What can travel consultants do to reduce vendor wait times?: Travel Weekly

charlie funk

charlie funk

My last column (“Doing something about ‘It’s always something!’, March 28) prompted a string of emails to reinforce the topic, mentioning a few things that I had missed, and mostly clearly stating that the most blatant “something” I did not take into account the waiting time of the supplier. I didn’t have enough space to cover this topic in this column and Travel Weekly has since written about it, but I’ll address it now.

Indeed, it drove vendors crazy as they sought to overstaff their call centers to cope with the influx of calls. Many of the very good employees laid off by the suppliers found it necessary to look elsewhere as it became apparent that cruising activity would be slower to recover than anyone would have liked.

As a result, many of the cruise line booking agents that consultants talk to are not as experienced as they once were. Some of them are located in offshore call centers; I asked some where they were located and among the answers were Jamaica and the Philippines.

Booking cruises requires a fairly high level of knowledge; it is difficult for newly hired personnel to learn how to navigate complex booking systems, even if the caller is a highly trained retail agent with a specific ship, sailing date and accommodation requests, and who can even tell the agent exactly where to look.

Add to that a group of retailers who need collective support to find the right product and listing, or who refuse to use web tools, and the situation quickly becomes unbearable. Holding times of up to eight hours only for the call to be dropped has led to Facebook posts that clearly express frustration and anger.

The old business adage that time is money is true. With apologies – deep apologies – Meredith Wilson: “We’re in trouble, right here on the Reservation, with a capital letter that rhymes with the letter ‘S’ and that means ‘Hold Time…’.”

Couple this with sometimes poor call quality and a portion of the retail base that may have difficulty understanding English with an accent, and problems multiply.

I am convinced that every travel service provider does its best to control the call times of retail consultants. Very often the solutions they implement involve web platforms. All retailers are required to implement these tools, and owners/managers are required to insist that staff use them.

There are also many booking tools developed by consortiums and host agencies that are very effective. When I worked for Just Cruisin’ Plus, we were members of the Travel Leaders Network and I found their agent-focused booking tool to be excellent. Members can access any of their preferred cruise lines and search for any cruise that matches their sorting criteria, including travel dates, travel duration, brands and ships, as well as their desired port of departure, and more. Those consulting members who are also subscribed to Tres Technologies or Agent Mate can transfer customer data upstream, place orders and receive them downstream…

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