Double bed - accommodation only suppliers are coming under intense scrutinyThe reputation of accommodation-only suppliers is coming under intense scrutiny as this summer’s price war between suppliers continues and spteculation mounts over consolidation in the sector.


But who’s to blame for fuelling a downward spiral in prices, a lack of focus on good quality product, availability and customer service?


While rivals point the finger at hotels4u.com and youtravel.com for driving volumes up and margins down, travel agents and the technology they use to find holiday components are also being blamed.


It’s often an incorrect assumption by agents that customers want the cheapest deal at the expense of quality, according to Apartments Abroad managing director Ian Thirlwall.


“Buying purely on price is not looking at quality or what the customer wants. We [the industry] have managed to take a glamour product and turn it into a bar of soap – it’s purely a price-led commodity. People are working at a loss and still chasing volume,” Thirlwall said.


Somewhere2stay.com managing director Stuart Jackson said dynamic packaging technology used by agents to find cheap deals was also to blame.


“Buying purely on price is not looking at quality or what the customer wants.”

He said: “Part of the problem is the technology scanning the bed banks and flights and putting them together as packages, which means agents have not been involved in [sourcing] that product.”


Developing trusting relationships with bed banks is therefore vital, said Jackson.


Agents themselves admit they are guilty of picking accommodation based purely on price. Hays Travel managing director John Hays said: “Sales can be at the expense of quality. We want to offer clients the best choice at the best price and want consultants to have flexibility to work with their choice of supplier.”


But concerns about quality and service were, in part, the drivers for the miniple’s review of its accommodation-only suppliers, added Hays, who said the company has put hotels4u.com off sale while it sorts out issues.


“We are concerned about the suppliers’ quality. If customers do not get the quality of service they expect, then we are the ones, quite rightly, to be in the line of fire.”


Problems experienced by agents include poor quality accommodation, particularly where website descriptions have been over-generous, and problems with taxi transfers not arriving to pick holidaymakers up at the airport.


But one of the most serious problems this summer has been rooms being over-booked, forcing agents to re-book at late notice, said Hays. “Sometimes we have had cancellations when our clients are on their way to the airport,” he added.


Bed banks say these problems boil down to contracting in resort, as well as administration issues, and employing the right staff.


Holiday Brokers chief executive Steve Endacott said: “Most buying has to be direct and you need a good buying team and the edge on margins. It’s a tough time for accommodation-only suppliers and having experienced staff is vital.”