour, simply for the peace of mind. Escorted tours are offered throughout the United States as well and may include visits to several states. Ground transportation on escorted tours is usually by motorcoach and in some destinations, ferries, trains, cruise ships, and other modes of transportation are used.
Another type of tour is the special interest tour. These tours focus on a particular topic, activity, or type of client. A special interest tour can be independent, hosted, or escorted, but most of them tend to be hosted or escorted.
Sometimes a traveler wants a tour that includes sites or activities that are not part of a packaged tour. For example, a client wants to visit all of the national parks in Utah or all of the pyramids in Egypt. Packaged tours may include some of these sites, but not all. Situations like this require that the travel counselor create a customized tour, known as a foreign independent tour (FIT). The letters FIT stand for foreign independent tour but are used to identify domestic customized tours as well.
Each component of an FIT is arranged separately by the travel counselor. Making these arrangements is time consuming and requires a good deal of expertise. The travel counselor must know, or know how to find out, which companies to contact for each component. Because of the expertise needed for FITs, some travel agencies have one or more counselors who specialize in FITs.
FITs are more expensive than packaged tours because each component is purchased individually instead of in bulk. Travelers who purchase FITs are not necessarily concerned with obtaining the lowest price; rather, they are interested in including exactly what they want. Most travelers who purchase FITs understand the work involved and are willing to pay for the added service and customization.
When a client purchases a tour, regardless of whether it is independent, hosted, escorted, or an FIT, he is buying specific products and services, called components. Components include transportation (e.g., air, train, motorcoach, boat), transfers from the airport to the hotel with porterage (baggage handling), accommodations, meals, and sightseeing.
Which components are included depends on the type of tour purchased. An independent tour may include only transportation and accommodations. A hosted tour may include transportation, accommodations, and transfers. Escorted tours and FITs usually include all five components.
independent tour The least structured type of tour; participants are basically on their own. hosted tour A moderately structured tour with a host who is available for assistance at specified times. host 1. The CRS developer or owner. 2. An employee of a tour operator who is available at the destination to the tour participants at specified times. local guide An employee of a tour operator who is a resident of the destination and joins the tour group for a short period of time. escorted tour The most structured type of tour; all components are usually included and an escort is with the group throughout the trip. escort An employee of a tour operator who travels with the group throughout the trip. special interest tour A type of tour designed to attract particular types of clients, or those interested in a specific subject or activity. foreign independent tour (FIT) A customized tour where all components are arranged separately by the travel professional. components Individual products and services that are included in a tour.
Clients who purchase packaged tours enjoy several distinct benefits. One of the most important benefits is volume discount. Tour operators purchase components at bulk rates from airlines, hotels, attractions, restaurants, and so on. Of course, the tour operator adds his profit to the rates before establishing a tour price, but even so, the price is almost always less expensive than if the traveler purchased each component separately.
The fact that tours are prepaid is a benefit to the client for two reasons. First, the client can better plan his budget around the known price of the tour. The total cost of the trip is more obvious when more components are included in the tour price. Secondly, by prepaying a tour to an international destination, the price may not be affected by currency fluctuation. Generally, once a tour is paid in full, the rate does not increase.
Travelers purchasing hosted or escorted tours enjoy a peace of mind not found in independent travel. Having a host or escort available for questions, problems, and advice is reassuring and comforting to many travelers. Escorted tour members have the added convenience of being taken to each attraction, hotel, or restaurant with all arrangements previously made. By relieving the tour members of the decision making and worrying about arrangements, peace of mind is increased.
Clients who purchase escorted tours receive the benefits of reliable sightseeing and guaranteed entrances. Experience has taught tour organizers which sites and attractions travelers prefer and should be included in the tour. For example, it is a sure bet that sites such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame will be included in a tour of Paris. Tour organizers also know when attractions are open and schedule visits accordingly. Entrance fees are arranged and paid in advance by the tour operator, relieving the tour participant of yet another concern.
It is important to note that tour brochures must be read carefully with regard to sightseeing. Not all attractions include an inside visit. For example, a tour may stop at the Sydney Opera House for 10 minutes--long enough for photos, but not long enough to go inside. Most tour brochures indicate inside visits by using bold or italicized print. Experienced travel counselors have learned never to assume that an inside visit is made and are careful not to read more into a brochure item than is there.
Selling tours provides travel counselors with benefits as well. Imagine counseling a client about transportation, making the booking, counseling about accommodations, making the booking, and so on. You are correct if you feel this is very time consuming. Selling a tour instead of arranging each component separately is far more time efficient.
By selling a tour as opposed to individual components, the travel counselor maximizes revenue. You have learned that most air travel earns a 5 percent commission and the average hotel commission is 10 percent. The purchase of meals, attraction entrances, and city sightseeing made at the destination is not commissionable. But, when these components are part of a packaged tour, everything is commissionable, usually at 10 percent or more (see Figure 11-1).
The Best Type of Tour
From what you have learned thus far, do you feel that escorted tours are the best type for all clients? The answer is no. The best type of tour is the one that suites the client's needs and wants as well as his level of travel experience and knowledge. A traveler who wants a package to the Bahamas so that he can relax on the beach all week would certainly be unhappy with an escorted tour. On the other hand, a client who wants to see the sights of India might appreciate all the benefits an escorted tour has to offer.
As with all areas of travel, the counselor must qualify the client. The traveler's level of travel experience and knowledge are particularly important when selling tours. For example, a traveler who has been to Hawaii several times may want an independent or hosted tour, whereas a client visiting Hawaii for the first time may prefer an escorted tour.
The answers to the qualifying questions should establish:
* Activities to be included (sightseeing, dining, water sports, and so on)
* Length of trip
* Season of travel (high, low, or shoulder)
* Grade and price range of tour (budget, moderate, or deluxe)
* Type of tour (independent, hosted, escorted, FIT, or special interest)
* Preferred tour members (no one, adults, children, seniors, or special interest)
* Pace (leisurely, moderate, or fast)
* Traveler's level of travel knowledge and past experience
In addition to asking the right questions, travel counselors must listen carefully, not only to the traveler's answers, but also to his tone of voice. A client who sounds apprehensive or nervous about being on his own may be telling the counselor that an escorted tour would be best.
Another trap the travel counselor must avoid is injecting the counselor's preferences into the scenario. For example, a client tells the counselor that he wants to go to Alaska, but the travel counselor says that the Caribbean would be a much better destination. This counselor's reply is not only rude, it may cause the traveler to go to another agency to book his trip to Alaska.
The client's destination can influence the type of tour selection. Most travelers going to Las Vegas, Florida, the Bahamas, Caribbean, and Mexican resort areas prefer independent or hosted tours. These destinations are chosen primarily for their individual activities rather than group sightseeing. Other destinations such as Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, and Europe lend themselves to escorted tours. Most travelers consider these destinations more exotic than the others mentioned and as such, the security and comfort of being with a group is preferred.
THE LANGUAGE OF TOURS
There are hundreds of companies worldwide that arrange and market tours. These companies are commonly referred to as tour operators. Tour operators, sometimes called tour wholesalers, can market tours strictly through travel agencies or they also can sell directly to the consumer. Tour operators may also utilize ground operators to arrange specific components such as city sightseeing, special meals, and attraction entrances.
Tour operators offering international tours must apply to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to obtain an Inclusive Tour (IT) number. The IT number is an identification number and travel counselors should use the IT number on all international airline tickets issued in connection with the tour. By using the IT number on the international airline ticket, an 11 percent commission may be allowed on air transportation, depending on the airline.
On many international tours, special airfare may be available. This type of airfare can only be purchased in combination with a tour and is called a tour basing fare, IT fare, or GIT (group inclusive tour) fare. Travel counselors should compare a tour basing fare to other fare types and use whichever is the least expensive.
All tour operators establish prices on a per-person basis with the idea that two people will be traveling together. Everything in a brochure--the tour, airfare, extensions, discounts, and insurance--is priced per person.
Independent and hosted tours may offer travelers a choice of accommodation room type. It is common to see two or three prices for the same tour, each price representing a different type of room. For example, a three-night hotel package in a Honolulu hotel may show: ROH $300, Garden View $375, and Ocean View $450.
Another factor that should be considered when comparing prices for escorted tours and packages using all-inclusive accommodations is meals. Tours can include continental breakfast, buffet, table d'hote, or a la carte meals. Some tours utilize a dine-around program, which gives tour members a choice of restaurants.
If a client is traveling alone, there is a single supplement. Single supplements may be expressed as a flat dollar amount or as a percentage of the tour price. A client traveling alone pays the per-person price plus the single supplement.
When three people are traveling together and will share accommodations on a tour, there is usually a triple reduction. The triple reduction is per person and applies to each person in the party of three.
Some tours show a land-only price or a land-air price. The land-only price includes all tour components, including surface transportation, but not air. The land-air price includes all tour components and air transportation, usually from a gateway city. The gateway city is generally an airline hub and it is the city from which an international flight begins or ends. Many tour brochures include a chart that lists the airfare from various cities to the gateway. This airfare is called an air add-on and is commissionable.
Most tours are booked by travel counselors and in fact, some tour operators will not take bookings directly from the traveler. When a tour booking is made, a confirmation number, also called a booking or reservation number or record locator, is given. This number identifies the booking to the tour operator. The confirmation number is very important and must be used on all future communication with the tour operator.
Some tour operators require a deposit at the time a booking is made. The deposit can be a flat dollar amount per person or a percentage of the tour price. Other tour operators may give the travel counselor an option date. The option date is the date by which the tour operator must have the deposit. Option dates vary by tour operator, but seven days from the date of the booking is common.
At a later time, usually 45 to 60 days before the trip, final payment must be made. The method of payment used for the deposit and the final payment depends on the tour operator.
Most tour operators accept credit cards for the deposit and the final payment. The client's credit card number is either given verbally to the tour reservationist for phone bookings or entered into the computer for CRS and Internet bookings. Some tour operators request that payment be made by travel agency check, while others want payment transmitted via an ARC document.
The two types of ARC documents used to transmit payment to a tour operator are the Miscellaneous Charges Order (MCO) and the Tour Order. The MCO and Tour Order are accountable ARC documents and are validated, just like airline tickets. The tour operator identifies the airline or rail company to use for validation.
After a tour has been booked and deposit taken, most tour operators charge a revision fee for any changes that are made. Usually revision fees are a flat dollar amount, sometimes per person, sometimes per booking. When a tour must be cancelled, there may be a cancellation fee. The amount of the fee depends on when the cancellation was made and varies by tour operator. A tour operator's cancellation policy is clearly detailed in the brochure.
Almost all tour operators offer an insurance package that covers trip cancellation or interruption, baggage, and health or accident. Often called trip protection, this insurance is priced per person, may vary in price based on the length or type of the trip, and is commissionable to the travel agency. Insurance offered by the tour operator does not usually cover loss due to carrier (e.g., airline, tour operator) bankruptcy.
Sometime after the final payment has been made, usually two to three weeks before departure, the tour operator sends a document packet to the travel agency. This packet can include airline tickets, tour tickets, baggage tags, nametags, itinerary, hotel vouchers, guidebooks, discount coupons, and general information. The travel counselor should check the tickets and vouchers over carefully to make sure all information is correct. Clients may opt to pick up the document packet at the travel agency or may request that the packet be mailed to them.
Some independent and hosted tours, especially in the United States, may be handled as "ticketless." The tour operator may send or fax an itinerary to the travel agency but no other documents are sent. Vouchers, coupons, and other information may be given to the client at the airport or at the destination.
tour operator A company that packages and markets tour products. ground operator A vendor who arranges travel components such as hotels, sightseeing, transfers, and meals. inclusive tour (IT) number A tour identifying number assigned by IATA. tour basing fare A type of airfare that can only be purchased in conjunction with a tour. single supplement An additional charge for a travel product when one person is traveling alone. triple reduction A discount when more than two people are traveling together on a tour. gateway city The city from which an international flight departs or arrives. air add-on Special airfare between the traveler's home city and destination or gateway, offered by cruise lines, tour operators, and international airlines. deposit A down payment made on the purchase of a travel product. option date The date by which a vendor must receive a deposit. final payment The balance due after a deposit has been made for the purchase of a travel product. revision fee A charge made by a travel vendor when a booking must be altered in some way. cancellation fee The amount charged by a travel vendor when the traveler cancels his reservation. document packet A folder issued by a travel vendor that includes various materials for the traveler, such as cruise or tour ticket, airline tickets, general information, baggage tags, name tags, hotel lists, itinerary, and so on.
SELECTING TOUR OPERATORS
Tour operators come in all shapes and sizes. Some tour operators specialize in tours to a particular country, while others offer tours worldwide. Some companies offer only very upscale, deluxe tours; other tour operators have a variety of products. How does a travel counselor know which tour operators are likely to offer products to suit a particular client?
Most travel agencies have a preferred vendor list that includes tour operators, cruise lines, airlines, hotel chains, and car rental companies. These companies are included on the list because they have proven to offer quality products, excellent service, and value for the price. Tour operators included on a preferred vendor list are financially stable and in some cases, pay the agency override commissions.
Each travel agency manager or owner researches a tour operator before adding the company to the preferred vendor list. Comments and recommendations from past clients are taken into consideration as are previous customer complaints. A tour operator that has been in business for many years is an indication that the company has consistently met or exceeded travelers' expectations, otherwise, the company would not still be in business.
Membership in the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) and the National Tour Association (NTA) is a good indication that the tour operator is financially stable and is concerned with protecting the clients' personal and financial security.
To be accepted as a member of the USTOA, a tour operator must:
* Supply a variety of travel industry and banking references
* Comply with the established Code of Ethics
* Maintain a certain volume of bookings
* Have had the same ownership and management for at least three years
* Carry $1 million in liability insurance
* Obtain a $1 million bond for USTOA's consumer protection plan
NTA members are primarily motorcoach tour operators but can be any type of tour operator. Membership in the NTA requires tour operators to:
* Carry $1 million in liability insurance
* Comply with the NTA Code of Ethics
Some tour operators also elect to become members of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). Although membership in ASTA does not have the financial requirements of the other organizations, ASTA membership is often seen as a statement that the tour operator is anxious to work with travel agencies.
Important Industry Web Sites
American Society of Travel Agents: http://www.astanet.com
National Tour Association: http://www.nta.com
Pacific Asia Travel Association: http://www.pata.org
United States Tour Operators Association: http://www.ustoa.com
One of the most important things a new travel counselor can do is to learn about his agency's preferred vendor list, and which tour operators his agency sells the most. At the same time, the new counselor is learning about which destinations are offered by each vendor and which tour operators offer budget, moderate, and deluxe products.
READING TOUR BROCHURES
Almost all tour brochures are arranged using the same format. The first several pages include a table of contents, information about the tour operator, special features and discounts, and information about the modes of transportation and accommodations. These pages are designed to excite the reader and convince him that choosing a tour from this company is the correct decision.
Travel counselors can learn a great deal about the company and the clientele to which the company caters simply by reading the text and looking at the pictures. Take a look at any tour brochure and see if you can answer these questions.
Tour Brochure Pricing Formula $$$ Per-person brochure price + $$$ Single supplement, if applicable - $$$ Triple reduction, if applicable + $$$ Upgrades, add-ons, additional features, insurance, if any - $$$ Discounts or reduction in features, if any = $$$$ Total per-person tour price For two people traveling together, multiply the total per-person tour price by two. For three people traveling together, multiply the total per-person tour price by three.
1. What is the average age of the tour members?
2. Do children seem to be welcome or do the pictures feature adults only?
3. How are the tour members dressed: casually or formally?
4. Is the focus on activities and sightseeing or on leisure time and relaxation?
5. Of what organizations is the tour operator a member?
6. From the brochure, do you believe the tour operator would be considered upscale, moderate, or budget? (Hint: Consider the quality of the photographs and the paper on which the brochure is printed.)
The bulk of the brochure contains the various tour products. Depending on the type of tour, each may be covered on one page to as many as four or five pages. Each tour product shows a day-by-day itinerary, usually indicating included meals and sightseeing. There may be a boxed area for each tour that details special features and sightseeing. Each tour product may have a price chart showing rates based on departure date, hotel choice, or hotel room type.
The final few pages of a tour brochure deal with important information such as deposits, final payments, cancellation policies, insurance, and so on. If airfare is offered as an add-on, there is a chart with prices based on departure city, usually found in the back of the brochure.
A very important point to remember is that one tour operator's policies are not necessarily the same as another tour operator's policies. In fact, a tour operator may change these policies from one year to the next. Figure 11-2 compares three tour operators' policies to give you an idea of some of the differences.
When a traveler looks at a tour brochure, his eyes generally go to the price first. He may not take into consideration all that is included. Travel counselors looking at a tour brochure usually look at the tour features: number of days, places visited, and what is included. It is very important that the travel counselor explain all of these details so that the client understands exactly what is being offered.
One of the indicators of a tour's price is the quality of the hotels used. A deluxe tour includes the best hotels, often more centrally located. Less expensive tours may offer a lower grade of hotels that are farther from the city center or popular sightseeing attractions.
A second factor that can greatly affect a tour's price is meals. How many meals are included? Which meals are included? (Breakfast is far less expensive than dinner.) Are the meals buffet, table d'hote, or a la carte?
One of the most important aspects of a tour is the pace. Pace can affect a tour's price; generally, the faster the pace, the less expensive the tour. Does the client want to see eight European countries in five days? If so, he must understand that he may have to be up at 6:00 a.m. and may be on the motorcoach until late at night each evening. He will be hustled on and off the motorcoach 20 times each day; the rest he sees from the motorcoach window as it drives by. This pace is not a vacation--it is hard work!
Most clients want a tour with a slower pace and one that allows some free time. Moderately priced tours generally allow some free time but not much. Deluxe tours often set aside an afternoon in each city or location as free time. Tour members can use the free time how they wish: exploring, shopping, or just relaxing by the hotel pool.
Again, there is no right or wrong tour pace as long as the travel counselor listens to what the traveler wants and then follows his lead. Some clients want to see eight European countries in five days, so for them, the fast-paced tour is perfect. But for those travelers who want to take things a bit slower, selling the same fast-paced tour is a major mistake, and the traveler will be dissatisfied with the tour and the travel counselor.
A traveler comes into a travel agency and says, "I'm interested in European tours." What does the travel counselor do? Does he jump up and grab some brochures from the files or brochure rack? If he does, he has no concept of what being a good travel counselor is all about. As with all areas of selling travel, specific information must be learned before any brochures can be selected.
First, the travel counselor should convey an interest in the client's request and make the client feel comfortable and important. The travel counselor might say something like, "Europe, that's wonderful! I'm sure we can find the perfect tour for you."
Web Activity Your clients, Esther and Hernando Gonzalez, have traveled to Europe several times, but they have never had the opportunity to spend time in London. They are interested in doing a two-week independent tour in June. Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez enjoy shopping, museums, history, and theatre. Using the Internet to research things to do in London, prepare a fact sheet for your clients that includes everything you think your clients will appreciate knowing.
Many sales experts suggest that the travel counselor immediately introduce himself and hopefully, the client will do the same. If the client does not offer his name, the counselor should ask. The travel counselor should make note of the client's name and use it during the conversation.
Some travel counselors feel that immediately asking for the traveler's name is too aggressive and confrontational and puts the client on the defensive. The fact is that an aggressive approach works in some parts of the country but not in others. Travel counselors in more rural areas have found that a more gentle approach works better, while counselors in major metropolitan areas feel that immediate introductions are perfectly acceptable. The approach that feels comfortable to the travel counselor is also important. If it does not feel comfortable, it may sound awkward.
Whichever approach the travel counselor uses, the next step is to qualify the client. During qualification, the counselor should learn exactly what type of tour the traveler has in mind. All of the questions that the travel counselor asks should be designed to help the counselor determine what tour operators and brochures are likely to offer products that suit the client.
After the travel counselor understands what the client wants, the counselor should select two or three brochures that offer appropriate products. A mistake some travel counselors make is overloading the client with dozens of brochures and options. The client is overwhelmed and may end up quite frustrated by the vast array of choices. In this case, remember that more is not better.
Tours are best sold face-to-face. In this way, the counselor can sit down with the client, show him the brochures, point out a tour from each brochure, and show him how each tour satisfies his needs. The travel counselor should use the pictures, the day-by-day itinerary of the tour, and the highlighted features as selling tools.
The traveler may have questions about the tour and the counselor should answer them immediately if possible. If the counselor does not know the answer to the client's question but can quickly find it, the counselor should do so. For answers that take a bit of time, there is nothing wrong with saying, "I don't know but I will be happy to find out and let you know." If the counselor does not already have the client's name, now is a good time to ask for it as well as the traveler's phone number.
The travel counselor should help the traveler compare the tours being suggested, both for included features and price. The counselor should make sure the client understands the price and what it includes as well as any additional charges or add-ons. It is a good idea to highlight brochure text dealing with deposits, final payments, cancellation policies, and insurance. Once the traveler has the brochure at home, he can easily find and reread these important sections.
Rarely will a tour actually be sold during the first contact with the client, unless all travelers are in the agency together. Usually the client takes the brochures home to discuss the options with his traveling companion. Before the client leaves the agency, the travel counselor should suggest that he will call the client in a few days to see if he has any questions or concerns about the tour. Without fail, this follow-up call must be made.
If the travel counselor was not well versed on the brochures during the first contact with the client, now is the time to brush up on them. Most clients devour the tour brochure information and can very easily end up knowing more about the tour than the travel counselor. If the travel counselor wants to appear professional, knowledgeable, and avoid embarrassment, he will take the brochures home and study them thoroughly.
MAKING TOUR RESERVATIONS
Travel counselors can make tour reservations by calling the tour operator, and in fact, most bookings are made this way. Many tour operators participate in various CRSs and can be booked in them. More and more tour operators are offering travel counselor booking capability or special "agents only" Web sites for reservations.
Important Industry Web Sites
Apple Vacations: http://www.applevacations.com
Blue Sky Tours: http://www.blueskytours.com
Celtic Tours: http://www.celtictours.com
Central Holidays: http://www.centralholidays.com
Classic Custom Vacations: http://www.classiccustomvacations.com
Collette Tours: http://www.collettetours.com
Delta Vacations: http://www.deltavacations.com
Friendly Holidays: http://www.friendlyholidays.com
Gate 1 Travel: http://www.gate1travel.com
General Tours: http://www.generaltours.com
Globus & Cosmos: http://www.globusandcosmos.com
GoGo Tours: http://gogowwv.com
Isram World of Travel: http://www.isram.com/isramagents
Mayflower Tours: http://www.mayflowertours.com
Pleasant Holidays: http://www.pleasantholidays.com
Sunny Land Tours: http://www.sunnylandtours.com
Trafalgar Tours: http://www.trafalgartours.com
Travel Impressions: http://www.travelimpressions.com/agents.html
Using the CRS and the Internet has distinct advantages over phone bookings. First, automated bookings usually take far less time than booking by phone. Second, the commission may be higher because some tour operators pay an extra percent or more for automated bookings. The cost for the CRS is usually based on sold segments; the higher the number of sold segments, the lower the agency's cost. So, using the CRS whenever possible helps the agency keep its cost for the CRS at a minimum.
Regardless of how the reservation is made, the travel counselor must be prepared with specific information about the client and the desired tour. This information includes:
* Tour name or number
* Departure and return dates
* Special requests, add-ons, discounts, or feature reductions
* Client names (as shown on the photo ID or passport)
* Form of payment to be used for the deposit or full payment
Because the travel counselor has to be in contact with the client, the counselor should also have the client's telephone number, fax, e-mail address, and mailing address. Most travel agencies have devised a trip worksheet or reservation form (see Figure 11-3) to assist in gathering all the necessary information. This form is also used to record the confirmation number and reservationist's name (phone bookings only) at the time the reservation is made. The travel counselor uses this form to record all payment information, both from the client as well as to the tour operator.
[FIGURE 11-3 OMITTED]
Invariably, clients call with questions about the tours they booked, making these forms very handy. If the booking travel counselor is out of the office at the time a client calls, another counselor can look at the trip worksheet and see exactly what has transpired. If the trip worksheet is complete, it is possible that the other counselor can answer the client's questions, eliminating the need for a call back.
Most travel agencies maintain a file folder on each tour booking. The file contains the trip worksheet, action summary, tour brochure, payment receipts, and any other pertinent data about the booking. Consistency and thoroughness are key in record keeping for tour and cruise sales. Every communication with the client and tour operator should be documented on the action summary and each tour file should contain the same types of paperwork.
Tour reservations made by phone usually follow a similar format. As always, the counselor must first identify himself and his agency. Then, he might say something like, "I would like to make a reservation for the October 18 departure of the Grand Hawaii tour for two adults with air from Charlotte." At this point, the tour reservationist guides the conversation. The reservationist asks for the clients' names, if there are any special requests, and for the travel agency's ARC or phone number.
At some point, the reservationist repeats what has been booked and goes over the pricing. It is important to note that the travel counselor should have an idea of the price before calling the tour operator. Only then is the counselor aware of any price differences and can question them. (Perhaps the tour reservationist made a mistake.)
The form of payment is discussed and the reservationist should tell the counselor what forms are accepted. The due dates for the deposit (option date) and final payment are given. The travel counselor must make note of these on the trip worksheet.
Usually toward the end of the conversation, the reservationist gives the travel counselor the booking number, also called confirmation number, reservation number, or record locator. Without fail, the counselor must make note of this number on the worksheet. The reservationist may ask if the counselor has any questions or wants to make further reservations. If nothing else is needed, the counselor should thank the reservationist and end the conversation.
[FIGURE 11-4 OMITTED]
MAKING PAYMENTS AND RECEIVING COMMISSIONS
Each tour operator establishes its policy with regard to accepted forms of payment. Some vendors accept only one form, while others may accept more than one method of payment. Depending on the tour operator, payment may be transmitted to them by:
* Credit card--no paperwork
* Credit card--paperwork required
* Travel agency check
* ARC document: Miscellaneous Charges Order (MCO) or Tour Order
Almost all tour operators accept the client's credit card, given by phone or entered into the computer for CRS and Internet bookings. The vast majority of tour bookings are paid by credit card and do not require any paperwork. In most cases, the tour operator obtains the credit card approval code and processes the charge. Other than entering the credit card information in the computer or giving it to the tour reservationist by phone at deposit and again at final payment time, the travel counselor does nothing else with regard to payments.
Some tour operators accept the client's credit card, but require an imprinted Universal Credit Card Charge Form or UCCCF (see Figure 11-4). In fact, some travel agencies require a UCCCF even when the vendor does not. ARC supplies these charge forms simply as a convenience to travel agencies. Vendors that require a UCCCF may ask the travel counselor to obtain the credit card approval code. The approval code can be obtained in the CRS or by calling the credit card company.
When a tour is paid by credit card, whether or not the UCCCF is used, the tour operator must send a check for the commission. The commission payment can be a physical check or be processed via an electronic funds transfer (EFT). When the commission is paid depends on the tour operator. Some vendors pay immediately after the final payment has been processed. Most tour operators, however, pay the agency commission after the trip has been completed.
Travel Agency Check
Almost all tour operators accept payment by travel agency check. In most cases, the client must pay the agency by cash or check. The exception is travel agencies that are also credit card merchants. These agencies can accept the client's credit card, receive cash from the charge, and pay the tour operator by agency check. However, the vast majority of travel agencies are not credit card merchants.
Tour payments by agency check usually happen in two stages. First, the client pays the deposit, the agency deposits that money into its bank account, and writes an agency check for the same amount to the tour operator. At final payment time, the agency deposits the client's payment and writes a check to the tour operator, but withholds the commission.
As you can see in the example on page 172, the travel agency received the commission on the sale on July 20. If the payment to the tour operator is by credit card, chances are that the agency would not receive the commission until after the trip is completed, sometime after September 5. This means that paying by agency check resulted in the opportunity to earn interest on the commission for approximately two months. It is no wonder that many travel agencies pay by check whenever possible because doing so increases the agency's cash flow.
Some tour operators, although not very many, request that payment be transmitted to them using an ARC document: either an MCO or a Tour Order. Each tour operator indicates which type of document to use; seldom does a vendor accept both. When a tour operator accepts an ARC document, the client may pay by cash, check, or credit card.
Like all accountable ARC documents, MCOs and Tour Orders are validated. Because very few tour operators are ARC members, validation is on an airline or rail company. These tour operators enter into an agreement with an ARC member airline or rail company to act as the middleman. In other words, payment goes to the airline or rail company first, and then is transmitted to the tour operator. The tour operator must specify which airline or rail company to use for validation.
Because most clients pay a tour deposit and at a later date, make final payment, two MCOs or two Tour Orders must be completed for a single tour sale. The first ARC document is completed for the deposit amount and the second ARC document is completed for the final payment amount.
It is important to note that some tour operators allow the commission to be taken on the deposit when it is processed; others do not. If the commission was taken on the deposit at the time it was processed, the commission is calculated on the final payment and taken based on that amount. If no commission was previously taken, the commission on the total sale is calculated and taken at final payment time.
[FIGURE 11-5 OMITTED]
Figure 11-5 is an MCO for final payment. At 10 percent commission, you can see from the commission amount that no commission was taken at the time of deposit. Figure 11-6 is a Tour Order, also for final payment, but the commission was taken on the deposit at the time it was processed.
Tour payment by an ARC document means that the commission is received in the same way as a commission on airline tickets, electronic ticket transactions, and PTAs. Each week, the travel agency reports all sales made for the previous week. From the cash sales, ARC deducts all commission owed and withdraws the remainder. If there are insufficient cash sales, ARC sends the commission to the agency's bank via EFT.
CONFIRMATION AND FOLLOW-UP
As an added touch to the service the travel counselor is providing the client, a confirmation letter puts what has been done on the client's behalf in writing. The most appropriate time to send a confirmation letter to the client is after the deposit has been processed. If an error has been made during the booking process (e.g., incorrect date, tour, name), the confirmation letter may bring it to the travel counselor's attention.
[FIGURE 11-6 OMITTED]
There are four main subjects that should be covered in the confirmation letter. It is always nice to begin by thanking the client for his business. After all, where would the travel counselor be without the client? Next, state what has been done (e.g., reservation made, deposit sent). Confirm to the client the features that are and are not included in the price. If the client did not purchase insurance, briefly outline the tour operator's cancellation policy and recommend insurance.
Most travel counselors believe that staying in touch with their clients is a very important part of doing business, and rightly so. An excellent way to achieve and maintain a solid counselor-client relationship is by a follow-up letter or phone call to the client after he has returned from his tour. A waste of time? Definitely not! A follow-up letter or phone call accomplishes two very important things.
* It lets the client know that the counselor cares about more than just making a sale.
* It provides the counselor with vendor and product feedback.
The counselor has taken great pains to satisfy the client during the sales process of the tour. The clients have spent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars on the tour that the counselor suggested. They have returned home; now is not the time to abandon them. Showing that the counselor cares about the services they did or did not receive, the way they were treated, and their overall opinion solidifies the counselor-client relationship.
If there were problems with the tour or tour operator, they have to be questioned. Were the problems avoidable? Were they the counselor's fault? Did the tour operator perform less than efficiently? A letter to the tour operator might be in order, expressing the client's dissatisfaction and the counselor's concern. Perhaps, the clients should be reimbursed by the tour operator for services not received. If the problems were severe, it may be that the agency's manager will reconsider selling this tour operator in the future.
The point is, never lose sight of the fact that this is a service industry. Without satisfied clients, a counselor and his agency cannot survive.
What Would You Do? You have been working as a travel counselor for several months and your boss has offered you a choice of familiarization trips: Las Vegas, which you love and have been to several times; Hawaii, which you have sold but never visited; and Kenya, which you have never sold or visited. 1. In what way(s) is Las Vegas the best choice? 2. In what way(s) is Hawaii the best choice? 3. In what way(s) is Kenya the best choice? Types of Tours and Their Components Transfers Transportation & Porterage Accommodations Independent probably possibly yes Hosted probably probably yes Escorted yes yes yes FIT yes yes yes Meals Sightseeing Independent no no Hosted no minimal Escorted yes yes FIT possibly yes Formula for Payment by Agency Check Total cost of the September 5 tour: $2,000.00 March 16--the client pays the deposit: -$400.00 March 16--the agency deposits the client's payment and writes an agency check for the same amount. July 20-- the client makes his final payment: $1,600.00 July 20-- the agency deposits the client's -$200.00 payment and calculates the commission to withhold (10 percent of the total tour cost): July 20-- the agency writes a check (net payment) $1,400.00 to the tour operator: ARC Commission Total Cash Sales: $10,000 (commission $586.35) Total Charge Sales: $45,000 (commission $3,825.92) Total Cash Sales: $10,000.00 Commission on Cash Sales: -586.35 Commission on Charge Sales: -3,825.92 Amount ARC Withdraws from Agency's Bank: $5,587.73 FIGURE 11-1 Revenue comparison between selling a tour and booking the components separately Escorted tour of Britain and Ireland, including round-trip air transportation from New York to London, all hotels, transfers, sightseeing, and most meals: $2,941 per person x 2 $5,882 x 10% commission = $588.20 adults = $5,882 Independent travel: Round-trip air transportation from New York to London $700 per person x 2 $1,400 x 5% commission = $70 adults = $1,400 Hotel, 12 nights, average $1,800 x 10% commission = $180.00 $150/night = $1,800 Two-week car rental = $500 $500 x 10% commission = $50.00 Meals--purchased at the destination; not commissionable Sightseeing--purchased at the destination; not commissionable Entrance fees--purchased at the destination; not commissionable Total Commission Earned $300.00 Conclusion: Selling the escorted tour resulted in $288.20 more commission than booking independent travel. FIGURE 11-2 Comparison of tour operators' policies Deposit Final Payment Tour $100 per person paid at 45 days prior to Operator A time of booking departure Tour $200 per person paid 45 days prior to Operator B within 7 days of departure booking Tour $400 per person paid 60 days prior to Operator C within 7 days of departure booking Cancellation Insurance Tour 46+ days--$50/person $30 to $40/person based Operator A 45-30 days--$100/person on tour-must be paid 29-15 days--$150/person at deposit less than 14 days--no refund Tour 46+ days--$200/person $69 to $79/person based Operator B 45-16 days--20% of total on tour-must be paid price prior to final payment 15-1 days--35% of total price day of departure-no refund Tour 75+ days--no penalty $99 to $199/person Operator C 74-46 days--$400 per based on tour-must person be paid prior to final 45-15 days--50% of total payment price 14-3 days--75% of total price less than 3 days--no refund
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||SECTION III: Selling Other Travel Products and Services|
|Publication:||A Guide to Becoming a Travel Professional|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 10: Consolidators, charters, group sales, and insurance.|
|Next Article:||Chapter 12: The basics of cruising.|